British Columbia

Why electric car uptake in rural B.C. is lagging behind big cities

Electric car uptake in B.C.’s rural communities is lagging considerably behind Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland. But a few factors could change that, according to some EV advocates.

Fewer off-road models, stronger EV legislation in larger centres among reasons cited for discrepancy

Braeden Fairbairn, co-founder of Kootenay Electric Vehicles, says he believes electric cars will inevitably become 'crazy' popular in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, despite current uptake being low. (Brendan Coulter/CBC)

Braeden Fairbairn has been promoting electric cars in the Kootenays since he purchased his purple Tesla Model 3 in 2019. 

He is the co-founder of Kootenay Electric Vehicles, a group that advocates for eletric vehicles or EVs, and encourages other drivers in the Kootenay region of British Columbia to go electric. 

"I am definitely proud of [my Tesla]," said Fairbairn. "I like the ability to go fast and do it in about the most sustainable way possible." 

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On Saturday, Kootenay Electric Vehicles hosted a grand opening celebration for six Tesla-branded superchargers in north Cranbrook, which make up the Kootenays' largest fast-charging station. 

But despite Fairbairn's efforts to promote zero-emissions vehicles — vehicles that don't produce tailpipe emissions — and despite gas prices in the province soaring to more than $2 per litre, electric car uptake in B.C.'s rural communities is lagging considerably behind that in Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

The CBC's Brendan Coulter speaks to Chris Walker about how the Kootenays have been lagging behind bigger cities in terms of electric vehicles.

About one in every 45 people own a zero-emission vehicle in the Lower Mainland and southwest regions of the province, according to the most recent statistics from the provincial government.

In the Kootenays, one in every 232 people own a zero-emission vehicle. In northern B.C., that number drops to one in every 414 people. 

The number of public charging stations closely corresponds to the number of zero-emission vehicles in various regions.

Vancouver has 483 public charging ports, according to ChargeHub, a website that tracks charging stations in North America. The communities of Kimberley and Trail in the Kootenays each have three.

However, more charging stations are being installed throughout rural B.C.

On May 5, B.C.'s Community Energy Association announced it received a $1 million investment from Natural Resources Canada to install up to 90 EV chargers across the Kootenays. 

Inequitable distribution of EVs

The availability of electric vehicles themselves more significantly affects their adoption in rural areas, according to representatives of Plugin B.C., which advocates for electric car adoption, and B.C.'s Community Energy Association, which works with municipalities on low-carbon projects. 

While supply is short and demand is high everywhere, electric car manufacturers prioritize sending vehicles to larger markets, says Megan Lohmann, director of strategic initiative with the Community Energy Association. 

"It is a concern to me when we've got the provincial zero-emission vehicle mandate in place … but that doesn't have a link to equitable distribution," she said. 

Lohmann also says areas that have strong legislation supporting electric vehicles will also be prioritized by car manufacturers. 

Cranbrook Hyundai general manager Dalton Bullock says it's a challenge to get electric inventory for his dealership. (Brendan Coulter/CBC)

Dalton Bullock, general manager of Cranbrook Hyundai, told CBC that people come into his dealership every day to ask about electric cars, but he only has two on location: a service loaner and a demo unit.

"It's definitely hard to get [electric cars] available," he said.

Strong EV legislation in bigger cities

Cities in the Lower Mainland have passed a number of measures to promote the adoption of electric vehicles. The City of Vancouver, for example, requires EV charging infrastructure in 45 per cent of parking stalls in most types of new non-residential buildings.

New gas stations in Surrey are required to provide an alternative fuel source, such as hydrogen fuelling or a level-three electric vehicle charging station.

However, there are smaller communities throughout the province that have also passed meaningful bylaws or initiated programs to promote EVs.

Local governments in the Kootenays and the Community Energy Association worked together on the $1.5-million Accelerate Kootenays project, which saw 53 charging stations installed throughout the region. The three regional districts of the Kootenays won the 2020 Federation of Municipalities Visionary Award for the program. 

"To be able to see it come to fruition and have a massive impact in the communities is something I'm very proud of," Lohmann said.

More EV capabilities will increase rural adoption

The availability of electric vehicles with off-road capabilities will also affect rural adoption, according to both Fairbairn and Lohmann. 

Last year, GMC's Hummer EV launched, while Ford's F-150 Electric Truck launched this spring. Chevrolet's 2024 Silverado EV is set to roll out in 2023. 

As more diverse models of electric vehicles are built, Fairbairn believes widespread adoption of EVs in B.C.'s rural regions, like the Kootenays, is inevitable.

"They are going to go crazy here," he said.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brendan Coulter is CBC British Columbia's Kootenay pop-up bureau reporter. He has also worked for CBC Kamloops. Reach him at brendan.coulter@cbc.ca.

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