Electric vehicle owners hopeful for the future

Manitoba’s and Saskatchewan’s poor scores in a recently released electric vehicle (EV) readiness scorecard are deserved, say EV enthusiasts. 

Manitoba’s and Saskatchewan’s poor scores in a recently released electric vehicle (EV) readiness scorecard are deserved, say EV enthusiasts. 

Manitoba scored six out of 100 points, while Saskatchewan scored 6.5 for zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) facilitation, according to the Provincial and Territorial Zero-Emission Vehicle Scorecard released in September 2022.

This places Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 12th and 11th place, respectively, regarding how well the provinces and territories rank when facilitating EV transition. 

For more information about how the report was compiled and how points were allocated, please see our Jan. 3 article Manitoba and Saskatchewan receive low scores for electric vehicle readiness.

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Challenges in Manitoba’s north

One of the key points highlighted on the scorecard is that remote communities face more significant challenges than big cities. 

This is something that Volker Beckmann, a semi-retired entrepreneur in Thompson and a member of the advocacy group NorthernEV, has noted. 

He sees Manitoba as a story of two halves. 

Southern Manitoba is slowly adding EV charging infrastructure and may deserve the six points on the scorecard. Still, if northern Manitoba were assessed on its own, it would likely receive a zero, said Beckmann, who is not an EV owner yet.

He is well aware of the north’s lack of EV charging infrastructure.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, NorthernEV partnered with members of the Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association (ManitobaEV) to organize an EV rally that would have travelled from the Gulf of Mexico in southern Texas to Thompson by road and then onto Churchill by train. 

However, that idea was quashed when it was discovered that there was no way to travel between Winnipeg and Thompson in an EV in a timely manner. 

That’s because there are no Level 3 direct current fast chargers (DCFCs) in Manitoba along the Highway 6 corridor, according to PlugShare.com

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That website has a map where people can voluntarily identify locations where Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations have been installed. The map also shows where EV drivers can use plugs for the charging units they’ve brought, such as higher voltage plugins at campgrounds. (It is not meant to be a comprehensive database of all public chargers or available high-voltage plugins.)

Level 1 charging units often accompany an EV upon purchase. They can be plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet and take several hours to charge a vehicle. 

Level 2 charging stations require a 240-volt plugin (if they’re not hardwired into an electrical system), and they can charge a vehicle in just a few hours. 

Level 3 DCFCs are larger stations that use direct current to charge vehicles in under an hour. 

While Beckmann praised efforts from organizations that provide funding for charging units, like Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) via its Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program, much of the budget in Manitoba seems to have stayed in the south.

Beckmann said that the issue might be that northern municipalities don’t understand the importance of Level 3 charging units. 

NorthernEV tried to gather some communities together to apply for NRCan funding to bring Level 3 charging units to northern Manitoba, but there was pushback. Either the municipalities didn’t see any benefit in installing the chargers or opted to apply for funding for Level 2 charging stations instead. 

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Under NRCan’s funding program, organizations can receive up to 50 per cent of the cost of installing EV charging units (or up to 75 percent for Indigenous businesses and communities). 

Even with NRCan funding, installing Level 3 DCFCs is expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Beckmann said that level 2 charging units cost significantly less but take hours to charge a vehicle, meaning they are of little use along major travel corridors where people may only want to stop for a short time to recharge. 

Beckmann said he would like EV charging infrastructure treated with the same significance as general infrastructure, like a road or a bridge. 

“The policies of the province and [Manitoba] Hydro do not lend themselves to this EV development progress,” he said.

Beckmann agrees with the scorecard report, which recommends Manitoba have provincial purchase incentives to help the public buy EVs.

Municipal confusion

The reluctance of Manitoba municipalities may stem from confusion about who should be responsible for EV charging infrastructure, said Clayton Gibson, economic development officer for the Rural Municipality of West Interlake, located along the Highway 6 corridor about 140 km north of Winnipeg.

“(We didn’t know) if the municipality is supposed to stand out front and become the champion of EV infrastructure,” he said. “Our budgets are limited. We can’t do everything. And there is an opinion that maybe this should be a private enterprise undertaking.”

Gibson said they are exploring bringing EV charging infrastructure to the RM with the Interlake School Division. 

They have also worked with Winnipeg-based Eco-West, a non-profit that promotes sustainable economic development in Canada’s rural municipalities.

The RM of West Interlake was initially rejected for Eco-West funding but was approved in 2022. 

The RM was expected to share the costs of the Level 2 charging stations with Eco-West. However, when they heard back about the funding, the municipal budget had been set for the year, and no money was available for the project. 

“The timing of programs is challenging because it has to come when the municipality sets its budget,” Gibson said.

