Yesterday during budget estimate debates I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on her plans for rolling out EV charging infrastructure in British Columbia.
As I mention in the discussion, reproduced in video and text below, the single biggest barrier in BC to the widespread installation of EV charging stations is the inability for anyone to charge for the electricity unless they are a registered utility. Those who install charging stations must give away the electricity for free. BC Hydro has installed only 30 (I’m serious ONLY 30) DC fast chargers throughout British Columbia! At these stations users presently pay 35 cents per kilowatt hour with a minimum of $2.00 per charge session.
Given that transportation is responsible for 40% of household greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia, and given the growing uptake of electric vehicles provincially, nationally and internationally, it’s about time we work with industry to allow for charging stations to be installed throughout BC without relying on BC Hydro and public subsidizes.
A. Weaver: I have a couple of questions — I believe it’s within the mandate of the staff that you have present — with respect to electrical vehicle infrastructure. The questions are as follows. First off, what are the minister’s plans in terms of building out the electrical vehicle charging infrastructure in this province?
Hon. M. Mungall: Thank you to the member for the question. I’m actually really excited about the potential electric vehicles have in our future. How do we get there? Of course, the infrastructure for charging stations is really important, so I’m glad the member brought this up.
He’ll take note that there is $40 million in this year’s budget, over the next three years, to invest in the electric vehicle program, and $7 million of that is specifically earmarked for infrastructure, so for those charging stations.
We’re partnering with other utilities — B.C. Hydro being one of them, but others utilities like Columbia Power Corporation, FortisBC and local governments — to increase that overall $7 million and make those dollars go even further so that we can get more charging stations all across the province.
I’ll just let the member know, as well, that B.C. Hydro currently owns and operates 30 electric vehicle fast-charging stations. They have 29 more slated for construction. To accomplish that, they are partnering with FortisBC; with the province, as well, as I mentioned; Natural Resources Canada; and site hosts. So for example, you pull up to the Canadian Tire, and you see a B.C. Hydro fast-charging station. Well, that’s a result of that partnership.
A. Weaver: I do appreciate there being the high-voltage DC chargers that B.C. Hydro has done. Unfortunately, those chargers are not maintained by B.C. Hydro, and it is not uncommon to pull up to such a charging station and, actually, to have it inoperable.
My next question is: to what extent is B.C. Hydro planning to actually ensure that these high-voltage DC charging stations are in operation and are not going to go down on an ongoing basis? For example, Duncan was down for a couple of weeks. We also have one in the Interior where the executive director of the New Car Dealers Association was trapped with a Bolt that could not charge because the HVDC was down. Nobody told anyone about it.
The question is: to what extent is B.C. Hydro going to invest money to ensure, in the ones that they operate in collaboration with Greenlots, that these are actually in operation on an ongoing basis?
Hon. M. Mungall: It’s a new technology, as the member well knows. As we install these new technologies, we’re learning a lot in terms of how we do maintenance. That’s why B.C. Hydro has a program where they are ensuring that they’re doing their best in terms of maintenance. Also, what are they learning in terms of how this infrastructure rolls out and how it’s built?
Part of that $40 million that I talked about earlier, that $40 million envelope…. Well, $1.5 million is going to job training and public outreach and program analysis. For example, when we have these types of issues with the infrastructure around charging stations, we’re able to learn from it very quickly. We’re able to train people so that they’re able to maintain it appropriately and on time.
I appreciate that being out of a charging station for two weeks is excessive, and I’m sorry to hear that that happened. But moving forward, we’re definitely looking to learn from those lessons and ensure that we’re doing a better job.
A. Weaver: I would argue that the single biggest barrier to the introduction of electric vehicles in the province of British Columbia is, in fact, B.C. Hydro. In British Columbia, if you want to install a charging station, you simply cannot charge for power. B.C. Hydro and other utilities are the sole organizations that are able to charge a consumer for power. If you go to a gas station and you fill up with gas, you pay the gas station for the amount you wish to fill up.
We don’t need a public subsidy for the introduction of electric-vehicle-charging stations if malls, individuals and companies were actually allowed to install, in partnership with companies, and charge users for the ability to consume the power they do. That’s not possible in British Columbia, and that is the single biggest barrier for our introduction of electric-vehicle-charging stations.
My question is: to what extent is she exploring, as part of these measures, and looking at changing the requirement to be a registered utility in order to charge for electricity to use in your car? And to what extent can that be done through consultation with BCUC?
Hon. M. Mungall: B.C. Hydro is not the barrier that the member is talking about. In fact, B.C. Hydro is looking to partner with private businesses and individuals and is looking to see that infrastructure expanded. What is the barrier? There is one, and the member is right to identify it. It’s actually in the act with the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Responding to that, the ministry is working with BCUC on ways to address this barrier, on ways to allow private businesses to own charging stations and to flow through the charge of power that they would be purchasing. They’d also have a sound business model. They would be able to charge for the parking, for example, while somebody is charging their car while, maybe, they’re shopping at Canadian Tire. I obviously have a particular love for Canadian Tire because I keep bringing it up.
The point is that we do recognize that there are some barriers, and we are working on them.
A. Weaver: I do wish to acknowledge, I believe, the Chair, who showed leadership, which is what I’m arguing is needed here, through the actual installation of electric-vehicle-charging stations here at the Legislature. Unfortunately, the Legislature must subsidize the paying for that. The Legislature cannot allow, even though all of these are set up for swiping a credit card, for me to pay for my electricity or the Minister of Environment to pay for his electricity.
I come back to the issue. B.C. Hydro is the barrier to innovation. Twenty-nine charging stations across British Columbia, high-voltage DC, is hardly innovative when we have some down for weeks. This is not new technology. This is technology that is widespread and is in production around the world.
B.C. has the highest uptake of new electric vehicles in Canada. Four percent of new cars are electric cars in British Columbia, not too dissimilar from what California does with their own ZEV standard, yet we do not meet the infrastructure. The barrier is actually a proactive, innovative way of looking forward as to what’s happening in the future.
Coming back to the question then. Will the minister commit to actually work with industry — not with B.C. Hydro — to ensure that there’s a means and ways for industry to use their capital to install charging infrastructure, to allow electric vehicle users to swipe a credit card to pay for power that they want to pay for so that people will have incentive to install them, rather than requiring schools and hospitals and municipal halls and the Legislature and malls to pay for that?
Charging for parking does not work, because it is patently unfair unless you charge everyone for parking. You pay for the energy you use. Again, coming back to that. Will the minister work with industry — not with B.C. Hydro — to ensure that these can be installed in British Columbia like they can in most jurisdictions in the world?
Hon. M. Mungall: As I said, the ministry is already working with industry and being a mediator between industry and B.C. Utilities Commission on this very issue.
The member did ask that we not work with B.C. Hydro. Obviously, we will be working with our Crown corporation on this issue as well.