|Tom Kelly of Berkeley charges his electric car in his garage in September. He hopes the city adopts rules making it easy to own electric cars the same way it did with solar panels for homes. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
By Doug Oakley
The electric car is coming and Berkeley is bracing for an onslaught.
City leaders are moving quickly on policy options to both encourage their use but also make sure city sidewalks don't turn into a web of extension cords leading from homes to thirsty cars on the street.
The problem may be more acute in urban areas such as Berkeley where not all houses have garages or even driveways to charge their cars.
And the influx of electric cars is expected sooner than most people think.
Electric car sales from Bakersfield to the Oregon border are projected to grow by some 2,566 percent this year, from just 150 in January to 4,000 in December said Vivek Narayanan, electric vehicle product manager for Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E is notified every time someone buys an electric car at the owner's discretion, he said.
By 2020 Narayanan said the same area will have between 200,000 and 850,000 electric cars on central and northern California the roads -- and all of them will need a charge.
Judging by the number of Toyota Prius electric hybrids buzzing around the streets of Berkeley, residents here likely will be voracious "early adopters" of electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, said Timothy Burroughs, climate action coordinator for the city of Berkeley.
"We need to be a leader in this field," Mayor Tom Bates told the Berkeley City Council last week. "I don't want us to wait. We need to push the envelope." The council briefly heard reports from three city commissions and voted to continue the discussion at an upcoming meeting.
Bates said he wants to encourage and educate the populace about the benefits of electric cars and figure out a way people can safely charge them.
"We want to make it as convenient as possible for people to install private charging systems at home and get them through the permitting maze," Bates said. "And people without garages are going to have to figure out how to charge in some privately installed place or some publicly installed place." Extension cords running to the street, he said, are not a good idea.
A new city of Berkeley brochure on electric car-charging, available at its permit center and online, says: "To protect public safety, cords and connector equipment are not allowed to extend across sidewalks or any public rights of way. Charging your (electric car) at home requires a privately owned parking space or garage with access to an electric circuit."
Residents who don't have garages could get around that by running electrical conduit from their home, under the sidewalk to a dedicated outlet at the curb, some residents suggest, but what if someone else parks in that spot?
"Our big concern is the street is a public right of way and what if we begin privatizing it in small chunks?" said Margo Schueler, chair of Berkeley's Public Works Commission.
"We recommend not using the public right of way for exclusive (charging or parking) use," Burroughs told the Council. "We want to use it in the most equitable way." At the same time, "We don't want to exclude people who don't have off-street parking," said Sachu Constantine, chair of the city's Energy Commission.
Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, which promotes plug in hybrid cars, told the City Council he has a solution. He wants to install a solar powered charging station in front of his home at the curb that anyone can use free of charge.
"I don't want to exclude anyone, I want to make it free," Kramer, who owns a Chevy Volt and a Nissan Leaf said. "I'm not going to put a sign up saying 'you can't park here' but I want to offer a community amenity that is solar powered and free."
Bates, who also is chair of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said the district recently got a $5 million grant to help pay for high powered public charging systems placed on private property that people can use with a credit card.
The grant will help pay for the half the cost of the stations, which Bates said cost about $60,000 each.
The trouble is, PG&E is prohibited from getting into the business and Bates said the city isn't interested at in doing it either. Until entrepreneurs or other government entities like BART start installing the stations on their own properties, owners will be left to charge their cars at home.
Berkeley resident Tom Kelly, director of Kyoto USA, an organization dedicated to reducing greenhouse gasses, has an electric car that he charges in his garage. But he recognizes that many people in Berkeley don't have garages. He said Berkeley was on the ball when it came to streamlining the permitting process for residents who wanted to install solar panels on their homes and he hopes it will do the same for electric cars.
"There's got to be a fix for charging and it's really up to the cities to figure it out," Kelly said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley