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Making a case for electric vehicles

The owner of an electric vehicle, Elmira resident Kyle McLeod is a big booster of the technology. [Justine Fraser]

Elmira resident Kyle McLeod is a fan of electric cars, an early adopter of a technology that will eventually become the norm as automakers shift away from the internal combustion engine over the next decade or so.

As part of that transition, he says, municipalities such as Woolwich Township have a role to play, namely ensuring that charging stations are plentiful enough to meet the growing demand. He’s calling on the township to install chargers in public places and to require the likes of new commercial and multi-residential buildings to include electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

“People who do own EVs, a lot of us focus on shopping at businesses that do have public charging. So, like for me, I seek out going to The Boardwalk [in Waterloo] because they have multiple chargers in that complex, where I can go, I can charge up, I can do my shopping – it drives economic success to those businesses that install public use chargers,” said McLeod.

“There is still this zero-emission vehicle infrastructure program through the federal government. This is literally the perfect time to start this infrastructure – the government is giving everybody 50 per cent off their installation until 2024. We need to do this now for the environment, but more so than just the environment, for our future economy.”

Zero-emission vehicles are becoming more popular as more people see them as a way to combat climate change. According to Statistics Canada, 54,353 new zero-emission vehicles were registered in 2020, accounting for 3.5 per cent of new vehicles in the country.

“If you’re going on a road trip or going shopping, you can open up the plug share app and you can see actually where every charger is. There’s a notable gap in the infrastructure when you get to Woolwich Township, there’s literally none. We do have a lot of EV owners in the township and people who commute to Kitchener or Waterloo but live out here. There’s just no charging infrastructure whatsoever. It’s very disappointing. We need charging at businesses to support the local businesses and to drive our local economy,” said McLeod.

Not only do electric vehicles cut down on overall gas emissions but they cut down the price’s consumers are paying to fill up their cars. Although they typically cost more to buy, the average owner of an EV pays less than $530 per year or about $1.45 per day to charge at night. That’s much cheaper than gasoline-powered cars that can cost $2,500 or more per year to refuel, according to figures from the Canadian Ministry of Transport.

Tova Davidson, executive director of Sustainable Waterloo Region, says the townships are prime locations for EV chargers to help boost tourism in the future, drive more economic success for local businesses and help create cleaner air for residents.

“The people who are going to use those charging stations are not primarily residents of the townships; they’re people that come in from out of town because most people who drive electric will tell you that they drive all day and then they go home and plug in their car and then they drive the next day – they don’t think about public charging until they leave their home community, and then they need the charging stations. In Woolwich specifically you’ve got the market, you’ve got St. Jacobs, you’ve got Elmira, you’ve got all those things that are drawing people. There are draws for people coming out to the country from the city and the idea is that if you can offer them charging, and typically it’s for people who are higher income, they’ll feel comfortable to come out there, charge their car and know they can get home safely.”

One of the main reasons the proposal didn’t get a great response from Woolwich council was the concern about cost and how would public EV chargers be installed with new or pre-existing businesses. Davidson had a few solutions for the township on how to put EV chargers in new developments or parking lots under construction.

“The most expensive part of putting in a charging station is digging up the parking lot, trenching it and running the wires. If the requirement is that every surfaced parking spot – must run the conduits to a certain percentage of every spot, that way when it’s time to put in the charging station it will cost so much less and the conduit at the point of development is almost nothing, it’s literally a plastic pipe that goes from where the electricity is to where it needs to be, that’s it. Run a conduit: it’ll save a ton of money and a ton of work later.”

Davidson advised a good policy would be to run the conduits while they are developing property in the townships, adding it would be a cheap addition to projects as trenches are already dug up and all they’d need to do is run the conduit for later use for EV chargers. Those units could be programmed for various uses, including in a pay-for-use capacity.

“Most of the charging stations enable you to program the charging station, so say during the workday, we’re not going to charge because it’s our employees, but in the evenings we want to make it publicly available, so we’re going to charge. You can tell it what to do.”

While many prefer to plug in their cars at home during the night to take advantage of energy price savings, many more public EV charging stations are popping up around the region. Forty-six new public EV chargers for the region were announced last summer by MP Tim Louis, with the units to be installed by the end of this month.

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