All Matt Malloy wanted was a place to charge his car. How hard could it be?
His first thought was to run an extension cable from his house in Dorchester and charge his car on the street. But the city nixed that idea, threatening to fine him.
It turns out that “you can’t drape a 50-amp line across the sidewalk and expect there to be no issues,” Malloy said.
So he pivoted to the idea of building a driveway. “For someone who has a driveway it’s relatively easy” to own an electric car, he said. “You buy a Level 2 charging station and you pay an electrician to come out and install it.”
Malloy, chief executive of Dorchester Brewing Co. and a former Zipcar executive, just had to persuade the city to let him cut the curb in front of his house and pave a small portion of his yard.
In the end, it took 2½ years, 37 letters of support, the services of an architect, and the endorsement of four city councilors. Then, finally, on March 14, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals authorized him to place 200 square feet of brick pavers in his front yard.
Malloy’s long campaign for a miniature driveway illustrates how the practical challenges of electric car ownership bump up against the state’s and the city’s ambitions to help residents trade in gas-powered cars for EVs.
“For city dwellers, the number one concern is, ‘Where am I going to charge?’ ” said Kyle Murray, the Massachusetts program director for the clean energy advocacy group Acadia Center.
The problem, Malloy said, is that there are few charging stations in his neighborhood and only one within a 3-mile radius that is a high-speed Level 3 charger. That lone high-speed station, he said, often has a long line, which makes relying on it impractical.
The vast majority of Boston’s chargers — most of them in parking garages — are slower Level 2 chargers that can take up to 10 hours to deliver a full charge. For Malloy, that would mean parking his car in a faraway garage to charge overnight — not a realistic option, he said.
Malloy encountered the first major obstacle to his driveway plan at a neighborhood ice cream social last summer.
“Matt brought his plans along,” said his neighbor Andrea Barsomian-Dietrich and passed them around.
“That’s when things went south,” Barsomian-Dietrich said.
Although most of Malloy’s Ashmont Hill neighbors supported the driveway — ultimately 34 would vote in favor — a few objected. One worried about setting a precedent. What if everyone decided they wanted a driveway?
Another said that if there was going to be a construction project, it should focus on making new space for humans, not cars, Barsomian-Dietrich recalled. The neighbor suggested turning the intersection in front of Malloy’s house into a park.
“Matt listened to everything as if they were completely reasonable suggestions,” Barsomian-Dietrich said.
But the diplomacy wasn’t enough. At a zoning board hearing last July, two of the dissenting neighbors voiced their opposition and Malloy’s plan was voted down.
In the following months, Malloy regrouped. He had shown up at the July meeting with nine letters of support from neighbors and the endorsement of City Councilor Erin Murphy. For his next attempt, he would go bigger. He appeared at a March 14 hearing with 37 letters of support and on-the-record endorsements from four councilors.
“I asked four councilors and those four said yes,” Malloy said. (Staffers from the offices of Brian Worrell, Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty, and Murphy appeared at the hearing to voice the councilors’ support.)
“I do think this is a unique situation,” board chair Sherry Dong said during the hearing. Then the seven-member board voted in Malloy’s favor.
Malloy wants an electric car for environmental reasons. “We all have a personal responsibility to be a good steward of the environment,” he said.
But he laments that the infrastructure makes it hard for city dwellers to commit to going electric. “It took me as someone who is way too persistent to break through,” he said.
Access to chargers, Malloy said, should be widespread and not based on “popularity or an ability to afford it.”
“Everyone should have access to an electric vehicle,” he added — and a convenient place to charge.
The state and some municipalities are trying to make that dream a reality.
Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Boston’s first Green New Deal director, said the Wu administration wants to put an EV charging station within a 10-minute walk of every home by 2030. (Sellers-Garcia noted that the administration’s real transportation goal is to coax more residents to ditch cars entirely for public transit, walking, and cycling.)
In Cambridge, another persistent man — former city councilor Craig Kelley — is trying to change zoning rules so that homeowners can rent out the chargers they’ve installed in their garages or driveways to the public through an app. His petition has already failed twice — in 2018 and last year — but he said he believes he has mustered enough support for it to pass this year.
Perhaps the most innovative effort was a pilot program run by Melrose and National Grid. In 2021, the electric utility company mounted 15 EV chargers on existing telephone poles — a lower-cost and less-intrusive way to install new stations.
The program was such a success that National Grid petitioned the state Department of Public Utilities to roll out the program in 10 more towns. The department rejected the proposal, arguing that the widespread installation of pole-mounted chargers could discourage private companies from building their own charging infrastructure.
In December, the department approved a $400 million plan that will allow utilities to place a surcharge on electric bills to fund the installation of tens of thousands of EV chargers. The plan will take at least four years.
In the meantime, Malloy is taking matters into his own hands. He will soon break ground on his driveway, where he plans to park — and charge — a Ford Mach-E he plans to buy soon. Then he hopes to install solar panels to power the charger.
But there’s a hitch. His Victorian home has an unusual roof line with no large, flat surfaces. There are also regulatory hurdles related to the visibility of solar panels from the street. “Every solar company I’ve gone to so far has rejected my project. I’m going to have to bootstrap it again,” he said.
“So fingers crossed on that project.”
Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.