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Canada: A year after their arrival, Ottawa static on electric vehicle uptake

Ricardo Borba was the first customer in Canada to take delivery of a Nissan Leaf. He said he could not be happier with his car, knowing he greatly reduced his carbon footprint.

OTTAWA — Ottawa has been slow to plug into the electric vehicle. Though the first mass-produced, fully electric cars were introduced to the Canadian market about a year ago, it wasn’t until Aug. 16 that Place D’Orléans shopping mall introduced what is believed to be Ottawa’s first public charging station.

Electric vehicle drivers can count the number of stations that offer 240V outlets to plug in their cars on two hands, and five of those are at dealerships, many of which require calling in advance or only allow their dealership’s models to juice up. A few technology-minded workplaces also provide charges to their employees, but otherwise, drivers must eye the battery bars before plugging in at home.

Progress has been slow, however, with support coming from a few early adopters who say a lack of leadership and coherent planning is keeping the idea of electric cars unpopular. As the fanfare heralding the electric vehicle as the greenhouse-gas-free option of the future has quieted, the novelty is far from becoming the norm.

“It’s embarrassing to see the national capital so far behind other municipalities across the country,” said Ricardo Borba, the owner of the first Nissan Leaf released in Canada. Borba cruises past gas stations on his daily commute to and from his Kanata home where he plugs in at night.

The consumer uptake in Ottawa has been slow, Borba said, estimating there are just 100 owners of electric vehicles, including customized and converted cars, owners of the Chevrolet Volt and other Leaf owners. But there lies the Catch-22: customers are unlikely to buy with a near non-existent charging infrastructure, and those who would install charging stations are hesitant to make a commitment without seeing many electric vehicles on the road.

The Ontario provincial government announced its vision was for one out of 20 cars to be electrically powered by 2020. Its incentive program has offered more than 440 payments of between $5,000 and $8,500 since 2010 and more than 600 green licence plates. The provincial budget in March cut funding for electric vehicle incentives to $60 million from $80 million.

The money was meant to provide incentives to private industries to provide charging stations, with plans to gather input from stakeholders with a public request for information released in May. The province is analyzing the results before determining its next steps, said Ministry of Transportation media officer Bob Nichols.


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