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BCUC Grapples with Fast-Charging Rates

Tom Hackney and William J. Andrews
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The BC Utilities Commission is now grappling with the rates that a public utility is allowed to charge EV drivers at public fast-charging stations. First up is the FortisBC utility that provides electricity to customers in south-central BC. Next will be BC Hydro.

Back in December 2017, FBC applied for approval of rates ($0.30 per minute, or $9.00 per half hour) at its growing number of fast-charging stations. The Commission gave interim approval. However, the BCUC then undertook an intensive inquiry into the regulation of EV charging services across the province. (BCSEA participated actively.)

The inquiry led to the BC government exempting from almost all BCUC regulation EV charging provided by entities except existing regulated utilities such as BC Hydro and FBC. The government also required the BCUC to allow BC Hydro and FBC to recover from general customers their costs of providing public EV charging services (within limits). But that requirement doesn’t specify what rates should apply to EV drivers who use BC Hydro or FBC stations.

So, FBC recently revived its application for approval of rates for fast-charging service. FBC also revised its proposed rate structure to: $0.27 per minute for 50 kW DCFC service and $0.54 per minute for 100 kW DCFC service. The term “DCFC” means “direct current fast charging.” The DC part is important, as we explain below.

Across its service territory, FBC has 23 existing DCFC stations and it plans 17 more by the end of 2021. FBC says the “B.C. Southern Interior EV Fast Charging Network” will help enable highway EV travel both within and through FBC’s service territory. FBC says its proposed new rates recover FBC’s cost of service on a levelized basis and will support the growth and development of EV use in its service territory.

A DCFC station provides electricity in DC form, not the AC (alternating current) power that is provided on normal transmission and distribution lines. The motor in an electric vehicle uses DC power provided by the vehicle’s battery, and the battery is charged with DC power. Slow and medium (Level 1 and 2) charging provides AC to the EV, and EVs typically have a transformer to convert it to DC to charge the battery. However, to achieve fast charging, the usual engineering solution these days is to convert the grid’s AC power to DC in the charger and send DC through the cord to the EV.

All of this is fascinating only to those of us who love kids’ books like How Things Work. But it also affects the rates the BCUC will approve for DCFC stations run by FBC and BC Hydro. For now, at least, the rates for DC charging will be based on time ($/minute) and not on the amount of energy ($/kWh). Why? There is a quirk in the regulatory system – a missed stitch in the regulatory blanket so to speak. A meter must be approved by Measurement Canada to be used for billing. However, there is no federally approved meter to measure DC power for billing. Measurement Canada has approved numerous types of meters for billing AC power (for example, the electricity meter on the side of all BC residences). Slow and medium EV chargers can have internal meters approved for billing AC power on a kWh basis. Perhaps Measurement Canada has not yet approved a meter for billing DC power on a kWh basis because there was no need for it until DCFC stations came along. Whatever, there is certainly a need for it now, and many groups and individuals are working with, and pushing, Measurement Canada to accelerate the process. While DCFC charging equipment does have meters that measure DC power in kWh, these haven’t been certified to be accurate enough to be used for billing.

This is why FBC’s DCFC rates are on a $/minute basis, rather than a $/kWh basis. Billing by time has attracted criticism from some EV proponents who point out (correctly) that an EV with slower battery charging capability generally takes longer to receive the same electrical energy (kWh) from a DCFC station than does an EV with a faster-charging battery. Consequently, billing DCFC service on a time basis means that the driver of an EV with a slower-charging battery will likely pay more on a dollars per kWh basis than the driver of an EV with a faster-charging battery. Some say this is unfair, and that charging for DCFC on a dollars kWh basis is the only acceptable method. One person has already filed a letter of comment to this effect in the BCUC’s review of FBC’s proposed DCFC rates.

From a legal perspective, the BCUC has no authority to approve a DC energy revenue meter or to allow FBC to bill for DCFC service on a $/kWh basis without using a federally approved DC energy revenue meter (which doesn’t exist yet). So FBC’s time-based DCFC billing method is the only option for now.

The Commission’s proceeding will begin with written information requests from Commission staff and registered interveners to FBC, and FBC’s responses by November 19. At that point, the Commission will decide whether to have further process or move straight to written arguments.

Links:

FortisBC revised application for DCFC rates

BCSEA intervention application 

BCSEA written arguments to BCUC EV Charging Inquiry Phase 1

Phase 2 

Phase 1 Reply Argument