Our Minister of Environment, Terry Lake, announced a Community Charging Infrastructure Fund, and the SCRD and the District of Sechelt are considering 6 of these units. The program is designed to incent municipalities, regional governments, First Nations, and B.C. businesses and institutions to install 570 public charging stations for electric cars throughout BC. Key points to consider include:

1.    Installation incentive: 75% of eligible costs of a station, to a maximum of $4,000 per station.

2.    Planning incentive: To identify locations for charging stations, the province is offering 75% of eligible planning costs, to a maximum of $6,000, plus an amount based on population of the participating community or communities ($0.10 per capita), not to exceed $75,000 in total funding. This funding is also dependent upon, though not binding, the intention of installing 1 station / $1,000 received.

3.    The goal is 570 stations by March 13, 2013 at an infrastructure cost of $2,280,000 plus an additional $460,000 for planning - total of $2,760,000.

While this may at first appeal to those who are electric car advocates, those who just want to “do something!”, and possibly even those who are concerned about the environment, it does not appeal to smart technology selection or getting a good return on our investment.

First the technology selection. One tried and true aphorism is that government isn't any good at picking winners, but then again who is. Remember when George W. Bush announced $1.2billion for hydrogen fuel? Not too many people do. However, when government plays venture capitalist, such as investing in charging stations, they are leaving themselves to better technology that will make their chosen solution obsolete. For example, one very promising solution to stations for electric vehicles is the battery swap. Like renting a propane tank, you simply drive up and replace your depleted battery with a fully charged batter. Swap time is less than two minutes, and the maintenance of that battery is placed in the hands of certified technicians. Quick, easy, convenient. In contrast, let’s take a Sunshine Coast perspective.

There appear to be two people on the sunshine coast with electric cars. One is a Tesla in the District of Sechelt, and the other is an old vehicle that an individual converted to electric in Gibsons. Both these individuals have already developed their own solutions to keep their vehicles charged up, and I am willing to venture that neither of them would leave their cars at a charging station for 3-4 hours waiting to get charged up. So, who are these charging stations going to serve? Further, once this technology is discovered to be underutilized, if used at all, who will pay to have it removed and properly recycled and repurposed? A rhetorical question as we know it will be tax payers.

Now for the return on investment. Based on government funding formula, it will cost $4,842 for site selection, installation, and administrative set up. However, given we only have 2 electric vehicles on the coast, it is more reasonable to see the charging stations sitting empty and making one less parking space available to non-electric vehicles for many years to come. Also working against the electric vehicle solution is the gaining fuel efficiency of cars, with some getting as much as 3.7 l / 100 km and getting better every year.

Governments should be focused on ensuring the market has lots of leeway to figure out how to respond, much as markets have responded to rising market prices for fossil fuels through a variety of mechanisms such as: higher fuel efficiency; more hybrids; more use of walking, biking, and transit; changes in living and commuting patterns; etc. We want to develop solutions to monumental challenges we have never faced before, but let’s be smart about how do it.