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Beware of unfamiliar outlets.

Charging an electric car at the first available power source can have unfortunate consequences, as an Atlanta-area Nissan Leaf driver recently found out.

As always, though, there’s more to the story than the first live-TV report indicates.

MORE: Your Ultimate Guide To Electric-Car Charging Etiquette

Atlanta’s 11Alive (via Transport Evolved) reports that Kaveh Kamooneh was arrested for stealing electricity from Chamblee Middle School after he left his Nissan Leaf electric car plugged into a school outlet while playing tennis.

Kamooneh had charged his car from an exterior 120-Volt outlet for about 20 minutes when a police officer arrived.

Tesla Roadster recharging at Denver International Airport, from SolarDave blog

According to a statement issued by Chamblee City Manager and Police Chief Marc Johnson, Kamooneh admitted that he didn’t have permission to use the plug and accused the officer of damaging his Leaf.

The officer filed a report and — when police followed up with the school — officials recognized Kamooneh, noting that he had previously been told he wasn’t allowed on the tennis courts.

The “totality of the circumstances” led police to issue a theft warrant, the statement said.

Johnson said police did not know how much electricity Kamooneh had taken; he estimated the value at about 5 cents. Kamooneh ended up spending 15 hours in jail.

Misappropriated public funds?

Still, it’s not the first time this kind of “opportunity charging” has gotten someone in trouble.

Last year, a judge in Carmi, Ill., was accused of misappropriating public funds after he was spotted plugging in his Chevrolet Volt at the courthouse.

Second Circuit Court Associate Judge Mark Stanley was cleared of the “charges” when he explained that he had received permission from the local Sheriff to install an outlet for his extended-range electric car.

In exchange, Stanley agreed to pay for the electricity he used, which amounted to 87 cents for a full recharge of his Volt.

2011 Chevrolet Volt charging portIf nothing else, these episodes highlight just how cheap it is to charge an electric car. In the United States, how far can you get in a gasoline car for less than a dollar?

While the cost of the electricity seems inconsequential, charging without permission remains a bad idea.

Among other reasons, some electrical circuits may not be able to handle the load of a recharging electric car.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) prohibits most circuits from continuously carrying more than 80 percent of their nominal rating. A typical electric car draws 12 amps while recharging, which would trip the breaker of a 15-amp household circuit.

If the wiring isn’t up to code — something impossible to know from curbside — in rare circumstances, plugging in could even start a fire.

The NEC specifies 20-amp circuits for commercial buildings. (Such circuits can be identified by a “T”-shaped slot on the outlet.) But it’s also impossible to know what other loads are already connected to that circuit.

And even if the wiring appears safe and the cost of the electricity is negligible, the outlet still belongs to someone else.

Always ask permission before plugging in; a little common courtesy goes a long way.

This story originally appeared on Green Car Reports. Copyright 2013


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