A Saanich councillor plans to explore the possibility of pulling the plug on free electricity for drivers of electric vehicles.
“I wonder if Saanich should start charging the actual costs for electricity to the drivers in order to pay for future infrastructure investment needed for the mass increase in electric cars that will be coming,” asked Coun. Colin Plant on his Facebook page. “We pay for downtown parking. Why not pay for EV parking here in Saanich?”
Plant said in a later interview that he has not brought forward the idea formally.
“As EVs become more mainstream and stations become higher in demand, it is best practice to introduce a nominal fee for charging that helps recover electricity costs,” he said. “This is something that could be considered by Saanich.”
Plant, who drives an electric vehicle, is also willing put money where his mouth is.
“As an individual, I am willing to pay,” he said.
Plant’s interest in the economics of charging stations stems from a recent invitation to the Victoria EV Club meeting in December to discuss existing and future EV infrastructure under the authority of the Capital Regional District and Saanich.
“The club members are interested in seeing more charging infrastructure in our region, and one member made the suggestion of charging for electricity to provide funds for more infrastructure investment,” he said. “This intrigued me.”
According to B.C. Hydro, British Columbia is home to more than 1,000 Level 2 chargers across B.C. – stations that will fully charge most vehicles in less than five hours. (Saanich operates 12 Level 2 charging stations, which do not charge for electricity).
This provincial network of Level 2 stations operate next to 58 BC Hydro-installed DC fast chargers that will do that same job in 30 minutes or less, plus a small network of Tesla superchargers for use by Tesla owners.
While most Level 2 charging stations do not charge consumers out of pocket, they are not free.
Their respective purchase, permitting and installation come with a price tag that ranges anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500, according to plugin.bc. Some also charge for parking while charging. (Depending on the vehicle, Level 1 charging may take anywhere between 13 and 71 hours, while Level 2 charging may take anywhere between three and 11.5 hours.)
DC fast-charging stations, meanwhile, cost anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000, according to plugin.bc. Not surprisingly, fast-charging stations like the one that opened near Uptown in March 2015 charge drivers — in that case, $0.35 per kW/h with a $2 minimum.
These costs, in turn, exist on top of the cost of the electricity. Saanich’s electricity costs are approximately $163 per month.
“The advantage of charging drivers, in my opinion, would be the opportunity to further fund EV charging infrastructure,” said Plant. “In the longer term as electric cars become more common, it will be prudent to recover the costs of the electricity.”
While free electricity encourages lower GHG emissions, Saanich taxpayers are subsidizing those drivers, said Plant, who acknowledges that charging for electricity might slow the conversion towards electric vehicles.
“I’m not sure this is likely, however, given the province’s announcement regarding only selling electric and hybrid cars by 2040 and that the costs of electric cars seems to be coming down…,” he said.
For now, Plant supports the provision of free electricity. “We are indeed interested in supporting and encouraging people to switch to electric vehicles.”
But changes might be ahead, as BC Hydro may allow public entities to sell electricity for EVs themselves. “At this point I am still collecting information on the topic and until the [British Columbia Utilities Commission] makes a final decision, there is actually no opportunity for Saanich to directly charge for the electricity at its chargers,” said Plant.
Saanich, he added, wants to be a leader in supplying EV infrastructure. “Saanich will be exploring the evolution of our public charging network, including associated fees, as part of the Climate Plan Update and supporting EV Strategy throughout 2019,” he said.
For example, Saanich is looking at policy to require all multi-unit new developments to have EV charging infrastructure installed as a requirement, he said.