Rural drivers gain confidence in electric cars

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A number of factors are making it easier for people to drive electric vehicles in rural areas.

Better range and availability top the list but an expanding network of charging stations is also making it more practical to make long trips in cars that use no fuel. The County of Simcoe, with funding from the provincial government, have installed a charger at Station Park in Stayner as part of an initiative to develop a network of electric vehicle stations in cities and along highways.

The county has received $267,350 to install three Level 3 charging stations, with others being set up at the county museum in Midhurst and a parking lot in Washago.

Duntroon area resident Jim Campbell and his wife Suzanne Wesetvik, partners in Rockside Campbell Design, have been driving predominately on electricity for a few years now. They started with a plug-in hybrid, the Volt, and then got a second electric car, the Bolt, which is a fully powered by the battery. Both are made by Chevrolet.

“It’s very good for the municipality. I am really pleased that Clearview is on this,” said Campbell, adding other municipalities should have public car charging stations as economic development tools, to promote the downtowns.

The Stayner charging station was initially proposed for the emergency hub on Highway 26 but the plan was changed to move it into the downtown area.

“Really where the quick charge stations should go, are in downtowns. It’s not useful to have them out in highway parking lots,” said Campbell.

He said when travelling, he plans a route around finding a quick charge, and while juicing up he may take in the town, whether it’s going for lunch or hanging out at the library.

The difference between the chargers is the time it takes to charge the vehicle, with a Level 1 (a regular household 110-volt plug) taking the longest and a 220-volt Level 2 charger taking a few hours to reach a full charge and a Level 3 charger taking about a half hour. The new charger at Station Park will cost 25 cents per minute of charge.

In terms of pricing, there is no normal, yet.

“It’s so all over the map right now,” said Campbell.

He said some charges are free and others have higher fees.

There are apps and websites that share details about charging stations. People are encouraged to log in when they are occupying a charger so other drivers know it is not available at that time.

“There is definitely a bit of an electric car community thing happening to support other drivers,” said Campbell.

Bryan Marshall, a doctor at the Stayner Medical Centre, also drives a Volt, which isn’t compatible with the Level 3 quick charge but he has installed a Level 2 charger at the clinic.

Marshall said he bought the electric car four years ago to support the technology.

“When I went to buy it, I encountered a lot of resistance. The Chevy dealer wouldn’t sell me one. They wouldn’t lift a finger to show me one, I had to go to Orangeville and even then there was a lot of resistance to selling electric vehicles. I don’t think four years ago they were very well supported by the industry at all, I’m not 100 per cent sure why.”

He said may look at going to the full electric vehicle in a couple of years.

“In theory I would like to,” said Marshall. “The problem is that in the summer, these cars have great range. The new Bolt has a like a 400 km range, the Tesla same thing 400-500 km range. In the cold weather, the range plummets usually by about half in my experience, so all of a sudden you have an electric car that only goes 175 km on a -20 day, and that’s without heat. If you add heat, you are really going to deplete your batteries, so I am going to see what the technology is like in a couple of years.”

He said he is very happy with the Volt, because he doesn’t have to worry, and even when running on gasoline, the car still gets great mileage.

Models vary in price but generally cost about 50 per cent more than regular cars. There is up to $14,000 in provincial incentives available and it costs less to charge than fuel up, plus they as said to require very little service.

The big pay-off for drivers is that the cars are not emitting greenhouse gases.

“For Suzanne and I,” said Campbell, “the big thing isn’t to do with cost, it’s about the emission of fossil fuels, that’s what it’s all about.”

The ride is silent, peppy and smooth (once you get a feel for letting the car slow down on its own rather than braking all the time, which wastes battery power).

“Once you drive an electric car, it’s hard to go the other way. It’s so efficient,” said Campbell.

He said he really likes how electric vehicles make him more conscious of how much energy the car is consuming, therefore adjusting his habits to drive more efficiently.

“You are more in tune with energy use, which is good, because that’s a big problem with our society. We are so out of touch with our energy. An electric car connects you much more,” said Campbell.

“It’s like going off grid with your house. It’s good to have a change of mindset.”

During the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in 2015, the province of Ontario announced $325 million investment in a green investment fund for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The following year, $20 million of that was allocated to develop a network of public vehicle charging stations across Ontario so the County of Simcoe put together an application for five units. Three of those were approved for funding.

“There is the potential for additional funding for chargers out there and we are investigating that,” said County of Simcoe manager of procurement and sustainable operations Catherine Payne. “It’s a great initiative. Honestly, just trying to locate vehicles that we can utilize to test those units is challenging simply because the dealers can’t keep electric vehicles on their car lots these days. They’re telling us that the demand is great, which is fantastic. It’s very good news for us.”

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