Nfld. & Labrador

Fast-charger network for EVs coming slower than promised … but it's coming, says NL Hydro

Geoff Newman was hesitant to buy an electric car, but now his family has two and he hopes his youngest child will never set foot on the gas pedal of a fuel-powered vehicle.

Fans of electric vehicles finding it easier to get charged up

Geoff Newman in St. John's crouches next to one of the two electric cars that his family owns. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Geoff Newman was hesitant to buy an electric car a few years ago but now his family has two and he hopes his youngest child will never set foot on the gas pedal of a fuel-powered vehicle.

"My youngest, who is now 10, will probably only ever drive electric," he said.

Newman is one member of a family of five that used to have two gas-powered vehicles: a minivan and a car. When the car died (beyond resuscitation) they had a choice to make.

Newman believed electric cars are the right thing for the environment but he wasn't certain it would work for his family. It took a nudge to convince him.

This was the first electric car the Newmans bought: a second-hand 2014 Nissan. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"The biggest factor behind it is probably the family's belief in protecting the environment. It's fair to say that my daughter and my wife were very integral in the decision-making," he told CBC News this week.

Newman has family in Gander, about 330 kilometres from St. John's, and one of his big concerns about electric vehicles was how far they could go without running out of power.

When their second gas vehicle deteriorated beyond repair, they bit the bullet and bought a second electric car.

"So when we bought electric cars we had to have that in mind. Can we make it out to Gander and will that work? And the answer is now it can," he said.

Goobies is the answer

What changed? Newman says Goobies changed. The town, 160 kilometres west of St. John's, now has a fast charger for electric vehicles.

"We probably wouldn't have have made that decision to buy that second electric car had the faster-charging network across the province not been planned. We bought the car in February and the stations have been steadily opening one at a time."

The fast charger in Goobies is one of 14 that are being installed across the island, from St. John's to Port aux Basques.

Last summer the federal government contributed $770,000 to the project. The provincial government is kicking in $1 million, and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is providing about $500,000.

There are many Level 2 chargers around the province, and many electric car owners like Newman have installed Level 2 chargers at their homes.

This Level 2 charger is the type many electric vehicle owners have installed at their homes. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

According to N.L. Hydro's website, Level 2 chargers can give an electric vehicle enough power in about 15 minutes to travel 40 kilometres, but fast chargers — Level 3 — will charge a electric car battery sufficiently in 15 minutes to go 100 kilometres.

And that can make all the difference when you're travelling long distance.

Charging an electric vehicle is cheaper than filling a car with gas. Charging a battery at home is estimated to cost about seven or eight dollars, and Jennifer Williams, president of NL Hydro, says it costs about $15 to fully charge an electric car with a fast charger.

COVID-19 setback

When federal funding for the cross-island network was announced last July, the province was told the entire network would be operational by the end of 2020 — but a lot has happened since then.

NL Hydro president Jennifer Williams, seen here at the fast charging station in the Galway area of St. John's, says two more fast chargers are scheduled to come online within the next couple of weeks. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

"We've got 14 installed and we have nine in service, with another two to come in service within the next week or two," said Williams.

"We've needed a little bit of extra time. COVID has obviously … thrown a wrench into the execution of some of our plans, and the weather is always a little difficult, but we are very close to getting them all completed."

These Level 3, left, and Level 2 chargers in Galway are part of the charging network installed across the province. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

As of mid-April the network is operational as far as Deer Lake, but NL Hydro says it won't be long until electric vehicle users will have access to public fast chargers about every 70 kilometres along the Trans-Canada Highway, along with a fast charger in Gros Morne National Park.

"It removes barriers for long-distance travel of beyond, say, several hundred kilometres," says Williams

And she says there's more to come.

"We have an application in jointly with Newfoundland Power to the Public Utilities Board to put 19 stations in some of the places that are not served now — for example, on the various peninsulas and Labrador," said Williams.

Back in his driveway, Geoff Newman and his family are paying close attention.

"We're watching as the charging stations go across the province," he said with a laugh.

"That's a note to NL Hydro. We're watching."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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