OPINION: Are We Stumbling into the Electric Age?

In December 2015 when Squamish became the fifth Canadian Solar City, there was one public electric vehicle Level 3 fast charger, and two semi-public Level 2 (medium speed) chargers in town. Today, more than three years later, there is still just one public and two semi-public chargers.

This flies squarely in the face of the rapidly evolving reality. In the last year, there has been a flurry of announcements from carmakers rushing to join the electric vehicle revolution. More than 70 new battery electric vehicles or plug-in electric light and passenger vehicles have been announced to be on North America roads by 2025.  From the single-seat Solo by Canadian manufacturer Electra Meccanica to the fully electric Ford 150 and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks.

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As a tourist town, we are completely unprepared for the wave of visitors who will arrive looking to charge their vehicles. If just 10 electric driving families arrive at the same time, there will be a problem. Once the Level 3 fast charger across from municipal hall and the Level 2 at the Squamish Credit Union are in use, they have one option left and that is to head to the West Coast Railway Museum, assuming it’s open and not already in use. Tesla drivers have 10 Level 3 (high-speed) chargers at Garibaldi Village, but everyone else will be out of luck. Unless they want to plug in at a hotel or other spots with available 110-volt wall outlets (Level 1) and wait a day before continuing their journeys. Unfortunately, the risk is that many will simply avoid taking the scenic drive up the Sea-to-Sky Highway altogether and head to more charger friendly destinations. 

In its latest budget, the BC government announced funding for green initiatives but there was no money in the provincial kitty for public or business vehicle chargers.

Last time I checked, Squamish had neither.

The topic of electric chargers and car-sharing was front and centre in our discussions. The challenge, according to Mayor Karen Elliott, is finding the funds to pay for public chargers which may explain why we’ve had no new ones installed in the last four years. Right now, the only public Level 3 charger is free. But if we want to measurably increase this number we need to develop public-private partnerships where users pay for parking and charge their vehicles. Companies will get involved if they know they will see a return on their investment.

So what’s next?

According to Elliott, the budget and district staff for 2019 is already committed. She says there will be room in the next budget.  Community groups need to reach out to electric vehicle installers to determine costs and speak to companies who operate a for-pay model. In other words, it’s up to us to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later to ensure our town doesn’t become roadkill on the rapidly expanding electric highway.

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