City considers ways to make Berkeley more electric car friendly

Felix Kramer is moving to Berkeley soon, and he is bringing his electric cars with him.

Kramer, who currently lives in Redwood City, claims to be the first person in the world to own both a Nissan Leaf and a Chevrolet Volt — two of the car industry’s newest electric vehicles.

When he relocates to Berkeley later this year, Kramer, who founded the nonprofit CalCars in 2002 to promote plug-in cars, will be able to charge his cars in the driveway of his home, but said he would also like to install a curbside charging station.

However, although he intends the station to be publicly available, installing one on the curb would require Kramer to make private use of the public space, one of the many challenges the city faces as it continues to develop an infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Berkeley wants to make it easier for residents to own electric cars, which are championed by environmentalists for producing significantly lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than traditional cars.

“The first thing to be said is that the infrastructure for plug-in cars is much simpler than for every other fuel,” Kramer said. “We don’t need a whole new national infrastructure to deliver a different kind of fuel — we’ve got it.”

At its Sept. 20 meeting, the Berkeley City Council encouraged continued work on creating such an infrastructure after considering proposals from the city manager and three city commissions. The council will hear an updated report within the next six months.

In the initial reports, two of the commissions noted particular concerns about privatizing the public right of way. The Public Works Commission emphasized that allowing stations to be installed in such locations should be avoided, instead giving preference to the deployment of off-street charging stations like parking lots.

Other broader concerns illustrated by the Energy Commission included minimizing the city’s financial risk and encouraging electric vehicle owners to charge their cars during “off-peak” hours — from about 10 p.m. to 9 a.m.

One way to help fund an infrastructure could be through a federal grant brought to the attention of Councilmember Jesse Arreguin when he visited the White House this summer. Arreguin said he will be speaking with the U.S. Department of Energy about that possibility this week.

The push for infrastructure development also comes as the city is expecting a spike in the number of electric car owners.

Timothy Burroughs, climate action coordinator for the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, estimated the city is home to 64 electric cars. Nationwide, President Barack Obama has called for one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

“We have a very environmentally high conscious community,” Burroughs said, adding that Berkeley has one of the highest numbers of electric car owners in the Bay Area. “We expect that to continue based on past experience.”

Additionally, improving this infrastructure would comply with the city’s Climate Action Plan. Established in 2006 after voters overwhelmingly passed Measure G, the plan sets a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 33 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Furthermore, transportation gasoline accounts for the largest source of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions at 29 percent, according to the city’s energy office.

Overall, Arreguin said the primary focus should be for the city to create more charging stations for the public, particularly in city garages and parking lots.

“In the process of trying to combat climate change, we need to change the way we do things,” Arreguin said. “Taking steps like this to encourage more people to purchase electric vehicles and drive electric vehicles will continue Berkeley’s record as an environmental leader.”

J.D. Morris is the lead environment reporter.

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