Powering up on campus

Free fill: This Tesla is one of the few electric cars that have been powered up for free at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus. - Photo contributed
Free fill: This Tesla is one of the few electric cars that have been powered up for free at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus.
— image credit: Photo contributed

Some drivers are getting a charge without charge at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus.

But the numbers are not great. In the past year, the two charging stations for electric cars have had a total of 17 hours of connection time in eight visits.

In April 2013, the college powered up 10 charging stations  – four in Kelowna, two in Salmon Arm, two in Vernon and two in Penticton.

A provincial incentive through post-secondary institutions, Victoria coughed up $2.7 million from the Community Charging Infrastructure Fund. The schools picked up the remaining one-third of the costs.

According to data provided by the Ministry of Environment, there have been 30,700 charging sessions at 330 stations in the first year of operation.

The charging centres on Okanagan College campuses have not been so popular, with only the Kelowna stations having 28 visits in the past year.

“It seems to be that people from farther afield know more about the charging station than Salmon Arm,”  says Graham Kershaw, Okanagan College parking and property services manager. “The very first time it was used, a fella was going from Vancouver to Calgary and… lo and behold, out of the blue one evening, he showed up in a Tesla.”

Kershaw believes the low numbers for the Salmon Arm station are a result of a lack of advertising.

“What is so distinct about Salmon Arm is, it’s the only one with no fees attached,” Kershaw says, noting the college’s portion of the bill to install the stations was about $1,000.

“If I had my way I would apply a charge. At all the others, pay parking is in effect.”

The cost at other campuses is $8 for a four-hour charge, says Kershaw, who expresses the desire to “have a chat” with the City of Salmon Arm regarding parking options.

Kershaw says Kelowna recharging stations have been used quite frequently by local residents because it’s quicker than plugging in at home for an average 12-hour charge.

He says the intent was that the college campus charging stations would be used while people were either in classes or meetings.

“We’re hoping to get the word out,” he said.

Christine Ulmer, Okanagan College marketing and communications manager, said the school is expected to be ahead of the curve on electric cars.

“We’ve seen this with other initiatives that we’ve undertaken, when we start maybe a little bit earlier than the general trends among the population, then people catch up,” she said.

John Stonier of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association said there needs to be a critical mass of public charging stations before the cars gain more widespread acceptance.

“There’s a huge marketing opportunity right now, and it’s bigger than free WiFi in hotels ever was, and it’s to make sure that every bed-and-breakfast and every hotel in your tourism destination has a charging outlet,” he said, calling for more public terminals.

But the head of the B.C. branch of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has a different view. He thinks building such infrastructure should be left to the private sector.

“We’re big believers in the free market, and if there’s a market for electricity to power cars, every gas station in the province would be jumping on it,” said Jordan Bateman.

“But instead, you have government first of all subsidizing electric car purchases… and then giving them free power and free charging,” he continued. “They’re really trying to create a market where none exists.”

-With files from Joe Fries, Penticton Western News.



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