opinion teaser

Opinion: Charging ahead safely

The following does not contain any mention of the provincial election. You’re welcome.

The subject of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations has been much on my mind lately, even though I do not own an electric vehicle and am unlikely to do so, at least in the short term.

However, I’ve written about EV charging stations a fair bit, in one context or another, and the B.C. government has legislated that by 2040 all new vehicles sold in the province will be zero-emission and powered by clean energy.

That means we will need far more charging stations — private and public — than we currently have. There has been much discussion about where these stations will be located, and who will pay for them/maintain them, and just how many we’ll need, and what amenities they should offer, but something I haven’t seen as part of the discussion is how safe they are for users.

The model for fueling up cars hasn’t changed much in a century: gas stations, which in addition to offering gas also feature a number of other benefits. You can clean your windows, buy windscreen wiper fluid, put air in your tires, grab a coffee or a snack, and of course use the washroom. This is not, by and large, the model EV stations are following. Put it this way: I have never encountered a gas station that only sold gas, nothing more, but most charging stations I’m familiar with let you power your vehicle, and that’s it.

Gas stations also — and here comes the safety part — have an attendant on site 24/7. This is not unimportant to me, because nine times out of 10, when I gas up my car I’m its sole occupant. Knowing there is someone there to offer, or call for, assistance should things go pear-shaped while I’m filling up is a much-appreciated safety feature. No matter what time of day or night, I feel pretty safe stopping at a gas station.

Would I feel the same about an unstaffed EV charging station? A lot would depend on the time of day and the location. During the daytime, at a charging station that is surrounded by open businesses and has a lot of traffic going by? I’d almost certainly be fine. But come evening or night, I’m not so sure. Locally, there’s a 24-hour gas station across the street from the charging station in Cache Creek; would the attendant there hear me if I called for help? Clinton’s station is behind the Village office, and Spences Bridge’s is beside the fire hall, with no businesses around and not many homes nearby either. How safe would I, a lone woman, feel at them at night?

Recently I drove into the Red Hills rest stop off Highway 1 between Spences Bridge and Ashcroft, where a fast charging EV station is being installed at the far (north) end of the site, away from the entrance. Now, it’s a very clean and well-used rest stop, but it’s also the very definition of “middle of nowhere”, with no businesses or houses for several miles. Would I feel safe charging up there by myself during the daytime? Probably, but I’d be on low alert, scanning the area for possible dangers (women will know what I mean, men probably not so much). At 10 p.m.? I’d have to be down to the electric vehicle version of fumes, because otherwise there’s almost certainly no way I’m stopping there and hanging around for 20 minutes, alone and in the dark.

Before anyone starts caviling about the added expense of other amenities at EV charging stations, or having staff on site, I’ll note that we figured this out for gas stations. I know that Petro-Canada is adding EV chargers to its gas stations, and perhaps this will be the model going forward. Safety needs to be part of the EV charging discussion, and that discussion has to start now, otherwise the brave new world of 2040 will be here before we know it, and we’ll be no further ahead.

Barbara Roden is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal.

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