The regional districts of the Kootenays are collaborating on a $1 million initiative to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations from the Okanagan to Alberta.
The funds will be used to install 10 DC Fast Charging (DCFC) and 40 Level 2 stations throughout the Kootenays. The initial plan calls for three to four Level 2 stations and one DCFC station to be located in the Elk Valley.
The cost of charging a battery is considerably less than a tank of gasoline. Public Level 2 charging will be free for the first few years of the program while DCFCs charge an average fee of 35 cents per kilowatt-hour across B.C.
A DCFC can top up an electric vehicle’s battery to 80 per cent of its capacity in about 20 minutes while a Level 2 charger takes from six to eight hours.
Megan Lohmann, community energy manager for the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK), explained that the periodic need to recharge batteries on long trips will compel travelers to make extended pit stops so Level 2 chargers will be strategically located near services like hotels and restaurants.
Electric vehicles have been unfeasible for many Kootenay residents because the region does not have the required infrastructure to allow for long distance travel, said Lohmann. That will be changing as battery range for vehicles increases and the charging network improves.
“The network we are installing will provide that base connectivity,” she said.
The charging stations are part of the Columbia Basin-wide electric vehicle strategy, which is a collaboration between the Regional Districts of Kootenay Boundary, Central Kootenay and East Kootenay.
A roll-out strategy for the two-year project will kick off in 2017, said the RDEK in a statement.
“While increased adoption of electric vehicles by Kootenay residents will reduce our transportation emissions and support local climate action commitments, electric vehicles are also the future of travel, ”said Rob Gay, chair of the RDEK in a statement. “They will save residents money on fuel and provide a superior driving experience through our beautiful region. Our goal is to install the base network that will make electric vehicle travel safe, reliable and enjoyable.”
Brendon James, vice-president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA), said the Kootenay’s charging stations are arriving just as pure-electric vehicles are about to live up to their long awaited hype.
The range of pure-electric vehicles has always been a sticking point with consumers, he said. While the higher end Teslas can travel from 380 to 450 kilometres on one charge, the more affordable models such as the Nissan Leaf and the Kia Soul can only manage 150 to 170 kilometres.
“You’re buying a vehicle that costs the same or a little bit more [than an internal combustion vehicle] but it can only drive 170 kilometres where your normal vehicle of equivalent size on gasoline could probably go about 500 kilometres,” he said. “So the range and ability have hindered the growth somewhat.”
But batteries, which are the most expensive component of electric vehicles, have been getting cheaper and more efficient as companies are rolling out a new generation of vehicles that are affordable and can drive far.
These vehicles include the Tesla Model 3, the new Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, which has been named North American Car of the Year. The Volt sells for under $40,000 and can go about 380 kilometres on a single charge.
“In terms of bang for their buck, they get a lot of mileage,” said James. “We’re going to start seeing a tipping point with the introduction of these longer range vehicles where it’s going to be easier for people to adopt them than it has been in the past.”