Colwood will enter the green technology economy after approving plans to host three public electric vehicle charging stations by this spring.
The City awarded Powertech Labs, a subsidiary of B.C. Hydro, a contract potentially worth $101,000 to design and manage installation of the stations at three locations — Juan de Fuca library at West Shore Park and Recreation, at the park-and-ride on Ocean Boulevard and at Colwood city hall.
West Shore recreation still needs to agree to host a station, but the tentative plan calls for 240 volt, Level 2 charger at city hall and near the library, which can recharge a car battery in four to six hours. The park-and-ride is slated for a Level 1, 120 volt plug, which would take 12 hours for a full charge.
Whether stations offer electric vehicle charging for free — under law only B.C. Hydro can sell electricity -— remains in question. Electricity costs could be recouped by charging for the parking space.
“Free is a likely outcome, but that’s for council to decide,” said Coun. Judith Cullington. “It would probably cost more to put in infrastructure to charge a fee than we’d get back in fees.
“The reality is after installation, charging stations will be used very little. As electric vehicles become more common, they’ll get used more,” she noted.
“Council could start them off as free, and track the use. If it costs a lot of money, maybe we should charge a fee for the parking space.”
The charging station project is being funded through the Clean Energy Fund, a portion of the $3.9 million Solar Colwood federal grant. The feds have allocated $400,000 for electric vehicle infrastructure rebate grants, as long as the province offers $225,000 in matching funds and in-kind work.
Cullington said so far, the province has given a “verbal commitment” to give the money. “We are asking for $225,000 from the province,” Cullington said. “That piece is not hard and fast.”
Colwood granted Powertech the contract without going to a public tender, which caused discomfort to some members of the public and council. Cullington argued the B.C. Hydro company is one of the few with the experience and technical ability to install a relatively new technology.
“This is one group that is leading the way and are helping other municipalities. At this point they are unique in their field,” Cullington said. “This is why we went sole source. We need the experts and the people working on this on a daily basis.”
She also argued that $40,000 of the federal grant would disappear on March 31 if the City didn’t move quickly on the project. That portion wouldn’t carry forward into the new fiscal year, she said, and can’t be reallocated into other aspects of Solar Colwood.
Some members of the public and former councillors have criticized and questioned the validity of Solar Colwood, specifically an alleged lack of transparency on how spending decisions are made, and for the use of some Colwood staff time.
“The public involvement has been absolutely minimum, last minute decisions to meet deadlines, done without supportive details,” former councillor Brian Tucknott told council. “When do you intend to involve the public in this debate? Does Colwood believe Solar Colwood is a successful enterprise for the citizens of Colwood?”
Doug McNabb told council it has “misplaced priorities” and should concentrate on “core services,” such as fire, police and road infrastructure. “Solar Colwood has been promoted to a core issue and is using staff time,” he told council. “Solar Colwood at best has provided a benefit to a limited number of residents.”
Nigel Guiliany said Solar Colwood is a “subject long been kept secret to the public.” “Can you advise me on how decisions are made and the public consulted?” he asked. He also suggested there would be little use for public electric vehicle charging stations – Colwood electric vehicle owners would charge at home.
Cullington said critics of the program are small in number but vocal. She argues the project has created jobs in solar technology installation, brought new money into the community, allowed homeowners to cut energy bills and promotes green energy technology.
The main arm of the federal grant provides subsidies to Colwood homeowners interested in installing solar hot water or ductless heat pump systems. Royal Roads University is researching outcomes of the project and Camosun College trades department is offering technical support, among a number of organizations donating expertise and advice.
“I would argue Solar Colwood is core city work,” Cullington said. “The work of the City is to support the social, economic and environmental well-being of the community. That is what we are doing.
“I think a lot of people don’t appreciate Colwood is the first in Canada to do solar retrofitting on a community scale. We are the first.”
The scope and detail of the Solar Colwood project will be presented to council and the public on March 6, 7 p.m. during a budget meeting at city hall. See colwood.ca.
For more on Solar Colwood, see solarcolwood.ca.