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Dec 2018 | Green & Resilient Communities

ELECTRIFYING NORTHERN BRITISH COLUMBIA FOR ELECTRIC VEHICLE TRAVEL
SUSAN CHALMERS & JANICE KEYES, COMMUNITY ENERGY ASSOCIATION

Climate change is a pressing issue of our time. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation-based sources can comprise a significant percentage of overall GHG emissions in many communities, especially in smaller, rural communities where extensive public transportation may not be widely available and where travel distances between municipalities are great. More widespread use of zero emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles (EVs), is one of the few ways that rural regions can significantly lower GHG emissions from the transportation sector.

 

I. The Challenge

 

To facilitate EV adoption, an extensive electric vehicle charging station network is needed. Several local governments in northern and central British Columbia recognized the emission reduction opportunities and the benefits of working together to electrify 2,780 km of highway from the Kamloops area through to Prince George and across to Haida Gwaii. Six regional governments have partnered with the Community Energy Association (CEA) on the Highway 16/97 Electric Vehicle Network Feasibility Study.

 

II. A COLLABORATIVE, REGIONAL SOLUTION

 

The Highway 16/97 Electric Vehicle Network Feasibility Study is a community led project, directed by six regional governments, with planning and implementation facilitated by the Community Energy Association. The project will engage 37 municipalities from south of Kamloops to north of Prince George (Highway 97), from Valemount to Haida Gwaii (Highway 16) and along Highway 5 from Kamloops to Valemount. The network will feature both Direct Current Fast Charging Stations (DCFCs) and Level 2 charging stations. DCFCs can charge an electric vehicle in about 30 minutes, while Level 2 stations take a few hours to fully charge an EV. Since engagement is as important as deploying the infrastructure, the study will involve outreach to key community stakeholders, the public, and car dealerships in the region. These engagement activities will help to foster a sufficient supply of and demand for electric vehicles in northern and central BC.

As part of this project, CEA is also facilitating collaboration with BC Hydro and the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure as they plan for DCFC stations along Highway 5 and Highway 97, connecting Kamloops with Valemount and Prince George.

Individual municipal governments will determine the best locations for EV charging stations in their communities based on local priorities and feasibility, the capital structure, the ownership and operation model for the stations, and general project direction. The station locations also take into consideration the region’s unique geography (rural and dispersed population) and climate conditions.

Outreach to car dealerships and the broader community will be led by the Community Energy Association in collaboration with local governments. Ride and drive events, media outreach, and contact with local EV drivers will be key channels for educating different audiences about the planned EV network in northern and central BC.

To facilitate the collaborative approach, an Advisory Committee oversees the project. It is chaired by CEA and includes representatives from each of the six regional districts: North Coast, Kitimat-Stikine, Bulkley Nechako, Fraser-Fort George, Cariboo, and Thompson-Nicola.

This project builds upon the lessons learned from the Accelerate Kootenays Initiative, a community driven approach to electrifying rural areas in southeastern BC for electric vehicles. To learn more about Accelerate Kootenays, visit www.acceleratekootenays.ca.

 

III. KEY BENEFITS OF AN EV NETWORK

 

As noted in the beginning of this article, electric vehicles can help local governments to decrease their community-wide GHG emissions. In the Highway 16/97 study area, 64 percent of the GHG emissions are transportation related, costing the study area over 1 billion annually. With 98 percent of the electricity coming from green sources in BC, EVs can certainly change those numbers.

Electric vehicles can also increase transportation choices for residents and businesses and significantly reduce transportation costs and vehicle maintenance for new EV owners. Moreover, electricity for an EV can cost as little as $320/year, approximately 80 percent less than the cost of filling a vehicle with gas.

In addition to these benefits, an electric vehicle network can drive economic development through EV tourism. A network of charging stations allows EV drivers to travel to and within northern and central BC, opening up the northern destinations. CEA is working with the two main destination marketing organizations in the area – Northern BC Tourism and Film Office and the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association – to integrate EV tourism in their destination development strategies and future marketing campaigns.

IV. NEXT STEPS

 

Since this project launched in May 2018, the focus has been on engagement and outreach activities (i.e. one-on-one meetings, EV readiness and planning workshops, conference presentations) with local governments and key stakeholders in the study area to raise their awareness of the project and identify initial ideas on potential sites for EV stations. Additional work is necessary in the areas of modelling the projected EV adoption levels, GHG emission reductions, and cost savings from gas not consumed in the study area; continued outreach with communities and First Nations; and identifying capital funding sources.

By mid-2019, sites for EV charging stations will be finalized through technical assessments, a deployment plan will be developed for each site. Localized engagement will continue, with installation supported by phased capital funding.

 

V. CONCLUSION

 

A collaborative, regional and community driven approach to planning and implementing an EV network is extremely effective in rural communities. It enhances the capacity of each local government to deploy EV stations in their own communities and brings additional benefits. Besides decreasing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions, rural EV networks can support local economic development opportunities through EV tourism, safe and reliable cross-regional travel, greater transportation choices for residents, and lower, long-term transportation costs for EV owners. While the infrastructure network is key to supporting EV adoption, a solid engagement plan with car dealerships and the broader community is also essential to maximize the benefits for communities and the region.

 

SUSAN CHALMERS is the Administrator for the Community Energy Association. She supports staff in the areas of event planning, communications, administration and research.

JANICE KEYES is Senior Manager, Community Energy Engagement at the Community Energy Association. She is a planning professional with more than 25 years of experience in creating effective stakeholder engagement and events. Janice manages several projects at the Community Energy Association including the Highway 16/97 Electric Vehicle Network Feasibility Study.