City of Vancouver report reveals how tenants get short-circuited on electric vehicle recharging stations

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      (Warning: this is a long read.)

      British Columbia is ideally situated to be the electric-vehicle capital of the world.

      With around 93 percent of the province's electricity coming from hydropower, EVs in this part of the world would truly be fuelled by renewable energy.

      That's far different than in other jurisdictions that rely on coal or natural gas for most their electricity.

      The provincial and federal governments have ambitious plans to electrify transportation, too.

      Under the CleanBC strategy, every new car sold in 2040 in this province would be a zero-emission vehicle.

      The federal government has a target of 10 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2025, 30 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040.

      It makes sense, given that 25 percent of Canada's overall greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. That's second only to industry at 40 percent.

      But a new City of Vancouver report reveals lesser-known obstacles in providing sufficient recharging infrastructure to tenants. Without addressing them, it will be impossible to make a smooth transition to a clean, green future on the roads.

      Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna is hoping that 100 percent of new vehicles sold in Canada in 2040 will be zero-emission.

      Homeowners favoured with subsidies

      Nowadays, it's relatively painless for cash-rich owners of carbon-intensive single-family homes to buy an EV or a plug-in hybrid.

      They can power up their vehicles in home recharging stations while they're sleeping.

      Moreover, the city's Green Homes Program requires new one- and two-family houses to be wired to accommodate electric-vehicle charging systems.

      It enables the wealthy Tesla owner to virtue-signal to the world that they're good environmental citizens, often subsidized by the B.C. government, even if they're living in a 10,000-square-foot mansion.

      But that option isn't available for many thousands of Vancouver tenants living with much smaller environmental footprints in three-storey walk-ups and parking economy cars on the street. Nor is this feasible for those in older concrete high-rises without recharging stations in underground parkades.

      This is explained in the report going to Vancouver council's city finance and services committee on Wednesday (April 24). It recommends 15 categories of accelerated actions to respond to the climate emergency.

      "Access to home charging is considered a key enabler for electric vehicle uptake," the report states in one of the appendices. "It also reduces reliance on higher-powered, short-term public charging that is necessarily more expensive to use and operate."

      One recommended action is to create a neighbourhood charging strategy.

      This would serve owners of vehicles and electric bikes in areas where there's no access to off-street home charging.

      The strategy could include the addition of "light-pole charging", the report suggests. Another way to level the playing field for tenants would be to add recharging stations in lower-use parking areas, including at parks and schools, where vehicles can be left overnight.

      "For the thousands of Vancouver residents without access to off-street parking, including many renters, this strategy will seek to enable access to convenient, more equitable near-home charging," it states.

      But will Vancouver residents be willing to buy a zero-emission vehicle if they have to drive a few blocks to a nearby park or school at night—only to discover that every spot has already been filled by other car owners recharging their EVs?  

      That's an open question.

      Plus, there are higher fees at public recharging stations than the single family-home owner would pay in his carport, creating another disincentive.

      If council approves the recommendations in the report on Wednesday, staff will report back to council between April and June of 2020 with a recommended neighbourhood-charging strategy.

      Hopefully, this will take some of these issues into consideration.

      The CleanBC plan touts huge subsidies for those who buy EVs, but that may not be enough to incentivize tenants whose landlords don't provide recharging stations.

      Big savings available to EV owners

      According to the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, powering EVs costs three to five times less than gas.

      So there can be significant savings over time when added to government incentives to buy these vehicles.

      B.C. Hydro says those who buy or lease a new battery-powered electric vehicle can save $5,000 off the pretax sticker price if they scrap old gas-powered cars; those who purchase a plug-in hybrid can get $2,500 to $5,000 back.

      Then through the federal government, it's possible to receive up to $5,000 for those who buy or lease "an eligible battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell, or longer range plug-in hybrid vehicle". Those who buy or lease shorter-range plug-in hybrids can qualify for $2,500 from the feds, provided these vehicles don't cost more than $55,000, including higher-priced trims.

      That adds up to provincial and federal subsidies of up to $10,000, not counting recharging infrastructure.

      Keep in mind that EV owners can also drive in HOV lanes without passengers, unlike other motorists. This makes it easier for the hypothetical Tesla owner in the 10,000-square-foot mansion to bypass traffic congestion on highways.

      The only real irritant for those who can afford EVs is the frequency and amount of time it takes to recharge them.

      There are only 75 "Level 2" (240-volt) public charging points in all of Vancouver, according to the city website. The city states this allows recharging in about one hour for trips of 30 kilometres or less.

      Of those, 34 are on city property, and one DC Fast Charger is at Empire Fields.

      "It’s estimated that another 175 charging points are available to EV drivers in Vancouver that are managed by parking garages, hotels, shopping malls, and other services," the city states.

