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First electric cars in Vancouver generate charging buzz

As consumer-owned electric vehicles begin to hit Canadian streets, some candidates vying for a seat on the city council are…

By Andrew Friesen , in Environment Feature story , on November 17, 2011 Tags: , , ,

As consumer-owned electric vehicles begin to hit Canadian streets, some candidates vying for a seat on the city council are considering Vancouver’s readiness for the cars and the charging infrastructure they require.

Charging stations can be found outside Edible Canada on Granville Island

Dealerships across the lower mainland began to sell Canada’s first widely available electric car models this fall.

On Nov. 5, the provincial government followed the path of Ontario and Quebec by announcing a point-of-sale incentive program which could save consumers up to $5,000 on the purchase of electric vehicles and $500 on the purchase and installation of charging stations.

The B.C. Government’s incentive program is set to begin on Dec. 1.

Related:Toronto and Montreal miles ahead on EVs

Charging stations are more powerful than standard 110-volt outlets and can provide a full charge in less than 4 hours, making EVs a viable alternative for drivers commuting to work or running errands.

The City of Vancouver currently requires that all new multi-unit residential buildings have at least 20 per cent of parking stalls equipped with charging infrastructure.

Incumbent Vision candidate Andrea Reimer says this is one of the highest bars set in North America.

“We’ve been doing it since before electric vehicles were commercially available in Vancouver, so it’s challenging. There’s not a demand yet for it,” said Reimer.

“But our argument has been that the only way to have a demand is to also have a supply – people aren’t going to buy cars they can’t charge.”

Green infrastructure

The municipal initiative for Vancouver to become the greenest city in the world calls for 15 per cent of all new vehicles to be electric by 2020.

According to Eric Pateman, founder and president of Edible Canada, the cars will only find mainstream acceptance if owners have access to public charging stations.

“For electric vehicles to become more widely adopted there’s going to have to be the infrastructure there for people to drive and charge,” said Pateman, “because if you can’t, it’s fairly limiting.”

Pateman was one of the first local businesses owners to install dedicated electric vehicle (EV) stations for customers, which can be seen outside of his restaurant on Granville Island.

The City of Vancouver has installed charging stations at Olympic Village, Sunset Community Centre and City Hall. Stations can also be found outside a number of local businesses, including Edible Canada and the downtown Fairmont.

The Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA) says that both government and the developers of charging stations need to recognize the unique needs of electric vehicles.

“Charging for EVs is not the same as pumping gasoline, and we have to stop thinking in terms of the last century’s conventional gas stations,” said VEVA spokesperson John Stonier, in a statement released after the provincial government’s funding announcement.

Questioning the charging station strategy

Non-Partisan Association council candidate Ken Charko says the city has a mandate to ensure charging infrastructure is in place. However, he believes that this is best accomplished through easing regulation and providing incentives to private firms interested in installing charging stations.

[pullquote]What’s really wrong with the green movement is that people say: ‘if it’s green, let’s do it,’ and they don’t understand the difficulties that have to go with that[/pullquote]“I think that the city should work with the provincial and the federal government to make sure that we give the right financial incentives to small and entrepreneurial companies to come in,” said Charko.

“What’s really wrong with the green movement, what’s really wrong with environmentalism right now is that people say: ‘if it’s green, let’s do it,’ and they don’t understand the difficulties that have to go with that,” said Charko, who was has been outspoken on the issue of seasonal bike lanes.

While the incumbent Vision council has implemented residential bylaws requiring charging infrastructure, Charko believes the city should primarily provide guidance for entrepreneurs and developers.

“The city shouldn’t do much, but what it should do is should provide the direction for those that know what they’re doing,” he said.

Appeal of green cars

City of Vancouver EV Fleet Vehicle, City Hall

Coalition of Progressive Electors’ (COPE) council candidate RJ Aquino says that he supports electric vehicles but that public transit is the most efficient, environmentally friendly way to travel.

“Many residents of Vancouver realize that we need to do our part for the environment and a big part of that is how we get around. Driving around in a car by yourself isn’t the most sustainable way to get around the city,” said Aquino.

Vision candidate Reimer agrees, saying that electric cars are exciting to some Vancouver residents but that their appeal is still somewhat narrow.

“We know not everyone’s going to get out of their vehicle in the next 10 years,” she said, “but we want to make sure that you have a way to do that that isn’t harmful to the environment or other people.”

According to Sean Allan, project engineer with BC Hydro subsidiary Powertech, the province is ready for electric cars to enter the mainstream.

“Electric vehicles in British Columbia make a lot of sense because we have some of the cheapest electricity on the planet,” said Allan, adding that most of the province’s power comes from hydroelectric generation.

“It doesn’t make any sense if you’re burning coal to make electricity to put into cars.”