The BC Liberal government today released the latest version of the Climate Leadership Plan (CLP). What does it mean for the future of EVs in BC?

The short answer is, “We don’t know,” because there aren’t a lot of specifics in the plan. But the good news is that it appears that there is no backpedaling on anything we’ve got now, and the door is open for more to happen in the future. The scope of the CLP is described as just “the first set of actions” and it will be updated “over the course of the following year”. So the real work is still ahead of us.

Ontario and Québec have set the bar for support of EVs in their recent climate action announcements. Will BC keep up? That depends on what happens in the coming months as budgets take shape, legislation gets drafted and specific policies get implemented.

VEVA has been advocating a set of policies to encourage EV adoption for some time. Let’s take a look at where things stand now with respect to those recommendations, in the light of the CLP, and in the context of what Ontario, Québec and the federal government are doing.

1. DC Fast Charging Stations

To gain widespread EV acceptance, it needs to be as feasible for drivers to be able to travel highways throughout BC as in a gas car. Fast chargers along those routes are needed to minimize charging time.

VEVA estimates that 137 fast charging stations would be enough. As of June 2016, there are 27 fast-charging locations in BC, with the intention to support up to 50. That’s a great start, but more funding will need to be allocated to hit the desired target.

Ontario has announced plans for 200 fast chargers by end of March, 2017. Québec has set a target of 60 fast charging stations by the end of this year.

The federal government has allocated funds to deploy 70 fast-charging stations along key transport corridors across the country.

The CLP talks about several measures to support the development of public charging, but doesn’t say anything specific about fast charging for inter-city travel. It seems likely that the push for more fast chargers will continue, perhaps with help from the feds.

2. ZEV Mandate

This is the most controversial of our recommendations. Over the years, various jurisdictions in the US, starting with California, have mandated that a certain percentage of vehicles sold be zero-emissions (or partially zero-emissions).

Consumers like the idea because it has proven to be effective in making available a broad range of electric vehicles of various kinds in those locations, without the government picking a specific technology winner. Analysis by SFU’s Jonn Axsen also supports the idea.

But vehicle manufacturers don’t like being told what kind of cars to make. They really don’t like it. (Fiat Chrysler CEO: “Please don’t buy my electric car”)

Ontario has been quite clear that they consider a ZEV mandate a stick and they are going to emphasize carrots instead. So no ZEV mandate in their plans. In Québec it’s a different story, where they plan to set a low-emissions vehicle quota of 15.5 per cent of all cars sold in the province by 2025.

There is no mention of a ZEV mandate in the CLP. Interestingly, a ZEV mandate was the only recommendation specific to EVs in the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations to the government in late 2015. Expect an uphill battle to get a ZEV mandate in BC.

3. Building Code Changes

Sometimes you need to nudge people to do the right thing. The most cost-effective time to install vehicle charging in a home is when it is being built. And the best way to make sure that happens is to make it part of the building code. That is to say, don’t just recommend it, require it.

From Ontario’s Climate Action Plan: “Ontario intends to require all new homes and townhomes with garages to be constructed with a 50-amp, 240-volt receptacle (plug) in the garage for the purpose of charging an electric vehicle.”

In Québec, as part of the Transportation Electrification Action Plan, they will “require that small residential buildings have the wiring infrastructure needed to support electric vehicle charging stations.”

In BC, the building code is regulated provincially, with a special exception for Vancouver.  The code may be administered at the municipal level. It’s complicated.

`But this is one area where the CLP is a bit more specific. It talks about new initiatives that will “allow local governments to require new buildings to install adequate infrastructure for electric vehicle charging.” In other words, free up the municipal governments to do the right thing, and in a way that fits with their local requirements. This is good news indeed, but it will probably be several months before the new policies take shape.

4. Right to Charge in Strata Buildings and Apartments

If you own, or want to own, an EV and you live in a strata or apartment, you have a challenge. How do you charge your car? Even if you have an assigned parking space, and you figure out how to get electricity to it for a charging station, you may still run into problems getting permission from the strata council to install the charger. “Right to charge” refers to legislation that basically says that if you want to install a charging system, your strata council or the property management can’t stop you.

Solving the charging problem in multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) is one of the biggest challenges facing EV adoption. But it’s happening, and more resources are available all the time. Metro Vancouver has just launched the evcondo.ca site with lots of information about how to go through the process. And Plug in BC has published a collection of templates to help strata councils formulate bylaws related to EV charging.