While the RM’s council foresees the move to EVs, Gibson said there are few to none of these vehicles being driven in the area, which makes it difficult to prioritize spending on the infrastructure when there are more pressing issues for the RM. 

“We’re trying to plan long-term, but obviously, those things that aren’t in front of you right now, they may not take priority,” he said.

Eco-West tried to gather several municipalities together to apply for an EV infrastructure grant from the federal government as one collective entity.

Ideally, the provincial government should study the province’s road network, pinpoint where Level 3 chargers are needed along major Manitoba travel corridors, and work with the local RMs to install them, Gibson said.

In 2017, then-Premier Brian Pallister said he wanted a legal cannabis dispensary accessible within a 30-minute drive for 90 percent of Manitobans, which Gibson said the province could take inspiration from. 

“They could probably adopt a similar strategy with the EV infrastructure and say we want Manitobans to be able to drive anywhere in an EV,” Gibson said.

There is hope that some private companies may bring EV charging stations into the community. 

Petro-Canada installed EV charging units at some of its gas stations. However, it’s been targeting stations along the Trans-Canada Highway through Canada’s Electric Highway program. Ashern, a community in the RM of West Interlake, has a Petro-Canada, but its out-of-the-way location may not be a priority for the company. 

Federated Co-operatives (Co-op) also has a program for its stores to install EV charging units. There is a Co-op in Ashern, which may be eligible for this program.

Because of the perceived lack of provincial action, NorthernEV and ManitobaEV have independently created maps of their own, marking locations where they believe Level 3 charging units are needed.

Although behind the scenes, the province is currently analyzing where charging stations are needed.

The Manitoba government is working on securing a service provider to assess Manitoba’s current ZEV charging network and identify gaps, according to a written statement the provincial government sent to The Flatlander. 

This will help the government create a charging station network across the province.

Robert Elms, who was the president of ManitobaEV for nine years until recently, said installing Level 3 chargers in rural locations will probably require government involvement.

“This is an opportunity for the provincial government to really step up and partner with the federal government and private industry and Manitoba Hydro and get fast chargers along the main trunk highways,” he said, adding that neither Manitoba nor Saskatchewan have done much in the past to facilitate EV charging infrastructure.

Elms said in Norway, the government prioritized placing Level 3 fast chargers throughout the country, and EV sales grew while the sale of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles dropped off dramatically. 

Elms, who drives a Tesla Model Y, said other regions worldwide have copied Norway’s efforts to help facilitate the transition.

“The key to accelerating EV adoption in any place is ensuring you’ve got fast chargers throughout the region,” Elms said, adding that he has heard the arguments that municipalities should not be paying for the construction of charging stations because they don’t pay for gas pumps.

However, Elms said that if communities want to continue attracting tourists, they’ll need to install Level 3 DCFCs as the transition from ICE vehicles to EVs progresses. 

He noted that Prince Edward Island has already installed six Level 3 stations to accommodate tourists and locals. 

Most people buying EVs have disposable income to take trips, said Elms, adding they’re more likely to visit places where they can charge those vehicles quickly.

He said the lack of Level 3 charging stations prevents him from going up north as it would be challenging to get from Winnipeg to The Pas, for example, in a timely manner. 

Provincial action

“The rate of EV adoption in Manitoba and Saskatchewan is relatively low compared to Ontario, Québec and BC,” said Bruce Owen, a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson, referring to information from Statistics Canada. 

Ontario, Québec and BC scored higher on the EV readiness scorecard report, with the latter scoring exceptionally high with 73/100 and 80/100, respectively. Ontario scored 19.5/100.

Owen said Manitoba Hydro is currently studying what the federal government has done to reduce emissions in the transportation sector to help it formulate its plan.

Manitoba Hydro is currently working on an Integrated Resource Plan, which is intended to be a roadmap to ensure the province’s electricity and natural gas supply and delivery systems meet customers’ needs for the next 20 years and beyond.

The plan is currently scheduled for completion in mid-2023, Owen said in an emailed statement. 

As of Mar. 31, 2022, there were 1,288 EVs registered in Manitoba, accounting for 61 percent of the total Plugin EV market, according to Manitoba Hydro’s Market Forecast & Load Research March 2022 report.

And there are 839 plugin hybrid EVs (PHEVs), which combine both an internal combustion engine and a plugin battery that needs to be charged. These account for 39 percent.  

According to Manitoba Hydro’s report, two of the biggest issues impacting mass-EV adoption are the price of new EVs, roughly $15,000 more than ICE vehicles, and supply issues.  

Manitoba Hydro’s report states that federal incentives for EV purchases have successfully increased the number of EVs sold. 

The report notes that in Manitoba, sales of electric vehicles have increased following the federal incentive offering that began on May 1, 2019.

