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Newfoundland and Labrador trying not to lose out on EV charger funding

Level 2 chargers are installed beside the Newfoundland Power building on Kenmount Road in St. John’s. The plan of provincial utilities is to see new chargers installed, but with details still to come.
Level 2 chargers are installed beside the Newfoundland Power building on Kenmount Road in St. John’s. The plan of provincial utilities is to see new chargers installed, but with details still to come. - Contributed

Province, hydro have applied for cost-share on new EV stations

Greater use of electricity inside the province is a part of the current plan for dealing with overruns on the now-$12.7-billion Muskrat Falls Project. It begins with electrification of public buildings but, longer-term, the thought is greater use of electric vehicles.

Right now, Newfoundland and Labrador isn’t flush with places to charge an electric vehicle (EV). It’s not without stations, but lags behind other jurisdictions across the country, including in the availability of the highest speed, 15-minute, Level 3 chargers. They’re not dotted along Route 1.

“So it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. If there’s no infrastructure to charge an electric vehicle, even if the benefits are there, would we expect a high penetration rate (for sales),” said Western University professor Brandon Schaufele, while testifying at the Muskrat falls Inquiry this week.

“Alternatively, if you don’t have a high penetration rate of electric vehicles, why would you want to invest in infrastructure to charge these vehicles? And so, I’m not sure how much scope there is for electric vehicles to solve some of the rate issues involved with Muskrat Falls. I’d be cautious on that one.”

Schaufele said he doesn’t want to sound too pessimistic on EVs.

And the province may set a new starting point, with some additional EV infrastructure.

The provincial government included $2 million in the latest provincial budget for an initial cross-island network of electric vehicle charging stations (locations to be determined). Through Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, an application was filed with Natural Resources Canada, under an existing federal program, to — if successful — help fund the project. There has been no further word yet. 

“We believe that a provincial electric vehicle charging network would enable electric vehicle owners to travel long distances, thereby removing one of the largest barriers to electric vehicle adoption in Newfoundland and Labrador,” a Hydro spokeswoman offered, in response to questions this week.

“Although we aren’t able to provide many details at this stage, what we can say is that Hydro is working to bring the province more in line with EV accessibility levels seen across the country.”

Newfoundland Power worked with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro on the recent application, including help in identifying suitable charger locations. The company has separately tapped Montreal-based Dunsky Energy Consulting for an evaluation of electric vehicles, in the context of the provincial system and rate mitigation concerns.

Newfoundland Power has a single Chevy Bolt, a Level 2 charging station at its main office on Kenmount Road in St. John’s, and is evaluating the possibility of adding more Newfoundland Power charging stations and EVs to the company fleet.

On its side, the federal government has been co-funding new EV stations. On Thursday, July 11, the latest projects to receive funding were announced, along with the opening of Petro-Canada’s new charging station in Stewiacke, N.S., part of the company’s new “cross-Canada network of EV fast charge stations.”

But of the company’s 54 EV charging locations, none will be in Newfoundland and Labrador (Petro-Canada sold 40 service stations in the province to North Atlantic Refining Ltd in 2003. The Telegram reached out to North Atlantic, but there was no response to phone and email messages).

But the company isn’t alone in building for EVs. The federal dollars have been rolling out in the millions, with a long list of new stations going up in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia Power was told in 2018 by its regulator (akin to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Public Utilities Board) it could not recover from ratepayers the cost of adding 12, high-speed charging stations around the province. The utility went ahead with the project anyway, and is using the stations to study the effects of high-speed chargers on the provincial system.

“It’s the perfect market for the excess power of Muskrat Falls,” said Jon Seary, co-founder of the not-for-profit Drive Electric NL.

He told The Telegram it’s been disappointing not to see more businesses and governments (as municipal governments can also apply) receiving some of the available federal funding to add more infrastructure in this province.

Driving fully electric for about four years now, Seary said he has been working on an application to the federal EV charger program with a number of local businesses.

He said more news on the province’s planned stations, through Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, would be welcomed. “However, that’s just the first step, the first phase. There needs to be a charging station on every building that’s out there. Everywhere where people want to stop, or are going to stop. I want to see every hospitality institution have something there for when you sleep, you charge,” he said. He expressed his disappointment on the lack of banks of chargers at transportation hubs like the airport in St. John’s or the Marine Atlantic terminals.

With the surplus energy from Muskrat Falls coming in short order, Seary said it’s time to get a move on all the EV infrastructure that can be added, to get the most from the available power and help rates. It won’t be a major piece of rate mitigation, particularly as early as 2021, but something.

ashley.fitzpatrick@thetelegram.com


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