Sidney could start tapping into the wallets of electric vehicle owners for using local charging stations and one councillor fears this move could short-cut the fight against climate change.
Tuesday night, council tasked staff to prepare a request for expressions of interest (REOI) from third parties concerning the future of Sidney’s local charging network for electric vehicles, a move that could conclude with EV owners paying to charge up.
(Sidney operates four Level 2 public charging stations at its town hall, Parking Lot F (Third and Bevan), Tulista Park and Iroquois Park. BC Hydro also operates a fast-charging Level 3 station at Bevan and Seventh. Sidney does not have records for EV stations on private property.)
“Moving forward, if we are looking at a REOI, my suggestion would be that council should at least be comfortable with the idea of possibly charging some amount for the use of an EV charging station,” said Randy Humble, Sidney’s chief administrative officer during Tuesday’s regular council meeting.
Coun. Terri O’Keeffe had earlier expressed reservations about this very possibility. How will charging for the use of EV stations impact Sidney’s climate change goals, she asked in sketching out a possibility whereby owners of EVs could end up paying what amounts to a parking fee to charge their vehicles, while owners of gasoline vehicles would pay nothing. Sidney, she said later, should first settle the question of whether it wants to start charging EV owners in calling for more research.
The question came up as council considered a staff report that recommended the town hire Sun Country Highway, an EV charging station manufacturer to operate and maintain the four public charging stations available in Sidney. Public use of the stations is ‘free’ with the municipality having paid about $9,000 since 2013.
Jenn Clary, director of engineering, said in a report that maintenance of the stations has challenged staff. She also said that the current practice of subsidizing users “may no longer be needed or supportable” with the EV market in Sidney now “well established.”
Sidney, in other words, appears interested in dropping what has been an incentive to encourage EV purchases and turning over its infrastructure to a private company.
While councillors did not follow staff’s recommendation to hire the company – for a number of reasons – they appeared open to hiring a private party to manage and ultimately profit off the infrastructure.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith said Sidney finds itself in a “dynamic situation” concerning its charging infrastructure. “We have residents charging at the their residences, we have local governments providing services like we are doing with four meters, we have BC Hydro, and now we have networks, who are providing service to municipalities.”
McNeil-Smith said Sidney will have to ask itself how it fits into this environment as EVs become more popular and whether it is still appropriate for residents to subsidize owners of EVs through free charging stations. He also predicted that BC Hydro will eventually start charging for use of its charging station in town.
Coun. Peter Wainwright said that most users of Sidney’s charging stations are commuters, and most EV owners actually charge their vehicles at home. While some local residents use the local stations to charge up their vehicles overnight, they often appear to be high-end vehicles. “If you can afford a vehicle, you can probably afford a charger,” he said.
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