When the first Tesla charging station opens in Portage la Prairie this summer, there may not be a lot of traffic initially.
After all, there’s currently only one known Tesla car owner in Portage.
At least that owner shouldn’t have to wait in line for one of the six chargers — the equivalent of gas pumps but that pump electricity instead — at the Tesla Supercharger station.
Winnipeg and Brandon are also slated to receive a fully automated charging station this year. Another is slated for border-town Pembina, N.D., according to the Tesla website.
The number of Tesla owners in Portage is not the point, however, insisted Portage Mayor Irvine Ferris.
"It’s like when Henry Ford started out. It’s a matter of making sure you get the infrastructure out. In that case, it was gas stations," Ferris said.
In this case, it’s a narrow white obelisk with a large oval hole in the centre that streams kilowatts instead of fossil fuels.
As well, the Tesla Supercharger will draw electric-car drivers off the TransCanada Highway and into Portage.
"It’s very good for Portage. It’s another reason for people to stop here and look around our city and see what’s going on," Ferris said.
Tesla has taken its time getting around to the Canadian prairies. It began installing its first charging stations in 2012, and now has about 1,200 across North America, but none on the Canadian prairies yet.
The Portage station is in Westfield Crossing shopping centre that includes a number of restaurants and retail outlets, such as Boston Pizza, Sobey’s and Dollarama. The Brandon charging station will be at the Corral Centre shopping area.
You may want a shopping centre nearby, as charging can take 15 to 30 minutes, although some new models are claiming faster charging times.
Most charging is done at home or work. The new Tesla stations are for when drivers get out on the highways. A Model 3 Tesla, a mid-size four-door sedan, can travel 350 kilometers between charges.
It isn’t known where Winnipeg’s Supercharger station will be located, and Mayor Brian Bowman’s office said the mayor has not had any discussions about a Tesla Supercharger station.
The charging stations will have a fee, but that has not been announced yet — except it will be significantly less than the price of gasoline.
Many of the Tesla stations are in partnership with hotels, restaurants, shopping centres and resorts, its website says. For example, Tesla is constructing the charging station in Portage on space provided by real estate and investment management company, Shindico.
"We are at work around the globe constructing new sites to enable additional routes and expand popular stations," Tesla’s website says.
There are a growing number of charging stalls in Winnipeg now, but not a dedicated charger station, like a gas station. There is a stall or stalls for charging electric cars at The Forks, at Assiniboine Park by the duck pond, at Red River College, Ikea and one in the Winnipeg Free Press parking lot. There are several others scattered around town, as well.
However, few are level 3 chargers can recharge an electric vehicle in 30 minutes, as at a Tesla station. For example, one at Sinclair Park in Winnipeg is a level 1 that only provides three-to-eight kilometres of driving range per hour of charge.
With the Tesla Supercharger station in Portage, it’s Ferris’s understanding three of the chargers will be dedicated to Tesla vehicles only, and three to other electric vehicles.
The charging station is slated for completion by late August.
Vehicles powered by fossil fuels are responsible for over half of greenhouse gas emissions.
The City of Winnipeg is currently on a pilot project examining the use of electric vehicles in its fleet.
Last fall, the Winnipeg Fleet Management Agency received $200,000 from the city’s innovation fund to purchase two electric vehicles and infrastructure for two level 3 charging stations. The agency will determine the operational feasibility and cost/benefits of electric vehicles.
It is expected city departments utilizing electric vehicles will realize savings from a decrease in fuel consumption, as well as reduced maintenance costs.
Bill Redekop is the Free Press rambling rural reporter. His beat is a bit like the slow food movement of news gathering.
Updated on Monday, April 9, 2018 at 9:34 AM CDT: Adds photo