Politics

Electric-vehicle plan hits roadblock at minister's office

A Liberal election promise to "green" the government fleet by acquiring more plug-in electric vehicles has stalled at one minister's office. Natural Resources officials have abandoned a plan to provide the minister with an electric vehicle after deciding there aren't enough charging stations in Ottawa.

Liberal election promise to adopt electric cars stalls at the Natural Resources Department

Natural Resources Canada has abandoned a plan to provide the minister, Jim Carr, with an electric vehicle. Officials say there aren't enough charging stations in Ottawa and have decided on a hybrid SUV instead. (Hannah Yoon/Canadian Press)

A Liberal promise to "rapidly expand" the federal fleet of electric vehicles has stalled at Natural Resources Canada, a showcase department for green technologies.

A project to replace the minister's gas-guzzling Chrysler 300 with a plug-in electric car has been abandoned, after officials decided Ottawa doesn't have enough charging facilities.

Instead, Jim Carr's new executive vehicle will be a Toyota Rav 4 hybrid, which has lower emissions than the current car, doesn't burn gas while idling, and uses a regenerative braking system that stores energy in batteries.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's executive vehicle is a hybrid, but her officials say she is keen to replace it with an electric vehicle. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"As neither NRCan nor the House of Commons currently have charging stations available on their premises, the purchase of a hybrid vehicle was the best option," said Carr's spokesman Alex Deslongchamps.

The decision ends a months-long project by the department's Office of Energy Efficiency, which is the lead agency in investigating electric-vehicle options for other federal departments as well, including National Defence, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Parks Canada.

The department's retreat to a hybrid focuses attention on one of the biggest obstacles to electric-vehicle adoption by Canadians, that is, "the lack of EV [electric vehicle] charging infrastructure at workplaces and commercial or public venues," said Beth McKechnie of Ottawa's Green Action Centre.

Early adopter

The Liberal Party's 2015 election platform promised to "support clean transportation by adding electric vehicle charging stations at federal parking lots, and rapidly expanding the federal fleet of electric vehicles." A Liberal government would also be an "'early adopter' of emerging green technologies."

In March, Natural Resources launched the ministerial electric-vehicle project to "demonstrate leadership" by Carr, and began investigating whether to install a charging station at the department's main parking lot on Booth Street, in mid-town Ottawa.

Officials also placed a data-recording device on the existing vehicle in April and May to measure precisely how the 2014 Chrysler 300 was being used.

[The] minister is very keen on this.- Spokesperson Caitlin Workman on environment minister's desire for an electric car

The results showed the car was being driven an average of 48 kilometres each day and was stuck idling about 19 per cent of the time. Other metrics showed Carr's official driver was conservative in accelerating and decelerating, which helps to conserve gas. Annual gas costs were estimated at $1,831.

CBC News obtained documents related to the project through the Access to Information Act.

Charging stations can range in cost from several hundred dollars to more than $20,000, depending on the technology. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)
The department has a budget of about $80,000 annually for the salary of the driver and operating costs for the vehicle, including oil changes and maintenance.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's executive vehicle is currently a hybrid Subaru, when she isn't using her bicycle.

On Thursday, McKenna spoke at an electric-vehicle event on Ottawa's Sparks Street, sponsored in part by Natural Resources Canada, where she said "I'm definitely getting an EV," without specifying a timeline.

Her office building in Gatineau, Que., already had a charging station when she became minister last November, though there are none currently on Parliament Hill. Asked why the delay in acquiring an electric car, she said "we had to look at all the options."

She added that re-charging has become easier in the capital, with 80 charging stations set up in Ottawa now and more to come.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says she hopes all cabinet ministers will be using electric vehicles. 1:14

Exempt from idling law

Carr's new hybrid vehicle, not yet delivered, will remove any risk of being ticketed under the City of Ottawa's 2007 anti-idling bylaw, which forbids idling for more than three minutes of every hour. Hybrids, which typically shut down their internal combustion engines at a stop, are exempt from the bylaw.

A government spokesman says Carr's existing car has never been ticketed for idling. A City of Ottawa official says only six tickets have been issued to date under the 10-year-old bylaw, though he could not identify the offenders.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is still awaiting delivery of his Toyota Rav 4 hybrid vehicle, which will replace a 2014 Chrysler 300.
In May, Carr invited business proposals under a $16.4-million program to increase access to electric vehicle fast-charging units, as well as more natural gas and hydrogen fuelling stations. Another $46.1 million was promised for research to develop "next generation" technology for charging stations.

There are an estimated 20,000 plug-in electric cars on Canadian roads. The Ontario government recently announced a plan to partner with the private sector to build almost 500 charging stations at public locations across the province.

Installing charging stations can range in cost from hundreds of dollars to more than $20,000 for the most advanced technology.

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About the Author

Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby

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