Bernhard Haux installed one of the city’s first personal curbside electric-vehicle charging stations at his McGee Avenue home in Berkeley in February. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
Bernhard Haux installed one of the city’s first personal curbside electric-vehicle charging stations at his McGee Avenue home in Berkeley in February. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Sebastian Vollering was first in line to reserve a Tesla Model 3, the more economical version of the electric car, at the Walnut Creek store this spring.

The South Berkeley resident won’t get his new car until the end of 2017, but he is already preparing for it. Vollering is the latest to be approved under a city program that allows some residents to install personal electric-vehicle charging stations in the public right of way in front of their homes.

The 2014 Residential Curbside Electric Vehicle Charging Pilot allows for up to 25 of these stations by December 2017. Applicants must not have a driveway or garage where they could otherwise place a charging station. Twenty people have qualified for curbside stations so far, though only four have completed the installation, said Sarah Moore, a planner in the city’s office of energy and sustainable development.

Vollering was relieved when his application was approved earlier this month.

“It’s very hard for us to have an electric vehicle,” he said. Vollering’s Emerson Street home has no driveway. “It becomes quite cumbersome when you go to a public charger and you have to pay for it long enough for it to charge.” Vollering also wanted the option to charge his car at home because he uses solar power.

A curbside charging station outside an Allston Way home. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

The curbside charging pilot is part of the city’s effort to meet the goals outlined in the Berkeley Climate Action Plan. The plan, adopted by the City Council in 2009, sets a goal of a 33% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2000 and 2020. It is a landmark on the way to an 80% reduction by 2050, a goal voters set with Measure G in 2006. Emissions decreased by 9% between 2000-2013, according to the city’s latest progress report.

Transportation contributes to about half of Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions, Moore said. “Electric vehicles dramatically cut emissions,” she said.

There were 1,233 plug-in electric vehicles registered in Berkeley at the end of 2015, according to Moore, who received the data from the DMV. That is more than triple what Moore estimated in the spring of 2014 using data from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.

The city has encouraged businesses to install charging stations for customers or employees. There are also public stations at the Berkeley Marina, the Oxford Street parking garage and the Telegraph/Channing garage, which cost $1.50/hour plus parking fees, and have four-hour charging limits. The city does not keep track of the number of on-site home-charging stations, Moore said.

Applications for the curbside program are coming from all over the city, but the majority are in Central Berkeley, Moore said.

“We wouldn’t have bought an electric car if we hadn’t been approved for the curbside program,” said Bernhard Haux, a McGee Avenue resident who installed a curbside station in February. Relying on public stations to charge his Chevy Volt before the installation was “almost prohibitive,” he said.

The program does not grant the owner of a curbside station exclusive rights to the adjacent parking space. Haux said he rarely has an issue, but his block typically has decent parking. His car has an 85-mile range, so a full charge typically lasts him three days of commuting to San Francisco and back. Applicants are required to notify neighbors before they are approved for the program.

A curbside charging station does not guarantee that the owner will always have access to the parking space. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Many residents who qualify for the program do not end up following through with installation, usually due to cost, Moore said.

An 11th-hour project grant covers up to $2,000 in permitting fees for each applicant. Even so, installing a curbside charging station is a pricy project. Residents may need to upgrade their electric panels or tear up the sidewalk.

Vollering was quoted $5,000-$6,000 for the charger and construction.

“All of a sudden your car is becoming a lot more expensive,” he said. “I feel strongly enough about the sustainability issue that I’m hoping to pull this off and pay a little extra.”

For Haux, the curbside charging station has been worth the upfront costs.

“I’ve barely noticed a difference on my electric bill,” he said. He hopes the station will add value to his home.

There were a few roadblocks that stalled the installation of Haux’s station, as both the city and the contractors explored new territory, determining where the electric conduit could run and how much the sidewalk had to be broken up.

Berkeley is one of the first cities in the nation to allow private curbside charging. Philadelphia has had a program for several years, and residents there get a reserved parking space next to the curbside station. In 2013, a Palo Alto resident reportedly installed the first curbside charging station in the country, allowing any electric vehicle owner to charge up at his spot.

Others are beginning to take note.

“I get quite a few calls from other cities,” Moore said — from Vancouver to New Orleans.

Berkeley rolling out electric vehicle charging stations (04.10.14)
Op-Ed: Let’s get curbside electric vehicle charging (02.20.14)

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...