April 5, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press

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One less obstacle for electric vehicles

Editorial

Many Manitoba drivers acknowledge switching to an electric vehicle would be doing the right thing. But is this the right time?

For many Manitoba vehicle owners, it’s a question of when — not whether — to go green by purchasing a personal vehicle without an internal combustion engine. It’s possible the answer became more clear in recent weeks because, finally, Canada has a coast-to-coast network of fast-charging stations.

For many Manitoba vehicle owners, it’s a question of when — not whether — to go green by purchasing a personal vehicle without an internal combustion engine. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

For many Manitoba vehicle owners, it’s a question of when — not whether — to go green by purchasing a personal vehicle without an internal combustion engine. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

Late last month, Petro-Canada completed a chain of 50 such stations along the Trans-Canada Highway from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. Locations include Brandon, Dugald at the site known locally as Deacon’s Corner, Kenora, Ont., and Whitewood, Sask. Another is planned for Portage la Prairie.

Until now, there were gaps in Trans-Canada charging stations between Calgary and northern Ontario, a drawback that caused some drivers to postpone switching to electric because they feared getting stranded on road trips. That threat is eliminated with the new chain of fast-charging stations that are strategically positioned close enough to keep electric vehicles powered up.

The new infrastructure was immediately tested by two guys in a Tesla 3. Kevin Belanger and Don Goodeve set out from Victoria on Dec. 23, passed through Winnipeg on Dec. 30 and, at the time of this writing, were well on their way to Halifax, all without using a drop of fossil fuel.

Manitoba already had relatively low-powered Level 2 chargers scattered throughout the province, but the new additions are Level 3 superchargers, which provide a 200-kilowatt charge in about 30 minutes.

Every electrical vehicle in Manitoba is a vote of confidence for the clean–energy power Manitoba is trying to sell.

Might this be the tipping point for Manitoba drivers? Will the availability of highway superchargers be the assurance needed to increase the historically slow sales of electric vehicles in Manitoba?

The lack of adequate chargers in the sparsely populated geography in and around Manitoba has often been cited as a reason for the low number of electric vehicles, compared to places with higher concentrations of drivers and service centres for vehicles. And questions still remain regarding the charging options available to travellers to Manitoba’s far-flung north.

MPI says the number of electric vehicles registered in Manitoba jumped 48 per cent from 2017 to 2018 — from 126 to 187 — and there are about 6,000 hybrids, a number which includes plug-in hybrids that can run on gas when the battery runs out of charge. Consumer interest in electric vehicles was heightened eight months ago with the introduction of a federal-government rebate of $5,000 on any electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles costing less than $55,000.

Electric-vehicle evangelists urge us to crunch the numbers: they say the initial sticker-price difference between all-electric and fossil-fuel vehicles evens out after seven years of ownership, thanks to government rebates and the much-lower costs of fuel and maintenance.

In Manitoba, another important factor could be the impending availability of all-electric vehicles larger than the models that are currently most popular, the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt. A glance at any Manitoba parking lot shows a large percentage of this province’s drivers still prefer their trucks and SUVs, and a selection of all-electric versions of these larger vehicles is apparently coming soon to market.

For Manitoba drivers still undecided about whether the time is right, there remains the appeal to regional pride. This province has invested heavily in developing hydroelectric power; do we believe in the product we’re producing? Every electrical vehicle in Manitoba is a vote of confidence for the clean-energy power Manitoba is trying to sell.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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