B.C. On the Road to Achieve a Complete Phase-out of Gas Vehicles by 2040?


On May 1, the federal government rolled out its latest climate change energy policy by offering generous rebates to purchasers or electric vehicles ("EV").  For many provinces, the federal rebate on electric vehicles is in addition to provincial rebates also intended to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles.  The province of Ontario was previously offering up to $14,000 in provincial government rebates for purchasers to electric vehicles; this was subsequently discontinued by Doug Ford. 

Can the Provincial Electricity Grids Support 11.9 Million Electric Vehicles?

As Canada and provinces continue to trim their sails to head towards a 0-emissions future, new and at times unforeseen challenges will emerge.  For instance, as federal and provincial governments continue to implement more policies to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles, property managers of commercial, industrial, and residential complexes are increasing faced with the challenge of installing electric car charging stations in above and underground parking lots that were not otherwise designed or wired with electric vehicles in mind.  Perhaps a more critical problem is the extent to which a province's energy supply grid is capable of supporting the heavy weight of hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of electric vehicles.  Using Ontario as an example, Statistics Canada affirms that the province of Ontario reached 11.9 million registered vehicles. If the province of Ontario, or any other province for that matter, is looking to eventually reach a zero emissions transportation sector, that would implicate 11.9 electric vehicles (not counting buses, motorcycles, trucks, etc.) needing to draw "energy juice" from Ontario's already stretched energy sources.

Mandatory Hydrogen Fuel Chargers at Gas Stations?

In B.C., the emergence of an electric vehicle market has recently highlighted another issue: auto manufacturers won't dive into the business of producing electric vehicles if electric vehicle customers aren't also provided with the right energy infrastructure to support their electric vehicles. One bold solution advanced by Hyundai Canada's president is for policy makers to roll out a new electric vehicle policy that would "mandate" that existing stations, often owned by gas companies, install electric and hydrogen fuel chargers, automatically creating a vast new charging network. While certainly more useful than Doug Ford's idea to mandate that "carbon tax stickers" be posted at every gas station in Ontario (with ridiculously high penalties of up to $10,000 per day for any gas station that does not comply), this solution is easier said than done.  Implement a "vast new charging network" would likely mean greater electricity demand. At least in Ontario, this means more pressure on an already stretched energy supply grid.

These recent comments by Hyundai Canada president, and many other concerned big automakers, came as a response to B.C.'s recent and highly ambitious proposal to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars, SUVs and light trucks by 2040. While this idea certainly appears as an imperative to achieve a zero-emissions transportation sector, the practical realities of exactly how energy grids and their limited supply capacity can support vast new networks of electronic vehicles.  In other words, developing innovative solutions as to how electricity grids will be able to support electric vehicle innovations will be necessary if a zero-emissions transportation sector is ever to occur. Hyundai Canada was of course not the only giant auto maker to take issue with B.C. proposal.

Honda Canada President Dave Gardner: the Cautiously Wise and Reserved Optimist

Honda Canada's president Dave Gardner, for instance, hinted to the province of B.C. the more nuanced position that limiting new sales in 2040 to electric and hydrogen vehicles, while discounting gains in fuel-efficiency for future hybrid electric-gas engines, may not be the best way to achieve the province's pollution reduction goals. However admirable its intentions, automakers are of course a very big and important piece of achieving a zero-emissions transportation sector; their views and opinions cannot be overlooked as they hold the key as to just how realistic and practical it may be to achieve certain climate change policies. If automakers say it can't be done, despite the very best efforts to adapt to the new realities of climate change, then realistically and practically speaking, it can't be done. For now, rather than adopt a zero-alternative position vis-a-vis a zero-emissions transportation sector, the viewpoint expressed by Honda Canada president Dave Gardner might merit him the title of a cautiously wise and reserved optimist: "with the way technology is advancing it's hard to predict [...]. And that's what we're concerned about. At this stage of the game, let's not pick a winning technology.  Let's just embrace anything that will achieve the overall goals." 

Should the Federal Government or the Provinces Regulate Vehicle Sales?

Less reserved is Hyundai president Don Romano's bold assertion that the federal government should be regulating vehicle sales, and not individual provinces like B.C. This would see a reversal of the ongoing constitutional debates between the provinces and the federal government that assert that the provinces have legislative authority as to how best to address climate change within provincial boundaries, an argument that recently failed in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal carbon tax decision. If the government has the power to enact laws implementing a federal carbon tax, it becomes hard to see how the federal government could not also implement nation-wide laws regulating electric vehicle sales, especially considering that section 91(2) gives Parliament the right to enact laws that pertain to "The Regulation of Trade and Commerce".


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