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Charging stations not busy as Yukon government eyes thousands of new electric vehicles

One advocate says the Yukon government will need to expand the fast-charging network if it wants to hit its goal of 4,700 EVs on the road by 2030.

3 fast-charging stations used 550 times since November 2019

The fast-charging station for electric vehicles at the visitor information centre in Whitehorse was used 39 times in its first 11 months of operation. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Yukon's three fast-charging stations for electric cars haven't exactly been busy since their launch last November, but that could change with the territorial government aiming to put thousands of electric vehicles on the road over the next decade.

Drivers have plugged into the three stations—two in Whitehorse, one in Carcross—just under 550 times in 10 months, according to figures released by the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.

The busiest station is at the NorthLight Innovation Hub in downtown Whitehorse, where drivers charged up 288 times. The least busy station is a few blocks away at the city's visitor information centre, which saw just 39 plug-ins over 11 months, including zero in April.

The station at the Carcross/Tagish First Nation Learning Centre was used 220 times. The three stations counted 24 unique users, who charged their batteries an average of 24 per cent at the visitors centre, 33 per cent at Northlight and 38 per cent in Carcross.

'Starting the conversation around electric vehicles'

The fast-charging stations cost $345,000, nearly two-thirds of which was covered by the federal government. The Yukon government also operates three lower-power charging stations in Whitehorse and Mount Lorne. 

Matthew Ooms, the government's manager of energy programs, said there was no target for use of the stations.

"I think we were more curious than anything to see what the uptake would be," he said.

"Deploying this infrastructure was as much about starting the conversation around electric vehicles and beginning that transition as it was about getting that the charge counts up."

The Yukon government is offering $5,000 rebates to encourage electric vehicle sales in the territory, with a goal of 4,800 on the roads by 2030. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Ooms said most electric vehicle (EV) drivers tend to keep their cars plugged in at home overnight and use the fast-charging stations to top up. In that, he said, they're more like cell phones than gas- or diesel-powered vehicles, which tend to get filled up every few days.

YG aims for thousands of EVs by 2030

The Yukon government's climate change plan has set a goal of 4,800 electric vehicles on Yukon roads by 2030. Eric Labrecque, who studies energy issues for the Yukon Conservation Society, said the government will need to rapidly expand the charging network if it wants to hit that goal.

"If you want to have enough people using electric vehicles you need to have the infrastructure in place," he said. 

"But if your stats are saying that people aren't using the electric vehicle charging stations, then you may not want to install more, but without installing more, you're not going to be able to get that uptake that you need."

Ooms said new fast-charging stations will open in Haines Junction and Marsh Lake soon. And he said eventually there may be private sector stations, although that would require regulatory changes to allow businesses to sell electricity directly to consumers. 

Labrecque said he's optimistic that government subsidies will spur greater demand for EVs. Both the federal and Yukon governments are offering up to $5,000 each toward the purchase of electric vehicles.

The B.C. and Yukon governments have also announced plans to build a network of fast-charging stations along the Alaska Highway.

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