By July 31, 2017 Read More →

Kootenays to go big on fast charging system for electric vehicles

Accelerate Kootenays

The Accelerate Kootenays initiative plans to add 13 new DC fast-charging stations (DCFC) and 40 Level 2 charging stations to southeast B.C. by the end of 2018. Map shows existing and planned DCFC and Level 2 stations in the region.

13 DC fast charge stations included in rollout through December 2018

In recent years, there’s been a smattering of electric vehicle and hybrid-electric cars showing up in the southeast corner of B.C. A Chevy Volt in Kimberley, a couple more in Fernie. Four Nissan Leafs and a couple Volts in Nelson, and a few Teslas in Rossland.

Accelerate Kootenays

Photo: BC Hydro.

And for the most part, they’ve been bought and driven by true believers like Nelson’s Andrew Chewter, a Leaf owner who says: “I feel bad enough being in a car and commuting everyday – I didn’t want to feel worse by putting over six tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the air each year.”

But Chewter’s days as a local curiosity – that EV guy driving around town with a canoe and three mountain bikes on an electric car – could be numbered. The Accelerate Kootenays initiative is about to deliver another 13 DC fast charging stations and 40 Level 2 chargers to the Kootenays by December 2018.

Billed as Canada’s first regional and community-driven strategy to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, Accelerate Kootenays kicked off the big push with the opening of a DC fast charge station in Cranbrook. Gone will be the days when longer electric vehicle trips in the region were marathon “making the most of it” affairs that might involve going on a local hike while your car “trickle-charged” for hours at a local campground.

“I’ll be able to do weekend trips I couldn’t do before,” says Chewter. “I’ll be able to drive to Castlegar, go up to the Paulson Summit to go cross-country skiing and then come back. Last winter, there wasn’t even a Level 2 in Castlegar.”

“Communities across the country could and should indeed band together to do this. As soon as a few key pieces are resolved, one being charging infrastructure, I don’t what would be keeping a great number of people from choosing an EV as their next car,” says Alberta solar energy pioneer Gordon Howell, an Edmonton-based engineer.

“The savings show a 5-year payback. What’s not to like about that?”

Accelerate Kootenays

‘We expect the project to attract new visitors to the region’

Castlegar is on the list of 13 communities that will get a DC fast charger, which is fast enough to provide an 80 per cent charge to most EVs in a half hour (even though drivers rarely need to charge their car from empty or near empty).

Other proposed sites on the list for DC fast chargers are: Sparwood, Jaffray, Creston, Salmo, Castlegar, Christina Lake and Greenwood along Highway 3; Canal Flats, Radium Hot Springs and Golden along Highway 95; Field and Rogers Pass on Highway 1.

“It’s fascinating to see how the electricity companies are supporting this, understandably…. and how increasingly we are going to be seeing large regional electricity companies competing against gigantic multi-national gasoline companies,” said Howell.

“It is really interesting to see how car companies are responding to this, quickly, and now somewhat frantically, compared to their blase response just a couple years ago.”

Accelerate KootenaysThe addition of 40 Level 2 chargers – which charge anywhere from three to six times faster than the basic 120-volt outlet found in your home or at a campground – should make a huge difference in the region.

“We’ve really harnessed local knowledge and regional assets in this project to create a charging network that addresses the driving challenges we face here in the Kootenays: mountain ranges, extreme weather, and long distances between communities,” says Lawrence Chernoff, the Castlegar mayor who chairs the Highway 3 Mayors’ and Chairs’ Coalition that worked with energy planners from local communities to inspire what became Accelerate Kootenays.

“It is an opportunity for our communities to show off what’s great about the region, and to draw attention to the innovation that exists here at the community level.

“We expect the project to attract new visitors to the region, benefitting our communities in a variety of ways.”

Accelerate Kootenays’ more than $1.5 million in funding includes, $600,000 from Columbia Basin Trust, $350,000 from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, $300,000 from the Government of BC, $190,000 from FortisBC, and $30,000 each from regional districts (East Kootenay, Kootenay Boundary and Central Kootenay).

EV owner in the Kootenays already sold on practicality of driving electric

For Chewter, the excitement created by the new stations and Accelerate Kootenays’ marketing experts will only serve to spread what he’s been saying for years: even though they’re more expensive in terms of original purchase price, when you consider all costs of ownership, electric cars are a practical, affordable option for many drivers in more rural areas of B.C.

Chewter bought the Leaf in 2014 as soon as he started a daily 144-km round-trip commute between Nelson and Trail, where he works as an environmental engineer at the Teck smelter. Over the past year, he drove the Leaf 34,000 km (including some weekend trips) and used the family’s other car – a Subaru Forester – for longer trips that added up to less than 10,000 km for the year.

From the day Chewter bought his 2014 Leaf – which delivers an EPA-rated range of 135 km on a single charge – he has spread the EV gospel via his Kootenay EV Family blog that regularly details his costs down to the dollar. And his numbers are powerful:

  • $120: Total cost of maintenance after 112,600 km of driving, thanks to no oil changes, brake work or tune-ups required.
  • $3,432: Operational savings (fuel costs, maintenance) over a gas-powered vehicle in the first nine months of 2016.
  • 75% or more: The amount of wear remaining on his brakes, which are seldom used in electric cars that use “regenerative breaking” that actually helps recharge the vehicle and which should delay brake replacement until after 200,000 to 300,000 km.
  • 2: The number of days in which he chose to drive the higher-clearance, all-wheel-drive Subaru for the drive to Whitewater Ski Resort because the snow was so deep. On dozens of other days, the front-wheel-drive Leaf was the vehicle of choice for skiing, and he says it performs really well in the snow.
  • -25°C: The coldest day in which he drove the Leaf. “The nice thing about it is it warms up right away – it pumps out heat within a minute,” he says.

Chewter missed out on B.C.’s up-to-$5,000 rebate for purchase of an electric vehicle, as the rebate was unavailable for a year between 2014 and 2015. He says that if he factors in what the Leaf would have cost him with the rebate in place, he would have been ahead on costs for a similar-sized gas-powered after just one year.

“The up-front cost of an electric vehicle can be a big number, and that scares some people off,” he says. “But when you compare the costs over five years, even to a fuel-efficient car like a Prius, my car will still come out ahead.”

Once the more robust DC fast charge and Level 2 charging network in southeast B.C. is in place, expect that Chewter’s 22% use of his Subaru will decline considerably. Road trip vacations that would take a week to complete with the Leaf and the existing charging network will now be feasible over a long weekend.

Accelerate Kootenays

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