      That's a pittance in comparison to what's going to be required, given the number of zero-emission vehicles that could be purchased in the coming years.

      When the Chevy Volt came on the market several years ago, it ran for 80 kilometres on battery power before switching to gasoline use.

      According to the University of California, Davis PH&EV Research Center, most EVs can travel 160 kilometres before needing to be recharged.

      Plug-in hybrids, on the other hand, only travel for 16 to 80 kilometres on electricity before switching to gasoline, which can carry them nearly 500 kilometres.

      "It depends on how big the battery is, and whether you charge using a regular 120V outlet a 240V charging station, or a fast charger," the PH&EV Research Center states on its website. "Plug-in hybrids with smaller batteries can recharge in about 3 hours at 120V and 1.5 hrs at 240V.

      "Electric vehicles with larger batteries can take up to 20+ hours at 120V and 4-8 hours using a 240V charger. Electric vehicles that are equipped for fast-charging can receive an 80% charge in about 20 minutes."

      The variability of time on recharging time is enormous, depending on the vehicle and the recharging apparatus. This is something that city staff will also have to consider.

      Meanwhile, the federal government is spending $182.5 million to support a charging network for electric vehicles, natural gas stations along freight corridors, and hydrogen fuel-cell stations in cities. That's hardly going to come close to meeting the demand if every new car sold is to be zero-emission by 2040.

      There are several EV recharging stations on UBC's Point Grey campus.

      City staff want to accelerate fast-charging network

      The city report has other recommended accelerated actions to address this conundrum of recharging a growing number of EVs.

      There's a call for completing the first phase of the city's direct-current fast-charging network for electric vehicles by 2020, which is one year ahead of schedule.

      That would put a fast-charging hub within a 10-minute drive of anywhere in Vancouver. But what are motorists supposed to do while they wait for their vehicles to be recharged—and will there be sufficient room to accommodate long lineups of EVs? Again, that's another question for city staff to ponder. 

      Another recommendation is to "explore options to encourage the installation of home charging in existing buildings".

      Here, the focus would be on rental buildings and non-market housing. The report acknowledges that they "have not been as well supported as stratas by existing provincial government programs".

      "Renters face a significant barrier to adding home charging if their building is not already equipped with charging infrastructure," it notes, "and cost has been flagged as the greatest barrier to adding charging in multi-family buildings."

      According to the report, one option would be to persuade the B.C. government to top-up incentives in the CleanBC plan.

      The reality is that it's beyond the city's financial capacity to cover the cost of adequate recharging infrastructure in parking facilities at scores of rental buildings. So this means tenants are out of luck if the provincial and federal governments don't step up.

      To date, neither level of government has shown much interest in bringing forward actions specifically aimed at encouraging tenants to own EVs. 

      In the meantime, the city report also has a recommendation to identify areas that could become "zero emission areas".

      In these zones, "access by combustion engine vehicles are restricted or deterred, and active transportation and zero emissions transit are encouraged".

      That raises equity issues if tenants are facing greater barriers than single-family homeowners in owning EVs.

      Will they be shut out of driving in certain neighbourhoods—including those that might have childcare facilities where they would like to leave their kids during the day?

      If this measure is approved by council, staff would report back in the final three months of next year with options for "initial engagement".

      The green beam of the lidar at the Mauna Loa Observatory measures aerosols and water vapour high in the atmosphere.
      NOAA Photo Library/Forrest M. Mims III

      Carbon counts keep rising

      City staff, and particularly climate policy manager Matt Horne, deserve credit for their extensive efforts to try to figure out ways to sharply reduce residents' carbon footprint.

      Tremendous thought has gone into the report that's going to council this week.

      And there's no denying that there is a climate emergency facing the world, brought on by rising carbon dioxide emissions.

      The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii pegged the daily concentration at 414.14 parts per million on Earth Day (April 22). That was up nearly three parts per million over Earth Day in 2018.

      These numbers are enough to freak out anyone who pays attention to climate change.

      But true public buy-in in responding to the carbon crisis will only occur if low- and middle-income people don't feel that all the subsidies are going to rich and upper middle-class people.

      Tenants must not be left with the impression that they're just going to have to suck it up and pay more to get around, because they don't have access to the same recharging infrastructure as homeowners.

      Moreover, renters will be irate if they end up being barred from driving in certain neighbourhoods because their landlord won't add recharging stations and there aren't enough convenient alternatives available.

      That's a recipe for the type of right-wing, climate-ignoring populism that's already far too prevalent in the world.

      It's not what the mayor of Vancouver wants. It's not what his climate-conscious allies on council want. And it's certainly not what the premier and the prime minister want.