New Brunswick

Province isn't close to hitting its electric vehicle target, and officials blame expense

New Brunswick won't reach its target for the adoption of electric vehicles this year, falling short of even one-fifth of the goal laid out in its climate change action plan.

Province set 2020 goal of having 2,500 electric vehicles on the roads

The New Brunswick government set a target of having 2,500 electric vehicles on roads by 2020. Today, there are only 429 registered. (REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson )

New Brunswick won't reach its target for the adoption of electric vehicles this year, falling short of even one-fifth of the goal laid out in its climate change action plan.

Officials from the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development said the province won't come anywhere near the objective of getting 2,500 electric vehicles on the roads in 2020.

"Unfortunately we're not going to meet that," said Bill Breckenridge, the assistant deputy minister for energy and mines. "We only have 429 registered now, as of the end of last year."

Breckenridge was testifying before the legislature's all-party committee on climate change and environmental stewardship.

He said the cars, which don't use any greenhouse-gas-emitting fuel but operate on rechargeable batteries, are so far proving too expensive for most drivers. 

New Brunswick officials are hopeful Ottawa will extend its rebate program to help offset the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"We're optimistic that as the technology evolves, the price is going to start to come down," he said. "For the average New Brunswicker, as you know they're quite expensive. The long-term operation is very beneficial. They don't have much servicing."

He added that a possible extension of federal rebates could help.

Ottawa is providing $5,000 rebates, but since last May, consumers have already used up almost half of the $300 million total budgeted over three years. Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said last month he could extend the program to cover used electric cars.

Too pricey for government

The provincial target of 2,500 electric vehicles was set in the climate plan developed by the previous Liberal government in 2016. Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs adopted the plan and its goals after taking office in 2018.

During the committee session, the department's deputy minister Tom MacFarlane acknowledged that his department doesn't have a single electric vehicle in its entire fleet.

"Electrical vehicles are fairly expensive and fairly pricey, and even with rebates, it's a challenge to purchase, even for government, an electric vehicle when you compare it to the cost of our traditional vehicles," he said.

Later in the day, officials from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure told the committee there is no target for using more electric vehicles in the government fleet, and many departments use heavier vehicles or trucks with no electric version available.

The previous Liberal government bought two electric school buses as part of a pilot project. Last year PC Education Minister Dominic Cardy opted to buy 16 propane-powered buses as part of a new pilot project.

According to federal data, light-duty gasoline cars emitted 810,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases in New Brunswick in 2017, or 5.6 percent of all provincial emissions.

Light-duty gasoline trucks represented another 1.1 million tonnes and total emissions for road transportation were more than 3 million tonnes.

Environment Minister Jeff Carr was among the government officials Wednesday blaming the prohibitive cost of electric vehicles for missing the 2020 goal. (CBC)

Environment Minister Jeff Carr, who chose a gas-battery hybrid from the government fleet as his ministerial car when he was sworn in, said the high cost of fully electric cars is still a barrier for most consumers. 

"I think people want to go there. … I can see myself at some point in time, when I can afford one and one becomes more readily available, jumping at the chance to own one."

He said one possible use of the revenue from the province's new carbon tax on consumers, which will replace the federal version Apr. 1, would be additional incentives for electric cars.

Breckenridge told the committee of MLAs that establishing more charging stations for electric vehicles will also make drivers more willing to buy them.

NB Power argues for more charging stations

The province now has 134 Level Two stations, 28 "fast" stations and 48 "super-charger" stations for Tesla cars, he said.

"We think by investing in infrastructure, with the federal incentive, hopefully the technology keeps evolving and the price comes down [and] we'll hopefully be doing better and make our target for 2030." That target is 20,000 vehicles.

The province now has 134 Level Two stations, 28 “fast” stations and 48 super-charger stations for Tesla cars. Pictured above is a Tesla charging station in Nova Scotia. (Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium/Canadian Press/AP)

NB Power has rolled out a network of charging stations that hasn't attracted the expected revenues because of lower-than-expected sales of electric cars.

The Energy and Utilities Board ordered the utility to stop the program because it was outside its mandate and the private sector was just as capable of providing the stations. 

But earlier this month NB Power filed an expert report with the Energy and Utilities Board that argued even more charging stations would "nudge" more consumers to buy electric cars. 

MacFarlane also acknowledged Tuesday that more than three years after the release of the climate change plan, his department still hasn't developed a strategy to meet New Brunswick's legislated emission targets for 2050.

Green party leader David Coon said a strategy is needed to guide the department's decisions in setting energy policies that keep the province on track for those targets.

"It is one of the tasks we're working on, to develop an energy strategy," MacFarlane said.

"That's work that has certainly only been initiated or started and we're trying to put the elements of that work together, but I think as you can appreciate, it's a fairly extensive effort to do such a thing." 

Liberal environment critic Andrew Harvey said the strategy should be in place by now. "It's long enough. The current government has been there roughly 14 months, and they say they're working on it, but time will tell."