This bill on Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk could increase costs and slow EV purchases

May 11, 2023 6:55 am
A series of new houses being framed.

A construction site for new homes. (Getty)

Alabama legislators have passed a no-good, very bad bill thanks to some extremely misleading information being pushed by the Homebuilders Association of Alabama. The bill currently sits with Gov. Kay Ivey.

If signed, the legislation will cost Alabamians more money by forcing homebuyers into costlier upgrades years later as opposed to the cheaper option of building things, like an outlet for an electric vehicle, at the time of construction. It will also slow growth in clean energy. And on top of that, Senate Bill 40 will make it harder for Alabamians to buy Alabama-made electric vehicles.

What gives?

SB40, which passed both the Alabama House and Senate in April, is supposedly meant to prevent county and local governments from passing ordinances or changing building codes in ways that would raise the costs of home construction. 

That all sounds benign enough, but there’s more lurking under the murky surface. SB40 would prohibit any local government from passing building codes that require “latent features.”

Gee, that sounds vague. What are “latent features,” you ask? Good question.

According to the bill, a latent feature is essentially anything that is not being used by the homeowner at the time of completion. Of course, lots of things could be considered “latent features.” If you don’t go outside a lot and don’t have a dog, a fence could probably be considered “latent.” So could the entire upper story of your house, if you don’t really plan on occupying the upstairs the moment you move in.

For now, let’s leave aside obvious questions about who gets to decide what’s “latent” and not. If you take even a quick look at an extremely misleading talking points document circulated by the Homebuilders Association of Alabama (HBAA), it’s clear what’s really being targeted: Electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy. 

That’s just silly. And unnecessary.

The document reads like a hater’s guide to renewables. Solar panels and EVs are demonized, while gas appliances are portrayed as the obvious choice for discerning consumers. Using some scary-looking numbers and a whole lot of interest charges, the document makes it seem like homebuyers are being ripped off by big, bad electricity.

Let’s get real here. In order to make a new house ready for an EV, it might cost an extra $100 or so to lay the necessary wire and conduit at the time of construction. After construction? More like $1,000 or more. But according to SB40, that wire is “latent” and thus not acceptable.

So, who benefits? Not homebuyers, that’s for sure. It’s hard to take this legislation seriously when folks like Rep. Mack Butler says something like, “This is a liberty issue,” when really this is about costing Alabamians more money for changes we all know are coming.

As an example of how ridiculous HBAA’s misinformation is, consider what they say about EV chargers. In their talking points, the HBAA claims that a house will need three EV charging pads and three outlets.

That’s absurd. Many homes with two or more EVs need only one Level 2 (240-volt, dryer-style) outlet.

The HBAA is also misleading legislators about electric panel upgrades in an attempt to make everything look worse. Modern homes are already built with enough electric capacity to handle an EV, yet the HBAA is claiming, falsely, that homebuyers will need to cough up an extra $2,000 for this vaporware.

How is the builder’s association so out of touch with reality in its own industry?

Gov. Ivey and her administration have been working hard to encourage electric vehicle manufacturers and their supply chains to set up shop in Alabama. Energy Alabama applauds her and Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield for their work.

But here’s the problem. Ivey wants Alabama to build more EVs, but legislation like SB40 will make it harder to sell Alabama-made EVs in Alabama. 

Unfortunately, it’s easy to see what’s going on. As you look across the country, it’s pretty obvious that builders associations have been co-opted by the gas industry.

In Minnesota, for instance, the gas industry spends lavishly to treat homebuilders for continuing to build new homes with gas, despite electric appliances and vehicles being better and cheaper for consumers.

It’s unclear whether or not the HBAA is a willing pawn of the gas industry, but the effect is the same. Their pet bill, SB40, will hurt consumers while (coincidentally, no doubt!) helping the gas industry. Spire, the major for-profit gas utility in Alabama, has fought to weaken building codes that would save people money on their utility bills.

In short, the HBAA is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Literally no one is trying to legislate homebuilders into pre-wiring all new houses with charging circuits for three EV charging pads. Don’t Alabama legislators have better things to do than passing unnecessary regulation to address problems that don’t exist?

Housing prices have gone through the roof lately, but instead of offering solutions, the HBAA is playing the blame game with a mythical boogeyman. 

Instead of helping consumers, SB40 will cost them more money and slow the growth of renewables. 

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