Whether we like it or not, moving around Northern Ontario is fairly dependent on a vehicle. Sure there are other options – cycling, public transportation, even your own two legs – but most will agree, that’s not going to get you everywhere you need to go, especially if you have time constraints, or limited physical abilities.
So, cars it is – but what kind of car is still up for discussion.
While politicians and economists argue climate change and its inherent causes, scientists are clear: increased greenhouse gas emissions, such as those from gas-powered vehicles, are making our environment inhospitable at best, and catastrophically endangered at worst.
If that doesn’t scare you, perhaps your wallet will. If you’ve had a look at gas prices recently, you might be considering a second mortgage to pay for a trip this summer.
But there is an answer, and no matter the political movement, Devin Arthur believes that answer is an electric vehicle (EV).
Arthur has dedicated himself to electric vehicle promotion, and created the Greater Sudbury Electric Vehicle Association (GSEVA) (https://gsevassociation.ca/) to work with local and municipal groups – as well as larger infrastructure and equipment specialists – to create an EV plan for Sudbury.
There are myths surrounding electric vehicles – and some real issues – but most of all, there is a new opportunity to shape the way we look at transportation.
Fact and Fiction
First, the myths. The biggest one, Arthur notes, has to do with what is known as range anxiety. It’s an easy one to picture: you are driving along the highway, tapping the steering wheel in time to the beat, and your car just … stops. Dead, in the middle of the highway.
Not so much, says Arthur.
“That’s one of the big ones that came out of the old days, when electric vehicles first came out. They all had really small batteries, and there was nowhere to really charge them. So, that’s kind of been almost eliminated with all the newer technology – batteries are much larger, they can go much longer distances - but also the infrastructure is popping up, every day there are new charging stations.
But that leads to another misconception.
“I always tell people that the biggest myth is the need for the charging infrastructure,” says Arthur. “Unless you are going on trips, 90 per cent of the time you are going to be charging at home.”
We are so accustomed to seeing gas stations everywhere that it’s difficult to imagine not needing public charging stations. But consider this: how many times would you actually need to stop for gas in your own city, if you had a gas station at home?
Public infrastructure only becomes a consideration when you travel far from home. Organizations like Arthur’s continue to push for some charging stations available – and if you routinely make long trips, Arthur recommends a hybrid vehicle – but so far, he hasn’t been overly challenged.
How about $0.98 to fill up?
Arthur owns a Chevrolet Bolt, and uses his experiences to show others how efficient and inexpensive it can be.
“People think charging their car at home is expensive, and I tell them the statistic that we use is that 100 kilometres in an electric vehicle is about $2.00, versus about $5.00 in a regular gas car, and then I use my own personal experience: I drive about 50 kilometres a day and it costs me about 98 cents a night to charge. So I mean, it’s really not much more than a hair dryer.”
Imagine fuelling your vehicle at less than the cost of one litre of gas.
Of course, there are still issues with the vehicles. While gas-powered vehicles have had the last 100 years to work out the kinks, electric vehicles are still in their adolescent phase, and therefore are subject to more criticisms. A few of those criticisms are based in fact, and they are a priority for those creating new vehicle technology.
One of those criticisms hits those in the north more than most – the EV’s reaction to cold.
While they are not hard to start in the winter – though the small batteries of gas-powered vehicles need a boost now and then, the large EV battery can hold its own – and you get the benefit of instant heat – no more waiting for the engine to warm and pass the waste on to you – the battery will face an approximate 40 per cent decrease in its efficiency. For instance, the Bolt’s 400 kilometre range might get closer to 250 kilometres. This is another instance that Arthur would recommend a hybrid to those with consistently long journeys, as they offer 50-100 kilometres of electric ability, and 400-500 kilometres from the gas tank.
Of course, cost is always a factor, and electric vehicles are not inexpensive, especially compared to their gas-powered competitors. There is a push for government to support the EV movement, as they have gas-powered vehicles and their manufacturers, but unfortunately the winds of politically change can blow good intentions off the road.
Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec all had rebates in some form, and not surprisingly, they have the highest EV sales numbers. There is a market for the cars, especially when a rebate offers price parity, but that could be changing, in Ontario at least. Under the former Liberal government’s plan, there was a rebate system for those looking to go electric; under the new Conservative government, there may not be.
“Unfortunately with the cancellation of cap-and-trade, this all but solidifies the cancellation of incentives in their current form and where they are funded from. We are hopeful that as part of climate change action the new government will create some type of incentive, whether direct rebates or indirect- removal of PST from sales- or with a ZEV mandate, similar to Quebec.”
He is also hopeful that federal regulations will help.
“When the federal backstop kicks in on Jan. 1,” says Arthur, “an actual carbon tax will be forced onto Ontario; cap-and-trade was not a tax, despite all of the political hubris. The federal Liberals have stated all proceeds from Ontario would be invested back into the province, so we are also hoping this could lead to a federal EV incentive program.”
But Arthur knows that either way, he has his work cut out for him. Killing incentives could lead to a decline in EV sales, meaning organization's like his will have to step up their public relations game. Still, even if incentives are abandoned and their is a sales drop, EVs aren't going away, Arthur said.
“I strongly believe the momentum of EVs has already passed the point of no-return, and even if removing incentives results in temporary sales declines in Ontario, I have hopes that this will just be a small bump in the road and that EV’s will become mainstream, sooner rather than later."
Think of your Mother (Earth, that is)
Regardless of the ups and down of the industry, there is a need for change in the way we look at our transportation costs – both financial and environmental. Even the idea that shopping local is best – why buy oil from overseas when you can get electricity from Ontario – can tip the scales towards an EV purchase.
And if you have ever even considered an EV, why not talk to someone who already has one? Check out the Greater Sudbury Electric Vehicle Association’s Facebook page, or even head out to one of their monthly meetings – a chance to ask specific questions of the members pertaining to your transportation requirements.
There are also events and educational opportunities during National Drive Electric Week, Sept. 8-16 – including GSEVA’s Silent Cruise, a ride around the city with members showing off their electric cars, and their lack of sound.
You can also visit their website, GSEVAssociation.ca (www.gsevassociation.ca), for more information, and a map of charging stations in the area.
There is a continuing evolution of electric vehicles, and with the cost of fuel, and the cost to the environment, their benefits could easily outweigh any issues.
Jenny Lamothe is a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury.