St. Albert should future-proof its streets by investing in high-powered electric vehicle chargers, say advocates, but should be wary about pricing private vendors out of the market.
St. Albert council voted 6-1 (Coun. Sheena Hughes opposed) July 5 to create a business plan and market impact analysis to create a city-owned energy company that, if approved, would invest in green energy projects with the goal of making money and reducing taxes.
While the majority (about 57 per cent) of the corporation’s projected revenue is set to come from the proposed Badger Lands solar farm, some 17 per cent is to be generated by city-owned electric vehicle charging stations.
The feasibility study for the energy corporation proposed that St. Albert build six, dual-plug, Level 3, 50-kilowatt, direct-current, fast-charging stations in 2022 — three at St. Albert Place and three at Servus Place — for $358,000. By charging drivers $12 an hour to use them, the city is hoping the stations would make $6.9 million over 30 years after operating costs but before interest payments.
Costs and benefits
Electric-car charging stations come in three flavours, said Plugndrive.ca. Level 1s are standard wall sockets, which add about eight kilometres of range to a car after an hour. Level 2s are 240 V sockets (the ones used for most dryers) that can add 30 kilometres in an hour. Level 3 chargers are big, boxy affairs with DC-transformers that add 250 kilometres of range in an hour.
Plugshare.com listed just three 50-kW Level 3 chargers in the Edmonton region as of July 2021, none of which are in St. Albert.
These chargers aren’t cheap. The feasibility study pegs the cost of each at $48,000, half of which could be covered by federal grants, but Andrew Bell of the Electric Vehicles Association of Alberta put the price at closer to $100,000.
Demand for them may also be limited — a 2020 Consumer Reports study estimated that an owner of an electric car would do almost all their charging at home, and need a DC fast-charger six to 20 times a year, depending on the vehicle’s range. (The feasibility study projected six charges per location a day initially rising to a maximum of 24 per station per day.)
“It would be a long payback period for sure,” Bell said of a Level 3 charger, as there currently aren’t many electric cars on the road — they made up just 3.5 per cent of all new registrations in 2020, Statistics Canada reports.
But that is changing. Statistics Canada shows an exponential rise in electric vehicle registrations since 2011, and the federal government said last June that all new light-duty cars and passenger trucks sold in Canada must be zero-emission ones by 2035.
And those vehicles will need fuel, said Robert Barrosa, senior sales director with Electrify Canada (one of several companies building Level 3 charging networks in Canada). While many electric vehicle owners will charge at home, apartment owners and travelers will need fast-acting Level 3 chargers to stay on the go.
“We need to have that kind of infrastructure so we can provide access to everyone, not just those that have a garage,” Barrosa said.
Bell and Barrosa said Level 3 chargers could have spin-off benefits, as they give you a captive audience for however long the car takes to charge. Red Deer has such chargers near restaurants in Gasoline Alley, for example, while Electrify Canada puts its stations near grocery stores and Canadian Tires.
“You can get your fuel for the week while you do your grocery shopping,” Barrosa said.
Deploying Level 3 chargers could put the city in competition with companies now building fast-charger networks in Canada, such as Flo, ChargePoint, Petro-Canada, and Electrify Canada.
Barrosa said this would not initially be a problem, as there are so few of these chargers around right now.
He cautioned the city against undercutting competitors, though, as that would discourage investment in charging networks. Instead, the city should work with the private sector to see what niche their chargers could fill.
Bell encouraged St. Albert to put in Level 3 chargers, as the region needed more of them.
“St. Albert has already shown itself as a leader by their deployment of an electric transit bus fleet,” he said.
“Deploying Level 3 chargers is a natural progression of that.”
The business plan for the chargers is due before council in early 2022.