City permits curbside electric vehicle charging as part of pilot program

Zach Ryan/Staff
A charging station is currently located in the Oxford Garage in Downtown Berkeley, although it is not part of the pilot program.

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For several months after they bought their electric car, Bernhard Haux and Amy Hale could not charge it at their Berkeley home.

With no garage or driveway to install a standard charger in, the couple was one of the first to be granted a permit by the city to install a curbside charging station. The permit is part of a pilot program to allow up to 25 Berkeley households to install curbside stations by the end of 2017.

“That was a painful time,” Haux said of the four months before the curbside charger was installed. “Your life just becomes about finding chargers. … It’s really a mess if you have to do it (that) way.”

Residents pay for their own charging stations — which cost between $1,000 and $5,000 — as well as any further construction costs required to install the station. During the pilot program, the $2,000 permit fee is paid for by a grant from the 11th Hour Project, a program of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

Haux and Hale said they spent $2,000 on their charging station — which is secured by a radio frequency identification chip so only they can use it — and about $2,700 on electrical work and sidewalk construction. Haux noted that the couple chose to do more extensive work than necessary and could have saved several hundred dollars by doing the minimum required for the installation.

More than 1,000 electric vehicles are registered in Berkeley, according to DMV data cited by Sarah Moore, a planner in Berkeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development, which is leading the pilot.

Because of Berkeley’s relatively clean electricity supply, driving an electric car here reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 70 percent compared to driving a gas-powered car, Moore said.

As electric cars become more affordable, an increasing number of Berkeley residents who do not have access to off-street parking are looking to switch to electric vehicles.

“There aren’t enough people driving electric vehicles to really push cities to put in a large amount of charging infrastructure,” said Jamie Dean, who directs the 11th Hour Project’s renewable energy and climate program. “But then at the same time, people … need to have the assurance that they’re going to be able to charge when they need to.”

Since the pilot began in December 2014, 20 applicants have been deemed qualified to install curbside stations. Only four installations have been made so far, with one currently in progress and another to begin soon.

The city will decide whether to extend the program after the pilot ends in December 2017. But funding from the 11th Hour Project to cover permitting fees will no longer apply. Residents will have to pay the fees, which Dean said she hopes will go down as the program takes off, or the city will have to look for additional funding elsewhere.

“(The charger has) made such a difference. … We’ve found it’s changed our lives in that we don’t feel we need (a gas car),” Hale said. “It’s really a fantastic investment.”

Contact Simon Greenhill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @simondgreenhill.