Who should pay for new electric vehicle chargers in N.L.?

This charging station in Galway, St. John's is part of the fast charger network already installed across the province. But who should pay toward the next installation? (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
This charging station in Galway, St. John's is part of the fast charger network already installed across the province. But who should pay toward the next installation? (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

With an uptick in the number of electric vehicles on the roads in Newfoundland and Labrador, EV advocates are calling for the province's utilities to pay for new charging stations, but the consumer advocate is putting the brakes on that idea.

According to Dennis Browne, Newfoundland Power and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro recently applied to the Public Utilities Board to start billing ratepayers for the equipment needed to set up and service new electric vehicle chargers across the province.

It's a notion Browne strongly opposes as the province's consumer advocate.

"For the two utilities to even suggest that the ratepayers pay anything toward that is completely unacceptable," he said.

The PUB ultimately decided not to approve the application, but asked the two utility companies to provide more information on the concept in a separate application.

"The application should not include any charges to the ratepayers of the province," said Browne.

"The ratepayers of the province are oversubscribed right now, plus we have the Muskrat Falls charges coming onto our bills at some point in the future. We need every cent we can get to deal with that."

According to Hydro, the cost of building the first phase of the province's charging network was shared between the utility, and the provincial and federal governments. As well, for many EV drivers, the majority of their charging can be done at home.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Browne said ratepayers should only be expected to pay for the electricity used in their homes. Additionally, Browne said new infrastructure would only benefit a small minority of drivers.

"There are 600 electric vehicles in the province. There are 350,000 vehicles which are not electric," he said.

Browne agreed that further development of EV charger infrastructure is needed, but said it is not something ratepayers should be funding. As well, he suggests an expansion of the number of EVs on the province's roads might actually do more damage to the environment than intended.

"Right now, we're getting the sum of our electricity through the Holyrood generating station," said Browne.

"It would be a sad commentary to suggest that we would have to burn oil at Holyrood to provide electric charges for electric vehicles."

'EVs will, in the end, result in lower rates'

Electric vehicle advocate David Brake says he worries Browne's opposition could cause the PUB to no longer invest in the infrastructure needed for EVs and stall the uptake of the vehicles in the province.

Brake said the PUB has voiced support of EVs in the past and he thinks the utilities need to deliver better justifications in their next application.

"The utilities have to come to them with a case that is ironclad, that work toward EVs will, in the end, result in lower rates," said Brake.

Zach Goudie/CBC
Zach Goudie/CBC

While many drivers would like to make the switch to electric, long wait lists have suppressed the number of EVs in the province. But, Brake said the current wait list might actually be a good thing, given the lack of chargers.

"We don't know how fast vehicles are going to flood into the province. So, we could be faced with a crisis that we don't anticipate and can't react to fast enough," said Brake.

"I'd rather over-provide than end up with a mess in the summer that puts everyone off the idea in the future."

Brake said the infrastructure needs to expand as quickly as possible and is calling on the provincial government to get involved.

"The province clearly needs to direct the PUB," he said.

Infrastructure needed for transition, says minister

Meanwhile, Bernard Davis, the province's minister of environment and climate change, thinks the situation is nuanced.

"I'm very much pro putting infrastructure in place," said Davis. "And I think that that's where we need to go with the future of this province to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

Davis said he and Browne have different jobs and different outlooks on the issue.

"He advocates for the consumer. I'm looking at what the future is going to hold for electric vehicles and where we're transitioning as a province," he said.

Jeremy Eaton
Jeremy Eaton

While Davis would not say whether he supports the idea of ratepayers paying for the EV infrastructure, he said that infrastructure would benefit ratepayers eventually.

"I'm trying to ensure that those ratepayers have an opportunity to transition to electric vehicles, and the only way to do that is put infrastructure in place," said Davis.

"That investment in infrastructure is going to help develop the system. And make people feel less range anxiety and, in turn, make that decision to switch to a electric vehicle a little quicker, which in turn is going to reduce their costs quite substantially."

The minister pointed out that there are also other ways to fund the infrastructure.

"We've got an application in with Natural Resources Canada right now to try to spearhead over $1,000,000 investment to put infrastructure in other spots in the province and build super fast chargers," he said.

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