Manitoba

City eases fleet into electric tech with planned vehicle purchases, charging stations

The City of Winnipeg is calling for pitches from charging station manufacturers as it plans to add two electric vehicles to its fleet of 2,200.

Request for proposals asks charging station manufacturers for pitches as city studies feasibility

An electric vehicle charging station in downtown Vancouver. The City of Winnipeg is currently asking for pitches to install two Level 3 fast-charging stations. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The City of Winnipeg is taking one small step toward making its fleet of 2,200 vehicles more environmentally friendly.

The city has published a request for proposals for the installation and maintenance of two Level 3 fast-charging stations. The deadline is Feb. 21.

The city has purchased two electric vehicles, Chevy Bolts, as it tests the feasibility of using electric.

"Support for electric vehicles is a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate city leadership in reducing the corporate carbon footprint as well as supporting the adoption of electric vehicles in the community," the proposal states, noting 26 per cent of all corporate greenhouse gas emissions in Winnipeg come from the city's municipal fleet.

The proposal comes weeks after city council's public works committee announced it was entertaining the prospect of buying 12 to 20 electric buses.

The city intends on gradually phasing out its diesel bus fleet and replacing them with electric.

Right now the city doesn't own any of its own electric vehicle charging stations, a city spokesperson recently confirmed via email. 

The Manitoba Electric Vehicles Association recommended the city install Level 3 charging stations two years ago, said MEVA president Robert Elms.

Robert Elms is the president of the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

He said everyone in the province who owns an electric vehicle will be encouraged by the city buying two vehicles and charging stations.

"I think it's terrific that the city of Winnipeg is … looking to go ahead and provide some leadership, provide an example for other municipalities and to all of us as Manitobans, that battery electric vehicles are the way to go," said Elms.

Technology, location, accessibility

But though Elms is pleased to see the city is taking action to reduce its emissions, he has at least three main concerns about the technology, location and accessibility of the stations.

The city proposal says each will be a 50kW station. That might be OK for most electric cars today, Elms said, but he says technology is evolving quickly. In the next few years there will be more electric vehicles on the market that can handle 100 kW or more, he said, which is why he thinks the city should ensure the stations are scalable and can adapt to new innovations.

A city spokesperson said the stations won't be accessible to the public during the trial period, and no decision has been made regarding the public use of them once the period is over. One will be used by the Winnipeg Parking Authority, the other by the water and waste department.

Elms said they should be accessible to all electric vehicle owners should have access to them if the city really wants to spur adoption of the technology.

There was a 48 per cent jump in electric vehicles registered with Manitoba Public Insurance last year compared to the year before, according to MPI, but in absolute terms it wasn't a big spike. There were 126 in 2017 and 186 in 2018.

Data supplied by Manitoba Public Insurance shows 187 electric vehicles and 5,529 hybrids were registered in Manitoba in 2018, up from 126 and 5,079 in 2017. (Charlie Brockman/CBC News Graphics)

Most owners have a Level 2 charging station installed at home, which can juice up the average vehicle in a few hours overnight. Level 1 chargers are typical household outlets, but they charge more slowly and produce what's known as a trickle charge.

There are only a handful of Level 3 stations in Manitoba right now. They can charge most electric vehicle batteries fully within 30 to 60 minutes. 

Patchwork of charging stations

Manitoba itself is a patchwork of stations that makes long-distance travel a challenge or impossibility depending on the range of the electric vehicle.

Manitoba has some Level 2 stations scattered across the province but lacks a robust Level 3 supercharger network that would enable easy long-distance travel. (Charlie Brockman/CBC News Graphics)

Distances on a full charge vary from about 100 kilometres to 500 kilometres in ideal conditions, depending on the make and model. On the coldest winter days, many owners notice a significant drop in range, but it doesn't make a big difference for most city drivers.

MEVA recently submitted a list of 10 recommendations to the Manitoba government.

One recommendation was that the province commit to replacing its fleet with all electric vehicles. Another was a call to invest $4 million into a fast-charging network that would enable long road trips that aren't possible for many electric vehicle owners right now.

Elms hopes the government gets on board because Manitoba is behind most provinces when it comes to our relative lack of fast-charging infrastructure.

"We're getting to the point now where, from Nova Scotia to B.C., the only two provinces without fast-charge networks will be Manitoba and Saskatchewan," said Elms.​

B.C., Ontario, Quebec and much of the Maritimes have growing networks or have committed to developing them, said Elms. And this month, a group of municipalities and stakeholders announced Alberta's "Peaks to Prairies" project will see the creation of 20 fast-charging and Level 2 stations in the southern part of that province by the end of 2019.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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