The federal incentives, which Transport Canada manages, include rebates for up to $5,000 for EVs

The federal incentives are stackable with the various provincial and territorial purchase incentives offered by BC, Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

There is currently no provincial purchase incentive in Manitoba. However, Manitoba Hydro offers a loan of up to $3,000 to install a Level 2 home charger. 

The federal government set a mandatory target for all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks to be zero-emission by 2035, accelerating Canada’s previous goal of 100 percent sales by 2040.  

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Secondary highways lack charging infrastructure in Saskatchewan

Highway 7, the main route between Saskatoon and Calgary, lacks Level 3 EV charging stations, which is problematic for one EV owner who lives near Prince Albert and wished to remain anonymous.

He would like to drive his Tesla Model 3 down to Calgary, but the route has neither general Level 3 charging units nor Tesla-specific Level 3 charging units. (Tesla is installing its own network of DCFCs worldwide, called “Superchargers,” to help facilitate the sale of Tesla vehicles. Its charging infrastructure serves only Teslas and is independent of other EV charging infrastructure.)

Shannon Wright, a long-time EV owner who owns a new Hyundai Kona and a used Chevrolet Volt, has heard other fellow EV owners lament the lack of charging infrastructure along Highway 7 going to Calgary. 

Wright lives on a farm west of Saskatoon, and she and her family have owned EVs since purchasing a used 2013 Nissan Leaf in 2018. 

Aside from some loss of range in winter (roughly half on the coldest days) and having to buy a squeegee to keep her windshield clean because she wasn’t cleaning it at the gas station regularly, Wright says she hasn’t noticed any drastic changes to her life from being an EV owner. 

Because her Kona has a range of about 450 km when fully charged, Wright has been able to drive it from Saskatoon to Brandon with no concern about range, often referred to as “range anxiety.” 

The only frustration she’s faced is the Saskatchewan government’s decision to implement an annual $150 fee for EV owners. 

“Saskatchewan is making it more of a hindrance [to buy an EV],” said Wright. “I guess their justification for that is to do with we’re not paying the fuel tax.” 

She says it’s a lousy way to mediate that problem since some EV drivers commute around the city and others drive further on highways.

Wright believes the fee could have been based on mileage instead of a flat $150 fee for all EV drivers.

For Greg Miller, who recently purchased a BMW i4, the vehicle’s range played a significant role in his decision to go with that vehicle. He had also heard a Level 3 FLO charging unit would be installed in Weyburn, but that has yet to materialize. 

Miller, who lives in Indian Head, east of Regina, along the Trans-Canada, has a regular business trip he makes south into Montana that is about 440 km. 

While his vehicle can make the trip in summer without recharging, in winter, when the range drops due to cold weather, he has to stop and charge along the way. 

Currently, the only available charging station along this route is a Level 2 charger at a Peavy Mart in Weyburn, which Miller says is only available about 50 per cent of the time. 

Relying on a Level 2 charger adds an hour or more to the trip time. 

“It’s really difficult to go anywhere of any distance unless you’re on the Number 1 highway,” Miller said.

Miller said the province is doing a “terrible job” facilitating the EV transition.

“The Saskatchewan government is constantly kicking and screaming into the future, and it’s really frustrating,” he said.

Saskatchewan’s $150 fee, lack of provincial purchase incentive, and lack of sales mandates are sore spots for both of Saskatchewan’s main EV advocate groups. 

Malcolm Lucy, who heads up SaskEV, the Saskatoon-based EV advocacy group, said he wasn’t surprised by the province’s low score on the Provincial and Territorial Zero-Emission Vehicle Scorecard.

However, he said the charging infrastructure is much better than it was four years ago.

“It’s not that they’re not doing anything,” he said. “I’m sure when the horse and buggy were being replaced by automobiles that rely on gasoline, there was a shortage of gas stations, and I’m sure people were having to make do with a horse and buggy for long-distance trips.” 

SaskEV provides a grant of up to $2,000 for installing Level 2 charging stations in public places. 

Matt Pointer, founder and president of the Saskatchewan Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA), a Regina-based EV advocacy group, said he would have given Saskatchewan a “zero out of ten” on his personal scorecard. 

But, like his Saskatoon-based counterpart, Pointer said the province does seem to be making headway, despite the challenges of Saskatchewan being a sparsely populated province spread over a large area. 

“It’s more difficult to enable province-wide charging to the smaller communities, especially the more northern rural areas,” said Pointer, who also owns a Tesla Model 3. 

SaskPower is one organization Pointer said deserves credit for its efforts. The provincial power utility has taken on the role of facilitator for EV charging infrastructure and also has done a lot of public outreach and education about EVs. 

He also praised the Cities of Regina and Saskatoon for moving forward with EV pilot projects. For example, Saskatoon completed an electric bus pilot project last year and is now looking to purchase some electric buses. 

