By Trevor Busch
Rather than installing a company-specific charging station for electric vehicles, town council is investigating options for a universal charging station open for public use.
Administration and the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce recently contacted Tesla Motors Canada about potentially locating a supercharger charging station in Taber. Tesla had previously contacted the chamber in support of locating a destination charging station in the community, rather than a supercharger charging station, due to the six-figure cost associated with the installation of a supercharger station.
Tesla is a manufacturer of all-electric vehicles and is attempting to expand its hospitality-focused charging network. According to administration, the chamber had envisioned a supercharger charging station located in the vicinity of the corn stalk sculpture near the chamber’s office at 4720 50th Street, which is currently town property.
Superchargers have the ability to charge a Tesla vehicle to 80 per cent within one hour. As the chargers offered to the chamber are not superchargers, a Tesla vehicle would take 8-9 hours of charging to achieve a full charge. Destination chargers are designed for properties hosting patrons for extended periods of time, such as hotels, to allow sufficient time to charge the vehicle.
“I think with an 8-9 hour charge, you’re limiting your customers,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger. “If you have the super one, people can go to the hamburger place or whatever, and an hour, hour and half later you can keep going. But if it’s nine hours, you’re limiting your customers.”
Administration indicated Tesla would supply two or more destination wall connectors (without installation) at no fee to the town or chamber. If installed, the town, as the property owner, would become the owner of the chargers. As the host property, the town would also be responsible for the electricity costs incurred by drivers using the station. Tesla advises approximately $1.30 of electricity is used for each hour of charging. Using a destination charging system (8-9 hours for full charge) the cost to the town would be approximately $10.40 – $11.70.
“They’d park their car in Taber, shop around, unplug and drive away, which is great,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “The Town of Taber is paying to charge the car. Would that not be more appropriate or better for a hotel or local hotel chain to invest in something like this instead of the people of Taber?”
If installed, a destination charger would come with a four-year warranty and no regular maintenance required. According to estimates, if two chargers were used 200 days out of the year for nine hours per day, 3,600 hours of charging would be incurred, costing the town approximately $42,120. The property owner — the town — would be responsible for contracting an electrician for the installation of the chargers, expected to be a cost of roughly $2,000 per charger.
“I work in the electrical field, and a low-volt amp charge would be very minimal to the town,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “It would probably be about the same as a laptop plugged in there. We’re not getting any younger, and this is the wave of new technology, and I would like to see this move forward, an 8-9 hour charging station. It just makes sense for a very minimal cost. We’ve got lights that run more wattage than one of these charging stations in our town.”
If the project was a go, Tesla had been interested in completing it by the second quarter of 2017. The offer provided to the chamber is valid until March 31, 2017. Administration noted that, “Since Tesla will not provide superchargers, as desired by both the town and chamber, administration feels it would be best to explore all options. Tesla chargers are only compatible with Tesla vehicles, other manufacturers sell electric vehicle chargers that are compatible with all electric vehicles.”
Brewin went on to attack electric vehicles in general, even suggesting there is “No such thing as an electric car”, considering many of the sources of electricity currently available in the province can be traced back to a fossil fuel source.
“This is my personal opinion, but these charging stations aren’t hooked up to a windmill. This power is still generated by Sheerness (Generating Station), and by them saying we’re getting clean energy by charging with electricity — there’s no such thing as an electric car. There’s a fossil-fuel powered car — electricity is created by oil and gas, or hydro. So I’m not in big favour of this, unless an individual wants to do it themselves, or even if the chamber of commerce might be interested in doing this, but for us to pay for somebody to charge up their car, I don’t get it really. You can give them a quarter tank of gas, it’s the same thing. To me, buy an electric car, fine — find a place to charge it.”
Through preliminary investigation, administration had not identified a program that offers free chargers for a universal electric vehicle charging station, however Sun Country Highway sells chargers ranging in price from $800 – $3,400, which have been employed by the Town of Okotoks in their downtown area and have been, “Satisfied with them so far.”
There are a variety of models of chargers that vary in design (stand alone or wall mounted) and charging speed. Administration noted a Level 2 charger should provide a similar charge time to the Tesla destination charger. Because a universal charger could be used by all electric vehicle users, administration had “Recommended the town consider purchasing universal electric vehicle chargers rather than continuing to pursue Tesla chargers.”
DeVlieger also suggested a charging station operated by the town would be open to potential abuse by unscrupulous citizens.
“With the 8-9 hour charging, it should be by a hotel, because otherwise what I could see happening is if I owned an electric car, at night I’ll plug it in with the town and then go home and sleep and pick it up the next morning and its charged up. What is the purpose of this station? I think it’s for people that pass through that need to charge up.”
Providing electric vehicle charging stations to the public would incur a cost to the town, however administration pointed out it may encourage electric vehicle drivers to make Taber a part of their route so they can receive a charge on long trips, potentially increasing economic activity for the town through hotel stays, restaurants, or shopping. Choosing a universal charger, “Will allow for more drivers to stop in Taber than just Tesla owners.”
“When I’m in Calgary, you see those charging stations at the hotels, just not out on the streets,” said Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux. “I see a lot of hybrid cars on the road, but I can’t recall ever seeing a Tesla. So I agree that we should look into a universal charger. I can’t agree with the Tesla proposal at all.”
The idea of a charging station also aligns with the town’s strategic plan, which is designed to create conditions for business success and economic development, with a charging station taking advantage of the town’s locational and transportation advantages, such as Highways 3 and 36 and the CPR mainline. Installing a charging station would also put Taber on maps of electric vehicle charging stations, allowing drivers to plan routes that include the community on their trips.
Although the idea of a vehicle charging station for the community had no association with the current provincial government, Coun. Randy Sparks still took the opportunity to launch a scathing rebuke of the Notley NDP’s energy policies.
“I know this is the wave of the future, but unfortunately our provincial government is playing a game of charades, because this is not the clean-burning fuel that they say it is. It still comes from Sheerness, as Jack (Coun. Brewin) has said, and if they want to promote this, let’s promote it right, and what it really is. It’s still electricity that has been manufactured from fossil fuel, let’s face it. So let’s be truthful about this, let the government be truthful about what’s really going on here. I don’t have a problem with cars plugging in and things like that, but this electricity has not fallen from the sky, it’s come from somewhere else. That’s the truth of the matter.”
At their Feb. 27 regular meeting, town council voted 5-1 to direct administration to investigate universal electric vehicle charging stations further, and not sign Tesla’s letter of intent. Coun. Rick Popadynetz opposed the motion, while Coun. Joe Strojwas was absent.
“There’s nothing wrong with looking into it more,” said DeVlieger. “It is the future, you just have to do it the right way.”