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This article was published 20/4/2018 (892 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Like Christmas-gift wishes composed by children, there’s a growing list of ways for Manitoba to spend the windfall from its carbon tax. Manitoba’s electric-vehicle owners want the top of the list to include a network of charging stations needed for electric vehicles.
At the recent Manitoba Sustainable Energy Conference, the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association challenged the government to use the carbon tax to enter public-private partnerships and build 19 charging stations.
MEVA said it would cost about $3 million. That’s a small piece of the $100 million in revenue that Manitoba expects from the new carbon tax and it will add about five cents per litre to the price of gasoline when it’s introduced later this year.
Of the 700,000 vehicles registered in Manitoba, about 5,000 are hybrids that have the option of electric propulsion, and about 150 are exclusively electric.
The Red River College Electric Vehicle Technology Centre has Manitoba’s only Level 3 charging station, the fastest type. There are plans to build charger stations in Brandon and Portage la Prairie this summer.
At this point, some alert number-crunchers might say, "Stop right there. There are only 150 electric cars in Manitoba and they want $3 million worth of charging stations? Too much for too few."
Electric-vehicle advocates would reply that a big reason Manitoba has only 150 electric cars is that there are so few charging stations. They would likely paraphrase a quote from the movie Field of Dreams: "If you build the charging stations, the electric cars will come."
If only it were so simple.
Many Manitoba drivers would consider going electric when it’s time to buy our next vehicle, but there are drawbacks besides the lack of charging stations.
Charging time is not a problem when the vehicle is at home with a Level 2 charger, about $2,500 once an electrician has wired a 240-volt line to the driver’s garage. A Level 2 charger will charge an electric vehicle fully in about six to eight hours.
But highway travel can require recharging as soon as 300 kilometres, depending on the vehicle. Every charge means waiting 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the speed of the charger.
The initial sticker price of an electric car is still much higher than an equivalent gas vehicle, although it’s true electric vehicles cost about half as much to operate as equivalent gas vehicles. The savings are in fuel, vehicle maintenance and replacement parts, with electric vehicles having only about one-tenth the number of moving parts of cars with internal combustion engines.
Unfortunately, even when considered over the average life of vehicles, these electric advantages don’t yet make up for the higher initial sticker price.
The difference-maker in other places has been financial incentives and perks from governments.
Three provinces — Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia — offer cash rebates of as much as $14,000 for buying an electric car, so it’s unsurprising that 97 per cent of all electric-vehicle sales in Canada happen in those provinces.
Cash rebates to buyers, combined with tax incentives in some places, were a big reason electric-vehicle sales outpaced plug-in hybrids for the first time across Canada last year. With scant thanks to Manitoba, a record 18,564 electric cars were sold across Canada in 2017, up 68 per cent from 2016, according to data compiled by Fleet Carma, a software company.
The Canadian electric-vehicle community has high hopes that the federal government will soon support sales across the country. Transport Minister Marc Garneau is expected to announce a zero-emission vehicle strategy this year, and the recommendations he received from groups such as Electric Mobility Canada call for national financial incentives.
Government incentives have worked wonders in Norway, where nearly almost one-third of new cars sold this year will be fully electric or a hybrid. Most of these plug-ins are powered by Norway’s hydro power.
Norway’s incentives for plug-in vehicles include dropping taxes on initial sales, decreasing road tolls and ferry fees, and rewarding drivers of plug-in cars by letting them park for free and drive in some bus lanes. The government sees these incentives as a way of meeting its climate-change targets.
Manitoba is also trying to reduce its carbon footprint, and that goal would be furthered by getting more Manitobans into the driver’s seats of electric vehicles, which don’t release carbon dioxide into the air. Practicalities aside, clean-energy vehicles are also important symbolically for Manitoba, a province with a huge economic stake in selling Hydro power.
Good salespeople believe in their product. If Manitoba wants to sell clean energy to other places, it can demonstrate it believes in clean energy where the rubber meets the road.
Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.
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