Both cities have introduced EVs to their respective municipal vehicle fleets.

Regina has officially adopted an Energy and Sustainability Framework, which lays out a plan to become a renewable, net-zero carbon emission city by 2050. 

Saskatoon aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent below 2014 levels by 2050. 

SEVA helped the City of Regina develop its framework, Pointer said, of which electrification of the city’s transport plays a major role. 

“We do have some shining lights here in the province,” the SEVA president said. 

The provincial government, however, has not been the most receptive to working with SEVA, he noted.

Pointer said the province should have its own EV purchase incentive and sales mandates.

Municipal confusion, Pt. 2 

Along the Highway 7 corridor from Saskatoon to Calgary, the Town of Kindersley would seem like an obvious spot for a Level 3 DCFC. 

Aside from some unsubstantiated rumours, a Level 3 charging station has not materialized in the town. Rod Perkins said he has not heard anything from the provincial government regarding EV charging infrastructure in either his role as mayor of Kindersely or as a board member of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association.

Perkins would like to see some partnership between the town, the province and the federal government to make a Level 3 charging station happen.

He would also welcome any private enterprises bringing the infrastructure.

If there is no charging infrastructure in the town by some point in 2023, the town will likely have to start talking about how to get some installed, the mayor noted. However, he questions whether the municipal government should be involved in funding equipment that fuels people’s private vehicles.  

“Frankly, I wouldn’t budget to build a gas station,” he said, adding he is only personally aware of one person within Kindersley who currently has an EV. 

But, interest in EVs is high in Saskatchewan, according to Larry Heggs, executive director of the Saskatchewan Automobile Dealers’ Association (SADA). 

“There are people who are curious about when the vehicles are coming; there are people who certainly want to purchase,” Heggs said during a recent interview.

Even though Saskatchewan doesn’t have an EV mandate, Heggs doesn’t see this as a hindrance to EV adoption in the province. 

He said anyone who wants to purchase an EV in Saskatchewan can get one. It may not be today, but the vehicle manufacturer will make that sale happen.

The SADA executive director said that dealerships in the province are ready for the coming transition. SADA members are ensuring all salespeople and technicians are trained and ensuring all dealerships are prepared for the future demand for EVs, said Heggs.

He added that SADA works closely with SaskPower to ensure the province’s readiness for EVs.

Provincial action, Pt. 2

SaskPower created a priority highway map to identify the locations where Level 3 chargers are needed most, said James Fick, lead consultant in the EV and electrification group within SaskPower’s Customer Solutions division.

Of those locations, 20 have been chosen to receive funding from SaskPower and NRCan for installing Level 3 DCFCs. 

The locations have not been announced as of publication.

“We’re taking steps to modernize the electricity grid accordingly, so it’s going to be an incremental process,” said Fick. 

EVs are still a tough sell on the Prairies

While other provinces may be further ahead than Manitoba and Saskatchewan in terms of EV preparedness, much of that likely has to do with the two province’s vast areas compared to their relatively low population densities, Dany Robidoux, director of Eco-West (a.k.a. Éco-Ouest), said. 

Headquartered in the St. Boniface neighbourhood of Winnipeg, Eco-West helps rural municipalities in Canada develop and implement sustainable projects that will help with economic development. 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, much of Eco-West’s activity has been in Manitoba and Saskatchewan over the last couple of years. 

The organization is a third-party delivery agency for NRCan’s Zero-Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure Program. It has funding available for municipalities that want to install Level 2 EV charging stations. 

Robidoux said Eco-West had had about 50 municipalities that have approached them about funding. 

NRCan also has project-based funding, and Eco-West works with municipalities and other organizations to facilitate those opportunities. 

Robidoux said the minimum requirements are pretty high to qualify for this funding, so they typically send out mass emails to municipalities when a funding opportunity comes up. If there is interest, Eco-West can bundle a few projects together to help cover the minimum requirements. 

So far, Eco-West has helped place 31 Level 2 charging stations in Manitoba, and they have funding for another 100 to be placed in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. 

The organization has been through two rounds of funding. It just opened up its third call for proposals.

“We’re in a role where we’re trying to give people money to do this, and it’s still quite a hard sell,” Robidoux said. 

In Manitoba, municipal elections took place in the fall of 2022, so Eco-West is reaching out to all the new government representatives. 

The people Robidoux has spoken to want to know what the operating costs are for the stations and what the actual price of fuelling is when someone uses a station, and there is some debate about who should be paying for it. 

Robidoux is not an EV owner, partly because of the lack of current charging infrastructure in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and he often drives to remote communities.

“The quicker that we can get these charging stations out, the quicker we’ll be able to make round trips back home. Right now, the lack of charging infrastructure makes it infeasible.”

Efforts to reach the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations were unsuccessful. 

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