BC Hydro bids to raise EV charging fees, but customers say time-based fees are unfair

BC Hydro bids to raise EV charging fees, but customers say time-based fees are unfair
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
An electric vehicle is charged in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2022.

Nanaimo resident Rick Butzelaar bought an electric vehicle less than two months ago and the savings so far have been significant, but he doesn’t have a home charger and a recent bid by BC Hydro to increase public charging rates has him concerned.

The provincial Crown corporation wants to raise rates at public electric vehicle charging stations by 15 per cent from Sept. 1, which the company says would allow it to recover the costs of providing them over 10 years.

Some consumers say the proposed rate hike would reduce the incentive for others to make the switch to an electric vehicle.

When Butzelaar and his partner sold two gas-powered cars and bought an electric Volkswagen, he estimates they saved about $350 in the first month on fuel alone.

While researching electric vehicles, he said he discovered that all chargers aren’t the same, some charging much faster than others, some charging fees by the minute, and some by the amount of power consumed.

BC Hydro says the new rates would vary depending on the type of charger employed. Time-based charges would be between three and 60 cents per minute, and power-based charges from 33 to 44 cents per kilowatt hour. Extended-stay charges would be 40 cents per minute.

The BC Utilities Commission has appointed a panel to consider the July 28 application and is currently accepting public comments.

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When Butzelaar found out BC Hydro was seeking a rate increase, he emailed the commission, urging the regulator to deny the company’s “illogical” request because it still wants to charge fees by the minute.

“What kind of concerned me more about the increase (is) as soon as we bought the EV, the home charger rebate ended,” Butzelaar said. “We don’t have a home charger.”

In its submissions to the utilities commission, BC Hydro says the proposed rate hike is “just and reasonable,” and will protect its other customers from the costs of providing power through public charging stations.

BC Hydro notified customers about the proposed rate increase earlier this month, prompting Butzelaar and others to write to the utilities commission, which posted public comment letters this week.

“I do not feel that BC Hydro should be granted a rate increase at their EV chargers at this time. First, they should not be allowed any increase until they change from by the minute to by the (kilowatt hour) charging,” wrote Warren Lemcke of Surrey, B.C. “As I am sure you know, the rate that a vehicle draws electricity from a BC Hydro machine is determined by the vehicle, not the machine.”

Other letters echo Butzelaar and Lemcke’s concerns.

“There should be no problem in charging by the kilowatt hour rather then the minute,” wrote Saul Brudy of Nanaimo, B.C. “BC Hydro already has infrastructure in place where they can read my home meter and charge me for the appropriate amount of kilowatts my home has used.”

Jennifer Lactin of Vernon, B.C., said in a letter to the utilities commission that BC Hydro should be incentivizing people to use electric vehicles by providing subsidized charging rates.

“BC Hydro should be providing EV charging at a reduced rate to encourage people to switch (to) EV’s,” her letter says. “BC Hydro should be displaying leadership in encouraging EV ownership by providing non‐market prices.”

Blair Qualey, president and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association, said he sometimes uses BC Hydro’s public charging stations for his electric vehicle.

He said he understands that BC Hydro needs to keep up with its own costs.

“But it doesn’t mean we necessarily like to see more costs being put on consumers in B.C.,” he said. “Consumers who are thinking about electric vehicles need as many incentives as possible to make that step.”

He said many people are curious about the costs of electric vehicle ownership, but “range anxiety” remains an issue, with confusion about how long a battery charge will last and how far it can take them.

Qualey said the rate increase sought by BC Hydro may be understandable, but the timing and “optics” are less than perfect.

“It just adds a further stumbling block, I think, in the process of consumers trying to make the decision to, you know, put their toe in the water for an electric vehicle,” he said.

Qualey said the association hasn’t decided on a formal position about the proposed rate hikes, but he said BC Hydro needs to be transparent and communicative to properly educate the public about the need for them.

“Folks can say, ‘geez, yeah, that makes sense. I don’t necessarily want to pay more, but I see where it’s going to help me and the province down the road,’ and they might accept it,” Qualey said.

BC Hydro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2023

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