Gary Guthrie has had an electric vehicle for more than a decade and vows he’ll never own a gas-powered car again — even if that might mean a price increase in the near future when he hits the pump, so to speak.

BC Hydro is gearing up to change the pricing structure at its public EV chargers, a move Guthrie thinks is long overdue.

Instead of billing customers on time-based rates, the provincial utility is switching to energy-based rates at its public EV chargers. This means drivers will pay for the actual energy dispensed to their vehicle rather than the time they spent plugged in.

“The energy-based system is much fairer. The sooner [BC Hydro] gets there, the better,” said Guthrie, who lives in Courtenay on Vancouver Island.

Demand for charging infrastructure is surging now that all new car and passenger truck sales in Canada must be zero-emission by 2035. Eliminating the burning of fossil fuels for transport — a sector which emits nearly a quarter of all national greenhouse gas emissions — is vital to meet Canada’s target of cutting carbon pollution to net zero by 2050.

To expand and cover the costs for charging infrastructure needs over the next decade, BC Hydro is proposing energy-based rates of 28.28 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for slower Level 2 chargers and 34.34 cents per kWh for fast chargers. The rates are awaiting approval after an expedited review by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC).

BC Hydro is also pitching an idling fee of 40 cents per minute five minutes after an EV battery has stopped charging to deter drivers from hogging ports unnecessarily at congested stations.

BC Hydro did not clarify if the new energy-based rates will include an overall rate increase across the charging network. However, in the summer, the company unsuccessfully asked BCUC for a 15 per cent increase to its time-based rates, saying the prices were too low to recoup costs and expand the network.

Guthrie anticipates some sort of price bump for customers across the charging network, but it’s hard to say by how much, he said, noting comparing time-based rates with energy-based rates is like comparing apples and oranges.

BC Hydro's bid to move to ‘fairer’ energy-based rates at public EV charges likely means some drivers will pay more and others less. #FossilFuels #EVs

Most EV owners support both energy-based pricing and the idling fee, he added.

Slower Level 2 chargers, which deliver up to 19 kW, are what people typically use at home for overnight charging or at hotels, stations or workplaces where vehicles can park for longer periods, Guthrie said.

Fast chargers have a range of capacities, from less than 25 kW and above 200 KW — the higher the energy, the faster the charge.

The energy-based system will clear up the confusion and lack of transparency tied to time-based pricing, said William Andrews, spokesperson for the BC Sustainable Energy Association, during the rate review process.

Time-based rates vary wildly due to different types of EVs' ability to draw power, as well as different chargers’ ability to deliver it, Andrews said.

Time-based rates unfairly favoured EV owners with newer models or fast-charging vehicles that can juice up quickly and speed off. Owners of older EVs typically wait longer and pay significantly more for the same energy, Andrews said.

Consequently, owners of EVs with fast-charging batteries will likely pay more than they used to when using BC Hydro fast chargers in the future, he noted.

However, Guthrie believes any price jump in BC Hydro’s rates won’t be high enough to slow the public uptake of EVs.

One of every eight new cars registered in Canada was a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) in the third quarter of 2023.

National sales of battery-electric vehicles make up just over 10 per cent of the market, while B.C.’s adoption rate is the highest in the country, at nearly 22 per cent.

Fast chargers may be more expensive to install and use, Guthrie said, but most drivers want the convenience of powering up quickly.

“We all want the fastest charge possible,” he said.

“And if it costs more money, that's still substantially less than what it would cost us to fill up a car with gasoline.”

Most EV owners typically plug in at home, so aren’t likely to feel much financial pain with an occasional top-up at public fast chargers, he said.

The proposed rate for fast chargers is also comparable to other stations and providers in the market, Andrews noted.

BC Hydro wants to charge the same rate for all fast chargers — despite different power levels and installation costs — to boost customer convenience and their understanding of energy-based pricing.

However, a concern was raised to the regulator about whether applying the same rate for all fast chargers, despite the higher costs tied to more powerful charging levels, would be sustainable.

BC Hydro says the lower Level 2 charger rates are intended to be more equitable for customers, many living in apartments or condos, who don’t have chargers at home.

The utility also suggested it will only impose the idling fee at high-demand fast chargers and exempt Level 2 chargers between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. so customers don’t have to move cars in the middle of the night.

However, BCUC also heard the idling fee should apply at all times at both urban or rural stations to ensure shift workers and overnight travellers can still access chargers.

Andrews said he’s fairly confident BC Hydro’s proposed rates, or something close to them, will be approved sometime this spring.

BC Hydro’s EV network has 153 fast chargers at 84 sites across the province and there are plans for 3,000 more ports over the next decade, including higher-powered 180 kW chargers that offer an average EV about 180 kilometres of range after plugging in for 10 minutes.

The public utility also asserts “range anxiety” is a thing of the past, saying 57 EV models are available in B.C. with at least a 400-kilometre range. However, most chargers and stations are still concentrated in southern B.C. and urban areas.

Guthrie hopes any new energy-based pricing scheme helps BC Hydro meet the ongoing need for public chargers, noting he hasn’t experienced any significant inconvenience or problems as a longtime owner of two EVs.

“I’ve yet to meet a person who owns an electric vehicle who would go back to a combustion engine car,” he said.

“They are much more fun to drive and you don't have to take them in for oil changes.”

“The only real negative … is that the public charging system hasn’t kept pace with the expansion of electric vehicles,” he said.

“So various providers … are scrambling like mad to get more chargers out there.”

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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A charger is a high-capital device that can only serve so many people per day, and can't serve very well at all if there's a lineup, so you have to build enough that the capital goes unused a lot of the time.

It's kind of stupid to have people pay for the *energy* at all. A total eV fill-up of 100 kWh is about $5-$10 at actual electricity rates. The cost of the charger time is always going to be a multiple of the energy cost.

I am surprised that BCHydro is not proposing lower energy rate for nigh-time EV charging.

I just received an email from BC Hydro about the changes and, where there was a link to their 'What is energy-based billing?' page on the BC Hydro website, where they state: "Charging rates are based on the labelled maximum kW output of the charger, not on actual kW output received or requested by the vehicle."

I take this to mean that nothing is really changing. If you are at a 50kW charger, then you are going to pay the same amount per minute irregardless of how much energy your car takes in. And yet, in the following paragraph they say: "Under time-based billing, the cost to charge at a public charger could vary due to vehicle and battery size, the beginning and ending state of charge (i.e. battery percentages), and the temperature. Switching to energy-based billing ($ per kWh) removes these variables."

Could someone please explain how this would in fact remove the variables, if they are charging based on the max that the charger could give instead of what it is providing?