Adoption of light-duty electric vehicles is hitting the takeoff point here in BC. After a decade or more of pioneering work by EV enthusiasts, and spurred by legislated targets for GHG reductions and zero-emissions vehicles, the number of EVs in BC is expected to be over 100,000 by 2025 and over 2.5-million by 2040.
Most EV charging is done at homes and workplaces. And some EV charging is done at charging stations out in the community. However, there is also a critical need for a widespread network of public fast charging sites (Level 3) around the Province. Public fast charging serves EV drivers who are traveling, who lack home or work charging, and who need a top-up charge while on the road.
Early adopters of EVs were attracted by EVs’ superior features (zero-GHGs, lower fuel costs) and were happy to ignore any disadvantages. But as EV adoption enters the mainstream, consumers increasingly want EVs to also have the benefits of gasoline/diesel vehicles, such as range, quick refueling, and plentiful refueling sites. Public fast charging that is accessible, conveniently located and reasonably priced makes potential and existing EV owners confident they can rely on an EV and jettison their gasoline or diesel vehicle. This makes public fast charging infrastructure an essential component of transforming light vehicle usage in the Province from fossil fuels to clean electricity.
Investment in public fast charging infrastructure is challenging because there aren’t yet enough EVs in BC to push utilization of fast charging sites up to a level where operating the sites would be profitable based only on revenue from charging sessions. There needs to be more EVs to make public fast charging a profitable investment, but there needs to be more investment in public fast charging sites to increase the number of EVs.
To help resolve this ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma, in 2020 the BC Government mandated BC Hydro and FBC to provide public fast charging services with financial support from the utility ratepayers. BC Hydro and FBC are rolling out the public fast charging stations throughout BC. The BCUC has approved interim rates for the service. However, the regulatory situation remains unresolved. The BCUC has one proceeding underway for FBC’s final rates and rate design for public fast charging, and another proceeding for BC Hydro. BCSEA is intervening in both proceedings, jointly with the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA).
The FBC proceeding got started last September, and a decision by the BCUC is awaited. BC Hydro’s application was filed in March 2021. Written evidence and responses to interrogatories have been filed, and the BCUC held a three-day in-person hearing in Vancouver at the end of July. Additional evidence and final arguments will likely be finished in October. The Panel will then issue a decision, hopefully within a few months.
Accessibility to people with disabilities is an important issue for BCSEA and VEVA. Both FBC and BC Hydro have committed to taking all reasonable steps to make their public fast charging sites and stations accessible and to consult with members of the affected communities. It’s still a struggle to achieve accessibility. Quite a few stations are obstructed by raised curbs. Often, overhead booms are not in place to help drivers with disabilities to handle the heavy DC cables. There will be ongoing work to hold BC Hydro and FBC to their commitments.
Another important issue is whether the price should be on a ‘cents per kWh’ basis as many EV drivers want, rather than the ‘cents per minute’ basis currently used by all legally compliant providers of public fast charging across Canada (setting aside those who provide the service for free). However, this is not an issue the BCUC can settle until DC energy-based billing (cents per kWh) is approved at the federal level. Fast chargers provide DC power, not AC power, to the EV. Measurement Canada has not yet approved any “revenue grade” DC energy meters. Like it or not (and many do not), billing by the minute is the only legally compliant rate design for fast charging in Canada at the present time. For more explanation, see our article Public Fast Charging: Cents/kWh v. Cents/minute, or go to Measurement Canada, EV Charging Stations. You can also complete an online survey about EV charging billing approaches.
Not surprisingly for rates proceedings, the most contentious issue is what the final approved rates should be. Should they be as proposed, higher, or lower? Any why? Should the rates be set at a level intended to maximize the utility’s revenue from EV charging sessions, and thereby minimize the cross-subsidy from other utility customers? What would such a rate be? To what extent should the rates be set at a level intended to prevent non-utility providers of public fast charging from being undercut on price? How does one compare a cents/minute price for a 50 kW charger with a cents/price for chargers up to 350 kW?
If these questions keep you up at night, like they do for me, stay tuned for further updates.
By Bill Andrews, BCSEA’s lawyer in BCUC proceedings
BCSEA Articles on EVs and Fast Charging:
- Accessibility to be Improved at FBC Fast-charging Stations, BCSEA, January 2021
- BCUC Grapples with Fast-Charging Rates, BCSEA, October 2020
- Fleet EV Charging Rates Approved by BCUC, BCSEA March 2020
- BCSEA Supports Fleet Electrification Rates, BCSEA, January 2020
- EVs Are Popping Up Everywhere, BCSEA, December 2019
- BCSEA asks Government to Let BC Hydro and FBC Invest in Public EV Fast Charging Stations, BCSEA, August 2019
- BCSEA calls on BCUC to facilitate EV fast charging stations by BC Hydro and FBC, BCSEA, April 2019
- BCUC EV Charging Inquiry - Phase 1 Report, BCSEA, February 2019
- Inquiry into EV charging - tell the Utilities Commission what you know