Nfld. & Labrador

Electric-vehicle charging network planned for N.L. in 2020

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has issued a tender to place 14 electric-vehicle chargers across the island, the first public high-speed chargers in the province.

14 chargers would stretch along the TCH from Port aux Basques to St. John's

The 14 charging stations would be located along the Trans-Canada Highway from Port aux Basques to St. John's. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has laid out its plan to install a network of high-speed electric-vehicle charging stations across the island portion of the province, hoping to have it up and running by the end of 2020.

The energy utility posted a tender Wednesday inviting bids for land leases for 14 such stations near or on the Trans-Canada Highway, in specific locations from Port aux Basques to St. John's. That would then lead to the installation of Level 3 chargers, which take between 30 minutes to an hour to charge an electric vehicle.

"Hydro is actively working to bring the province more in line with EV accessibility levels seen across the country," said a spokesperson for NL Hydro in a statement. The utility declined an interview.

In the last two years, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have installed similar provincial networks, and Newfoundland and Labrador is currently the only province in Canada without any publicly available Level 3 chargers.

But the key to catching up with the rest of the country is cash. NL Hydro stated the project depends on funding, and if that is not approved it could cancel the plan at any time.

Despite that potential problem, the head of an electric-car lobby group is applauding the tender.

"If they follow the same … type of chargers that have been installed elsewhere in Atlantic Canada, we will end up with a very nice, robust network that will allow anybody with any electric car of just about any age to traverse back and forth across the island," said John Seary.

Jon Seary, co-founder of Drive Electric NL, owns a Tesla Model X SUV. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

However, Seary, who said his organization has lobbied for such a network at least the last two years, does see one major shortcoming.

"This is a first step. It's along the Trans-Canada — it does not include the Burin, it does not go up into Labrador or up the Northern Peninsula, et cetera," he said.

"However, you start with your primary corridors first, and then from there you can see where your traffic flows are and get a lot of information from that."

Encouraging electric

NL Hydro's tender looks to lease land in order to install and manage its charging stations. It calls for two parking spaces at each stations, to be available for use 24 hours a day, with room for possible expansion.

"Hydro expects that this project will materially increase the number of EVs in Newfoundland and Labrador," the tender stated.

Less than one per cent of cars in the province are electric or hybrid models, according to Service NL.

While several Level 2 charging stations exist across the island at private businesses, capable of fully charging vehicles overnight, the tender noted that increasing charging infrastructure is key to encouraging more drivers to switch to electric.

Seary agreed, saying the No. 1 question he gets from potential owners is how they can easily charge cars on a cross-island trip.

"This will allow them to make that trip, the odd time that they want to do it, and do it quite easily," he said.

However, similar expectations elsewhere haven't always led to results. New Brunswick expected a surge in ownership after it installed a provincewide network of chargers, but so far has fallen 80 per cent short of its predictions.

But Seary sees additional incentive to switch in this province, as electricity rates are set to spike in Newfoundland and Labrador by 2021 as the Muskrat Falls project comes online and the province looks for ways to mitigate the increase.

Tesla makes its own charging stations, which can be even faster than the Level 3 stations NL Hydro is looking to create. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

He and Drive Electric NL have presented its case to the province's Public Utilities Board, saying that more electric vehicles on the road could soak up some of Muskrat Falls's surplus power, and help keep ratepayers from having to pay for that surplus via taxes.

Seary said he spends about $800 annually on electricity to fuel his Tesla, compared with his former gas bills of around $4,000 a year.

Save on fuel, spend on meals

While EVs save on fuel bills, Seary said, the new charging network also offers businesses and the province a few ways to make money.

The tender specifies charging stations must be located within a certain distance to the TCH and to the necessary electrical infrastructure, but Seary urged more than just gas stations to apply as hosts.

"As the charging environment matures, people are realizing, 'Hey, I have a small sandwich shop — if I can put a charger on the premises or have one located nearby, I can encourage customers to come over and have a meal here,'" he said.

To that end, the tender also stated that land providers can expect increased traffic, and therefore "no compensation in the form of rent or otherwise will be paid to the owners."

Water levels rise near the Muskrat Falls generating station in early September 2019. (Nalcor Energy )

Seary also said he has fielded inquiries from as far away as California from electric-vehicle owners who are hoping to drive across Newfoundland and Labrador, and waiting for such a network.

"There is a tourism market that's waiting for us to have this done. And it's the right kind of tourist for us," he said.

"They're not the ones who fly into St. John's, drive out an hour or two here and there, and then go again. They're the ones who want to drive around and visit all the parts of the province."

NL Hydro's tender closes Nov. 13, with plans for construction to begin in the summer of 2020.

It does not specify what funding it's waiting on to make the network possible, but Natural Resources Canada is currently considering submitted requests for such funding projects.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Lindsay Bird

CBC News

Lindsay Bird is the producer and host of Atlantic Voice, a CBC Radio 1 show showcasing documentaries and storytelling from the east coast. She is based out of CBC Corner Brook.