SAN FRANCISCO has adopted building codes that require all new homes and offices to be wired for electric car chargers, in an attempt to position itself as America's environmental car capital.
The move comes before the release this year of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, which promise to deliver driving distances of 65 kilometres or more on a single battery charge and are being marketed to middle-class families.
Local authorities are starting a lending scheme next month to encourage homeowners to install their own charging stations.
''If you want to put an electric charging station in your home in anticipation of all these electric vehicles, you can do it through this green financing program,'' San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom, said.
Mr Newsom bought an electric car a decade ago and car charging stations were installed outside city hall last year.
The move confirms California's reputation as America's greenest state. Over the past 30 years it has led the country in putting limits on vehicle emissions and imposing higher efficiency standards for homes and appliances such as flat-screen TVs.
Few people are predicting widespread adoption of electric cars by Americans - at least in the immediate future. But the launch of the electric vehicles is concentrating minds in other cities, such as Houston, San Diego and Portland, which are expected to lead demand for the new technology.
Urban planners and electricity companies there are beginning to make preparations for charging stations and for contingency planning in case an ageing electrical supply grid is overloaded.
''I have talked to energy executives who are very fearful about what will happen even if you get past 1000 vehicles,'' said Terry Tamminen, who advises California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on energy and environment. ''People can't be trusted to charge only at night and discharge in the day.''
San Francisco's main supplier, Pacific Gas & Electric, is sketching out ''heat maps'' of neighbourhoods at risk of overloads and blackouts when suburban motorists begin plugging in their cars. It can take eight hours, drawing only on the domestic power supply, to charge an electric car, though dedicated charging stations take a fraction of that time.
The forward planning in such cities runs counter to the accumulating evidence in Washington that efforts by the President, Barack Obama, to green America's economy are sputtering to a halt.
There is also scepticism that Mr Obama will be able to deliver on his promise to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.
But beyond Washington, a number of American cities and states are driving ahead.
The president of Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, has predicted that by 2020 as many as 10 per cent of sales will be for electric vehicles.
Most of those new cars are expected to be clustered in a few cities to make it easier to supply dealerships and repair centres, and northern California motorists have already demonstrated a taste for driving green.
The mayors of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose pledged a year ago to make their metropolitan area the country's electric car capital.
One in five cars sold in the Berkeley area is a Toyota Prius. At the luxury end, Tesla Motors, makers of the $US100,000 electric sports car, has sold 150 models in the San Francisco area.
San Jose now has parking spots for electric vehicles and major employers are installing workplace charging stations.
Guardian News & Media