'Filling Up': Electric Vehicles in Northern Ontario

August 28, 2017 - Who killed the electric car? Many remember the film by director Chris Paine and its exploration of the electric vehicle industry in North America during the early 2000s. What was once seen as an industry with little chance of growth due to the worlds continuing reliance on oil, and the perception of meddling ‘evil’ resource extracting companies, has begun to, pun intended, switch gears. As Canada celebrates its 150th year since confederation, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) and Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) have become an enticing option for next generation car buyers. Although electric vehicles (EVs) only accounted for 1% of total new vehicles sales in 2016, they are still making an impact on one of Canada’s largest commercial industries. With electric vehicles sales totaling more than 1,000 units sold per month across Canada, and with Volvo recently announcing all of its new model vehicles will be hybrid, or electric by 2019, it’s safe to say that the green car movement is here to stay.

The Ontario Provincial Government recognized the growing trend towards a more environmentally friendly vehicle option in 2010 with the establishment of the Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (EVIP). The program, aimed at providing rebates to Canadian’s for purchasing reduced, or zero emission vehicles for the first time, as well as incentives for businesses to install electric charging stations for public use across the province was seen as a step-forward in the reduction of Ontario’s carbon emissions. The government recruited 24 partners and businesses under the EVIP program to provide a network of charging stations province wide. While all of the above is an amazing step forward for not only the reduction of carbon emissions, but also for the growth of an expanding industry, the location and functionality of provincially funded charging stations in the north has become an issue of late.

With the initial government promise of 500 stations across Ontario be operational by 2017, as of June only 14 have been slated for Northern Ontario. With an original promise of over 20, and based on population, and geographic factors a minimum 30 needed for optimal service levels, only 5 stations are operational as of August 2017. It’s important to note that while Northern Ontario represents over one third of the province geographically, its population makes up only 10% of the provincial total. Less charging stations make sense when compared to a region like Toronto when considering population totals, but less when considering the distance between places where one typically drives.

This geographic distance, combined with government funded charging stations operational at present, has left many frustrated at the missed opportunities for both private owners and public businesses. Many have cited the convoluted business plan rolled out by the government, which required businesses to seek out funding rather than advertising the incentive, as counterproductive to the government’s commitment to greening Ontario’s roads. Those wishing to travel cross country using the trans-Canada highway by EV are limited when going through Ontario’s northern regions, resulting in a loss of business opportunity for the tourism industry across the region. The lack of communication and on-going issues in Ontario’s infrastructure plan, encourages frustration felt by those who either own, wish to purchase, or are waiting to drive their EVs in the region.

map of charging stations in Northern Ontario

But wait! Have no fear, private businesses are here! Using government grants, local businesses have recognized a growing need to accommodate environmentally conscious peoples living in, driving through, or visiting the region.

While only 2 of the 13 charging stations funded by the government are operational to date, private businesses in Northern Ontario have provide more than 40 free of charge, and publicly accessible charging stations across the region.  From Parry Sound to Kenora, a number of predominantly hotels, trucking centres, car dealerships and gas bars are providing guests and the public the option of ‘filling up’ at their privately owned stations with a typical charge costing the business between $0.78 and $1.92 in Ontario. How is this possible you may ask?

Many have received government funding in the form of applications for reimbursement, as well as partnerships with national organizations intent on establishing charging stations across the province, and some have paid out of pocket as an investment for future earnings. These privately owned stations do not necessarily provide the most technologically advance charging services. With service range from levels 1 to 3,  level 1 chargers provide the slowest charging time of anywhere from 12-24 hours, and level 3 incorporates a new fast-charge option taking less than an hour for some models. A majority of the charging stations provided in Northern Ontario currently fall under level 2 charging, a mid-range and mid-priced charging level that still gives motorists the power necessary to travel freely throughout Northern Ontario with manageable wait times, achieving an almost complete charge within 1 – 4 hours for a hybrid, and 4 – 8 for an EV. Thanks to these local businesses, eco-tourism for those wanting to explore the North without adding to growing emission problems have the opportunity to not only enjoy a visit, but add to the regional economy as well.

As Ontario, Canada, and the world continue to push for lower emission rates, and a more environmentally friendly future, electric vehicles are an attractive option for many Ontarians. With the promise of charging stations provided by the government hopefully coming soon, as well as the privately owned and operated stations currently present, Northern Ontario is on its way to attracting a new cohort of people intent on a different kind of Northern experience.

To see all charging stations, click here.


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Jenna Kirker is a public relations summer placement student at Northern Policy Institute. 

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