Raleigh eases way for electric cars

The city cuts the time needed to get permits for recharging outlets

Staff WriterJuly 13, 2010 

Raleigh is preparing for the arrival of plug-in electric cars by making it easier for homeowners to get a city permit for rechargers.

A city permit would have required at least three days, so the city has created a streamlined procedure that will take just one hour, said Frank Olafson, permits office administrator for Raleigh.

Recharging an electric car puts a heavy demand on a home's electrical wiring and could require modifications and upgrades to accommodate a 220-volt outlet.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Nissan, which is introducing the all-electric Leaf automobile this year, lobbied Raleigh officials to make the change. Nissan's goal is to become the first mass-marketer of electric cars, but that goal depends on hassle-free permits for recharging stations.

Using a 220-volt outlet as opposed to a standard 120-volt outlet reduces recharging time from 20 hours to 8 hours. But outfitting garages with more powerful outlets - the kind used by electric dryers and other heavy-duty appliances - raises safety concerns for building inspectors and code enforcement officers.

Raleigh will require the outlets to be placed at least four feet off the ground, to prevent a car from sideswiping the mechanism and exposing lethal wiring. For ground-mounted charging units, Raleigh will require a protective barrier.

Olafson said older homes may need upgrades to the electrical service panel to handle the amount of power needed to recharge from a 220-volt outlet.

Raleigh has been upgrading its permitting process for the past six months. The effort was prompted by a request from Nissan.

"The question was asked: Is there a way to make it simpler and easier?" Olafson said. "There are a lot of different codes involved."

Nissan officials could not be reached for comment Monday. The Journal reported that the automaker had urged officials in more than 20 local governments to ease the permitting process.

Olafson said that residents of small towns and rural areas, where code enforcement officials are unfamiliar with electric recharging stations, may spend days getting the dock approved.

Nissan estimates that it will cost $2,200 to install a recharging station, according to the Journal. The cost of the dock, and the car itself, can be partially offset with federal tax credits.

An electrical permit in Raleigh costs $74. Fewer than a dozen have been issued in Raleigh for electric vehicle recharging stations.

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

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