Electric appeal: Businesses, municipalities look to clear obstacles to electric vehicles

Manitoba municipalities and businesses are trying to find ways to overcome hurdles to converting from gas-powered vehicles to electric.

Morden mayor wants municipalities to be able to charge people to use public electric vehicle charging stations

An electric vehicle charging station in downtown Vancouver. The Association of Manitoba Municipalities will vote at its upcoming annual convention on whether to ask the province to allow them to charge people for using public electric vehicle charging stations. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Manitoba municipalities and businesses are trying to find ways to overcome hurdles to converting from gas-powered vehicles to electric.

Later this month, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities will vote on whether to ask the province to allow them to charge people for using public electric vehicle charging stations.

Morden, Man., Mayor Ken Wiebe wants to see more charging stations in his town, but he says the province needs to amend the Manitoba Hydro Act in order to make it work.

Currently, only Manitoba Hydro is allowed to retail electricity in the province.

Wiebe says the municipality could install charging stations itself, but then the cost of the electricity would be passed on to local taxpayers.

"We view that as being unfair to the ratepayer, since there's nobody at the gas pumps to write a cheque for you when you gas up," he said.

Winnipeg financial advisor Paul Edmond has driven his Tesla Model S for about a year and a half. Edmond has had a lifelong love of cars, having worked selling vehicles and auto parts.

"I've got, as they say, gas in my blood," he said.

After making the switch to an electric car, he said he thinks more people would follow if given the opportunity. He started a club of Tesla owners to share experiences and come up with ideas for ways to make it easier to own and operate an electric vehicle.

"If the infrastructure is in place, I believe more people will make the plunge into electric vehicles because they're just so superior in every way," he said.

Paul Edmond poses with two electric vehicles chargers outside his business on Academy Road. (Paul Edmond)

In an effort to encourage more people to adopt electric vehicles, he installed two Level 2 charging stations outside his business, Edmond Financial Group, on Academy Road.

The chargers are free for anyone to use, up to two hours. Edmond says Wiebe's proposal is a good idea if it makes electric vehicles more accessible, but he questions whether it's necessary for municipalities to charge people for the power.

"If they have to put the infrastructure in, and the only way they can put it in is by charging, then I'm all for it. But I wonder why we wouldn't make it free, because it doesn't cost that much and we need to make this move."

NDP wants to offer loans for EVs

On Friday, the Manitoba NDP proposed creating a no-interest loan to help people pay for their first electric vehicle. The proposal would use revenue from the provincial carbon tax and lend it to individuals, businesses and municipalities that want to switch from fossil fuel-burning vehicles to electric ones.

"So basically I want to be able to help you buy your first Tesla," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said at a news conference Friday.

Kinew estimates that if the province uses half of anticipated revenue from the carbon tax — about $125 million — it can finance 2,500 electric vehicles in the first year.

"As vehicle owners repay the loan, that money is recycled by lending that money out again. And as outstanding loans are repaid, we would be able to invest in a greater number of electric vehicles each and every year," he said.

The loans would be amortized over eight years, the shortest estimated lifespan of electric batteries, Kinew said.

The NDP proposal makes no mention of installing more charging stations.

So far, three provinces in Canada have set up public charging stations and incentive programs for electric vehicle owners: Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.

More charging stations needed

Gary Wall, a member of the EV Owners Club of Canada, says it will likely be necessary to charge people to use the stations because of the high set-up costs.

"These chargers are expensive and you need to have significant infrastructure to support them, and the best way to pay for it is to have a somewhat universal [payment] system," he said.

Wall says the NDP proposal is a good start, but he suggests the loans should be pro-rated, with higher payments in the first few years of the loan and then gradually decreasing, to account for the wear and tear on the vehicle and the batteries.

For Edmond, the lack of charging stations and the distance between them is the biggest obstacle to more people making the switch.

"If you build it then they will come, and we're not building it. How can they expect Manitobans to jump onside when they have the anxiety of, 'What if I need a charge and I can't get one?'" he said.

In July, Toronto-based company eCamion announced it's investing $17.3 million to install 34 fast-charging stations along the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba and Ontario by 2019.

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities will vote on the proposal to amend the Manitoba Hydro Act during its annual convention, Nov. 27-29.

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.