Curbside Kerfuffles: New Orleans Electric Car Driver Faces Red Tape Over Public Charging Station Installation

If you happen to own your own home, complete with off-street parking and perhaps a garage, owning an operating an electric car is a relatively painless experience. Along with the purchase of your electric car, you choose one of the many different electric car charging stations on the market today, either installing it yourself or paying a qualified electrician to do so.

You can hardly see it, but this charging station is the subject of some particularly nasty red tape

You can barely see it, but this charging station is the subject of some particularly nasty red tape

If you happen to own a home without off-street parking or rent your home, things can be a little more complicated.

With no off-street parking at his home in New Orleans, electric car owner Vlad Ghelase was well aware when he purchased his Nissan LEAF three weeks ago that he would face some additional problems finding a place to charge his car overnight. Since regular extension cord from his home to the car elicited complaints from neighbors concerned over trip hazards, Ghelase researched a more appropriate solution: a permanent charging station located on a small wooden post next to the curb.

Armed with the appropriate research, he contracted a local electrician to carry out the installation, complete with subterranean cable routed underneath the sidewalk to his home’s electrical distribution box. Since his home is equipped with photovoltaic solar panels, Ghelase planned to make the charging station available to any plug-in car owner who needed a charge for free, advertising its location on the popular PlugShare website.

The charging station must be switched off -- of the owner faces disconnection.

The charging station must be switched off — or the owner faces disconnection.

But when a city inspector showed up to approve the work carried out to his property, Ghelase was given a nasty shock. Rather than approve the installation, the inspector informed him that unless the charging station is removed, power to the property will be cut off in ten days’ time and the license of the electrician who installed the charging station will be revoked.

Talking to Transport Evolved via email earlier today, Ghelase laid out the order of events as they occurred, and from what we can tell, it seems an appropriate amount of due diligence was undertaken in order to install the charging station.

Shortly after being contracted to install the station, the electrician applied for the permit online, but was told by a chief electrical inspector for the area that age and location of the home meant that it required a permit from the Historic District Landmarks Commission before any work could be carried out. Once his electrician informed him of the situation, Ghelase contacted the HDLC directly to explain what he was requesting a permit for. Since the permit was on a public right of way however, the HDLC informed him that no permit was required for the work. Instead, it noted that fact on the permit request.

“[The] electrician assumed (yes, that was a mistake) that once this was cleared — since it was the only issue the chief electrical inspector brought up in his conversation with him — that the permit is clear,” Ghelase recounts. Consequently, the work is carried out and payment is made to the electrician for the work.

Shortly afterwards, Ghelase said he found a city inspector in his backyard, taking pictures of his home and the installation. According to the inspector, he had been instructed to take pictures of the whole property and the installation by his bosses. Following the inspector’s visit, the electrician in question is telephoned by a city employee, notifying him that unless he removes the charging station immediately, his license will be revoked.

The City of New Orleans says the installation violates current codes.

The City of New Orleans says the installation violates current codes.

“The city inspector shows up again and puts a yellow sticker on my property saying that the city will cut power to my whole house in ten days,” Ghelase continued in an email. “The electrician’s license to practice in the city is now also suspended.”

Officially, the city of New Orleans says the charging station is being objected to because it constitutes a private improvement to public land, something which is not permitted under local law. Additionally, local law prohibits electrical wires — other than the ones used to carry power from the grid to an individual property — to cross property lines, even if they do so underground.  Unless the charging station is disconnected by the end of this week, it insists, it will turn off power to Ghelase’s home.

The City is looking into this further but that the current law does not allow for private citizens to lease curb space for these purposes yet,” Hayne Rainey, Press Secretary for the Office of Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu told us in an email statement. 

But while there’s something of an impasse right now, it appears both sides are willing to work together to discover a resolution.

Ghelase says he will pay to temporarily disconnect the charging station, since he doesn’t want to be the person responsible for loss of income to the electrician and his family. The city council meanwhile, says it could get the Department of Property Maintenance to sign off on a lease, allowing Ghelase to lease the tiny strip of land the charging station is located on. Secondly, it says it could possibly change the rules to allow charging station installations like this.

Ghelase says he’s already tried the former and was told that it wasn’t possible. His preferred solution would be to have the city adopt a system similar to Berkeley, California, where the it is made clear that the owner does not have exclusive access or rights to the charging station once installed.

For now however, the charging station must remain switched off until a solution which meets current regulations is found.

Until then, it seems residents of the beautiful and historic city will have to find an alternative way to charge their cars.


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