The missing ingredient is right-to-charge legislation. Ontario plans to “invest in the rapid deployment of charging” in MURBs and other situations, but it excluded action to “establish EV requirements for existing condominiums and apartment buildings.” Québec’s plan refers to “regulatory measures” to increase the availability of charging in MURBs. So, a bit of a mixed bag in those provinces.

The CLP promises to develop “policies to facilitate installing electric vehicle charging stations in strata buildings and developments.” This is very good news. It won’t happen overnight, but if done right, could put BC in the forefront in this area.

5. HOV Access

Ontario, Québec and BC all have this. If you have an eligible electric vehicle, you can use the HOV lane even with just one person in the car.

This is a really nice perk that is much appreciated by EV owners. Now if we could just get those nifty green license plates here in BC… And, oh yeah, let’s regard the HOV signage on the highways as a marketing opportunity for EVs, and make it really clear what it’s about. (The current logo is a little obscure, and there are no words to clarify it.)

But basically, yay! Let’s just declare victory here and move on.

6. Education and Marketing Strategy

Emotive, Plug in BC, CEV for BC, and other websites and organizations are doing an excellent job of consciousness raising for EVs. Funding for them comes in part from the BC government and falls under the umbrella of the Clean Energy Vehicle program, which the CLP promises, “is being expanded.” Excellent. Let’s make sure they continue.

Ontario and Québec have similar outreach programs, notably Plug n Drive in Ontario. The Québec plan has a measure aimed at “supporting projects or events that increase awareness about electric vehicles and their advantages, and encourage everyone to use them.”

We’re in good shape here. Let’s keep it going.

7. Home Retrofit Rebates (Including MURBs)

Electric cars are a little more expensive up front than their gas equivalents. Add on the cost of a charging station at home and it’s enough to put people off. Rebates are a powerful tool to overcome this objection to buying an EV.

Ontario and Québec gives you up to $1,000 for home charging. Ontario also plans to give you four years of free charging at home. Nice!

Here in BC, we had up to $500 available in a previous version of the CEV program, but it is not there in the current incarnation. However, in March of this year, the government announced a generous program of rebates for retrofitting charging stations in MURBs. It was almost instantly oversubscribed, which is testimony to the need for it. Will be it be revived in some form?

As above, all that the CLP says is that the CEV program “is being expanded.” This will be an area to look for as details emerge.

8. Public Charging Infrastructure

Those who can’t charge at home for whatever reason need access to public charging stations. In this case we are talking about the medium-power (Level 2) stations. Ontario and Québec are spending massive amounts to add Level 2 stations to the network, and now there is federal money to help as well.

BC has been very active here as well and the CLP correctly boasts of the over 1,100 public charging stations in the province. What’s in the future? Again, it falls under the CEV program which “is being expanded.”

9. Rebates on EV Purchases

The rationale here is obvious and studies have shown that this is one of the most important ingredients in the basket of incentives that encourage EV adoption.

Québec offers up to $8,000, and Ontario up to a whopping $14,000. That’s money back when you purchase a new EV.

In BC, the current maximum rebate is $5,000, although if you are also retiring an old gas guzzler you can get up to an additional $3,250. There is enough money already committed to last until about next April. An extension of the rebate program or an increase in the amount of the rebate would fall under the expanded CEV program.

BC has some catching up to do here and the CLP gives the rationale for doing it.

10. Distance-based or Transferable Insurance

This is not a big deal, but it would help. Often a new EV owner will keep a gas car around as a backup, or for the occasional long trip where charging is not practical. That second car may not get used much. But you end up paying full insurance for the two cars even though the number of kilometers being driven is about the same as when you had just one car.

The cost of insuring an EV as a second car becomes another expense that can deter people from buying. If instead insurance rates were pegged to the distance driven, or if there were a way to transfer the insurance between the cars, it would save the car owners some money while not increasing costs to insurance companies.

I am not aware of such programs in Ontario or Québec, and the CLP makes no mention of it. Some private insurers in other jurisdictions allow for this.

Summary

The Climate Leadership Plan is a little light on details, but it recognizes that transportation is a significant source of emissions and is headed in some good directions to reduce its impact. There is reason to hope that the policies that VEVA has been advocating, many of which we see being adopted with great enthusiasm in Ontario and Québec, can also become a reality here in BC.

But we’ll need to work with the government so that the voice of EV owners is heard to ensure that promises are kept and that attention is being paid to the details. The result could be a leadership role for BC in the electrification of the transportation system.