New Orleans City Council considers allowing electric vehicle charging stations on public property _lowres

 

The New Orleans City Council is considering whether to let residents install electric vehicle charging stations next to curbs, a move that would be a boon for drivers of such vehicles who live in homes without off-street parking.

No decision has been made, but as a three-member panel pitched electric car charging solutions during a meeting of the council’s Public Works, Sanitation and Environment Committee last week, the council members present appeared receptive.

At present, the city does not allow such installations on public rights of way, and until recent years, there was almost no demand for them. Further, under rules that prohibit using public property for private gain, a citizen wishing to build on city property must pay for the privilege; the law also prohibits allowing electrical wires to cross property lines, even from a privately owned lot to the public right of way in front of it.

The topic first gained public notice after Vlad Ghelase, an Algiers Point resident who does not have a driveway, sought a city permit last year to install an electric charging station by the sidewalk in front of his home. It would have been connected to his home’s underground electric meter, but city officials told him it wasn’t allowed.

If allowed to stand, that ban could dissuade many local drivers from purchasing electric vehicles, said developer Marcel Wisznia, speaking on behalf of the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit committed to cost-efficient and energy-saving building projects.

“Electric cars have become really not the future, but the present,” Wisznia said. “And it’s how we address the present that will distinguish us from other communities.”

According to PlugShare, a locator service for electric vehicle chargers, New Orleans has at least 13 charging stations that have been installed by businesses and at least eight that have been installed by residents, though the latter figure includes only drivers who have signed up with PlugShare.

Some businesses, such as Rouses Market on Baronne Street, offer high-powered devices that can fully charge a car in the 20 minutes it takes a customer to go shopping.

Residents, however, are mostly charging at home with devices that take anywhere from three to 14 hours to fully charge a vehicle, said Rebecca Otte, of the Regional Planning Commission and the Southeast Louisiana Clean Fuel Partnership, a coalition of agencies working to reduce petroleum consumption in transportation.

It can cost as little as $1.50 to bring an average car from complete depletion to a full charge, Wisznia said, a cost reflected on the customer’s electricity bill. That full charge allows for about 70 miles of driving with the car Wisznia said he leases.

The charging devices themselves can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.

Otte said New Orleans would have to consider how many chargers to allow per city block, whether to set up the chargers in metered parking spaces and whether the chargers’ design is appropriate in certain historic neighborhoods. Officials also would have to decide whether the owner or the city would be responsible for maintaining the charger and what to do with a charger if its owner moves.

People who set up electric charging stations in front of their homes don’t have claims to the adjacent parking spots, meaning their chargers would be available to other drivers. While Otte said chargers’ owners can’t charge other users for each kilowatt hour of electricity, it may be possible for them to charge other users for each hour of use, something Entergy is considering.

At least two other cities — Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia — issue permits to residents willing to pay to install chargers on public rights of way.

Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents Ghelase’s district, said she was optimistic the city will find a near-term solution.

“This is something that New Orleans can be on the forefront of as we move toward the (city’s) 300th anniversary” in 2018, she said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.