No Juice For You, G-man

I don’t make a living as a blogger, forum administrator, rule moderator, or escort.  I have a day job.  I work in a large building downtown that is filled with government workers.  By “large,” I mean it takes up two full city blocks.  Want to know how many people work in my building?  Answer: about half of them.

I decided that, even though I can easily make the trip from home to work and back home again on a single charge of my Brammo Enertia, it would be nice to be able to go on the occasional errand at lunch or on the way home.  In order to do that with any level of comfort or confidence (or lack of range anxiety), I decided that it would be nice to be able to charge my Enertia while at work.

I decided to follow official channels, so I asked my Department’s administrative officer to make the first contact with the “landlord” of our building, the General Services Administration (GSA).  Before I did that, however, I made sure that I had some feasible charging scenarios worked out.  I walked down to the garage in the sub-basement of my building and looked for 120V electric outlets.  I stopped counting at an even dozen — there were many places to park out of the way of traffic and near an electric outlet.

I also have to note that our building has a couple informational kiosks on the main floors.  These kiosks provide information about the building, including many features about “Sustainability” in design and operation.

When I spoke to GSA, I even suggested that, if they wished, they could take some pictures of my bike plugged into the wall and that they might get some kudos for this from their headquarters.

Did I believe this?  Not at all.  What I expected to happen was, instead, for the dance of bureaucratic avoidance to commence.  And it did.

First, the local GSA guy said that an opinion needed to be rendered by the GSA attorneys.  The request sat in that office for almost a month before I sent an email to inquire about the status.  As often happens, this kind of email (especially when other people are cc’d on it) shook the opinion loose.  This is what the attorney wrote:

We think your endeavors to support the sustainability goals of the government are timely and appropriate. I have asked our facilities management directorate at [your building] to look into establishing a protocol that will facilitate your efforts and hopefully those of others in similar resource conservation activities. Thank you.

Yay!  Legal says “go” in as many words as possible, so let’s go.  Right?

Wrong.  After a couple more weeks, I wrote another email, this time to the “facilities management directorate” to see if he’s established a “protocol.”  His answer:

You are the first person on record [in Kansas City] requesting to charge an electrical vehicle on federal property. There is an electric revolution coming and the “powers-that-be” are trying to determine if we want to set a precedent for providing energy (purchased by taxpayers) to individuals for use in privately owned hardware, for personal use, outside federal property.
It is projected that 20% of vehicles on the road will be full-electric in the next 10 years. We are all under Executive Order 13423 which requires us to cut energy usage. However, the use of energy for environmentally friendly purposes might create an acceptable exception. At this point, we just have to wait for a ruling from our Central Office (and perhaps beyond) as this could create a loophole in the Executive Order.
Thank you for your patience. I am personally interested in the results of this inquiry and I will let you know as soon as I hear anything. And again, I am sorry for not being able to offer a quick answer.

A gracious reply, for sure, but I wasn’t done speaking my peace.  I decided to try a different angle:

I see a real opportunity for Kansas City to be a leader in the “electric revolution.” I think it’s safe to say that the first real demand for electric vehicle charging at the Federal Building is still probably a couple years away, at least. For example, the Nissan Leaf is coming out next year, but it is only going to be released in major markets on the West Coast. Leaf owners will require a Level 2 charging fixture, something that will require the complicated Federal acquisition process to procure, and an equally lengthy bidding process for installers. Meanwhile, my bike plugs into a 110 volt outlet.
My boss parks downstairs and I walked down to where his car is parked – I saw over a dozen outlets and about half of those had room nearby for me to tuck my bike out of the way. Cost: A full charge at home costs about .25 worth of electricity.
A precedent for taxpayers paying for a utility used by workers already exists: GSA pays for water in the building and, unless you plan to charge per flush, nobody is objecting to it. (However, Executive Order 13423 does mandate that Federal agencies reduce water usage, so you never know). One other thing that EO 13423 speaks to is the goal of each agency to reduce greenhouse gases. Even though the power plant that generates that 25 cents worth of energy puts out some greenhouse gases to do so, it’s approximately 1/8 the amount that my Honda Pilot emits for the equivalent roundtrip. I know it’s not a savings that the agency can use, but it is beneficial to the wider population.

I did receive a courteous reply from GSA:

I am with you about this being a great opportunity for Kansas City and for the Federal Government to step up and take the leading edge, embracing a beneficial technology which is clearly on the rise. But, there is still a large divide between desiring sustainability and paying for the requirements to achieve sustainability.
As you can see, we are both on the same side of the issue. But, the precedence they will be looking for would be more like people using electric scooters and charging them on site. The problems with this example are that the scooters enable their users to do their jobs who might otherwise be incapable, many of them were purchased or subsidized by the government to begin with, and they seldom leave the property.

Sigh.  The maxim, “you can’t fight city hall” (or the Federal government, apparently), seems to be appropriate here.  I suppose it could be worse.  I could be this guy, who was fired from his job for plugging his electric scooter at work, without permission, for about an hour and a half.  His employer fired him after 19 years of service.

I’ll be sure to update you if the situation changes here, but don’t hold your breath.  Unless, of course, you work for Uncle Sam and EO 13423 is interpreted as mandating a reduction of oxygen usage in Federal buildings.  Until then, the rest of you (U.S readers) can be assured that your tax dollars are not supporting my personal transportation choice.


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  1. #1 by Domenick on October 14, 2010 - 1:23 pm

    No need to send you the link about the German guy I see.

    if it was me, I’d of just plugged it in. It’s often easier to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission. Plus, if anyone complained, you could send them the stack of paperwork necessary to properly file their complaint.

  2. #2 by implovator on October 14, 2010 - 1:50 pm

    Wow. I feel for you. I work for a private company, and I was concerned about the issue of charging on the company dime. I was prepared to track my usage with a simple Kill-A-Watt and reimburse them monthly. Luckily, they said there’s no need and allowed me to plug in just inside the building.

    Furthermore, our facilities manager was able to get the approval to install several Coulomb stations in the parking lot. Apparently it was approved so quickly because company headquarters had already requested that he look into it…even before there was an actual need. Then I came along and provided an immediate need, so that accelerated it even more.

    Come to think of it, having Coulomb chargers installed might be a nice solution for your building. They’re secure and allow tracking of usage on an individual basis. They can even handle billing so users would pay for their charge…not taxpayers.

  3. #3 by David Herron on October 14, 2010 - 8:02 pm

    Hey Harry, I feel for you. I want to share this article with you so you see you’re not alone as a government worker being stymied by government rulings: Should employers pay for recharging employee-owned electric cars? … much the same situation as you, except he did an EV Car conversion rather than get a commercially made e-motorcycle.

    Coulomb has already thought out this situation and has a solution offering revenue sharing for a building owner and tracking individual usage.

  4. #4 by mtajudy on October 15, 2010 - 1:33 am

    Since my local coffee vender, Starbucks coffee, loves to let me plug in because Dorothy draws so much attention, I suggest you have lunch in a location that has a broader scope than the federal government. That shouldnt be hard to achieve!! 😉

  5. #5 by James Schipper on October 15, 2010 - 11:38 am

    Yeesh. Bureaucracy at it’s finest. I’m glad they are at least trying, despite their own system getting in it’s own way.

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