White Pine Lodge Algonquin is an Indigenous-led nature reserve far enough from Toronto that not having electric vehicle charging stations might mean losing city clientele.

Philip McRoberts and Emily Porter, operators of the bucolic retreat 250 kilometres northwest of Ottawa near Algonquin Park, thought ahead to the future when there will be a lot more EVs on the road. So when they open the cabins for rental this fall, along with hiking trails and an art gallery focused on Indigenous artists and artworks, they will have two EV charging stations ready to go.

They say the stations will help them accommodate all visitors and their sustainability efforts will differentiate themselves from other area businesses.

"It's going to help us build our business, help promote our eco-sustainability initiative and promote less of a carbon footprint," McRoberts said.

The charging stations are thanks to Charge Up, which provides up to 75 per cent of eligible costs for either Level 2 charging stations or Level 3 fast-charging stations. Level 2 stations take up to 12 hours for a single charge, while Level 3 fast chargers take only 30 minutes.

McRoberts was grateful for the subsidy. “We wouldn't have been able to afford those [sustainability] targets at this stage in our development because we're literally building,” he said.

Charge Up is run by the non-profit Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), which promotes Indigenous inclusion in the energy transition. The $1.6 million used for ICE comes directly from Natural Resources Canada through the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program, a federal EV charger and hydrogen refuelling station subsidy.

Jessica Tait, a program co-ordinator at ICE, notes that funding is also stackable with other provincial or municipal programs. In other words, many Indigenous businesses or communities can have their charging fully subsidized.

Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the energy grid at Algonquin Park, Level 3 stations were out of reach for McRoberts and Porter. It’s unclear if a similar challenge will impede them in other remote, rural communities not yet retrofitted for higher electrical demands.

Charge Up subsidizes EV charging stations for Indigenous communities and businesses. The program cover 75 per cent of the cost, allowing communities and businesses to leap at the energy transition. #EnergyTransition #Electric

Charge Up helps reduce the uncertainty around businesses or Indigenous communities investing in EV chargers at this station, Ian Scholten, the program director at ICE, said.

Currently, only 15 per cent of vehicles in B.C. are EVs, 11.5 per cent in Quebec, and only 5.5 per cent in Ontario, according to CBC.

In the case of Indigenous communities, Scholten lays out the chicken-and-egg scenario. Should Indigenous leadership invest in a charging station if there are no EVs in the community? But then again, how does a community encourage EV purchases or, in the case of White Pine Lodge, visitors, without charging stations?

Having charging stations largely subsidized removes concerns over the investment and provides a community or business with a North Star to the energy transition.

Scholten even imagines an EV future for Indigenous communities. He dreams of a remote community filled with electric quads and snowmobiles. He imagines someone going out to the trapline on their electric snowmobile, setting up a small solar array to trickle charge while they check their traps, hunt or fish.

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative