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Canada: City continues to monitor growing need for infrastructure for more electric vehicles

Gillian Holmquist knows a thing or two about electric vehicles. Her husband Randy owns Canadian Electric Vehicles, an Errington-based firm that sells electric conversion kits that turn gas-guzzling combustion vehicles into electric ones instead.

She drives a 1998 Volkswagen Beetle that has passed through the conversion process.

“I’ve been the company’s guinea pig/stunt driver for nearly 20 years now,” she said with a chuckle.
Susan Clift, City of Nanaimo director of engineering public works, shows off one of the city’s electric cars.View Larger Image View Larger Image
Susan Clift, City of Nanaimo director of engineering public works, shows off one of the city’s electric cars.
Krista Bryce/Daily News
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“And when I started it out, (we used) lead acid batteries, and it was kind of dicey because the range was very limited, but this is the first vehicle I’ve had with a lithium battery, and it’s more than doubled my range. Now it’s not a problem, the leash is much, much longer.”

That long leash allows Holmquist to take a round-trip to Nanaimo without having to recharge her vehicle.

But when she stops by the Vancouver Island Regional Library in the city’s downtown core, she always plugs her car into one of the city’s four public charging stations in the parkade below.

One other charge station is located in the Port Theatre parkade, and two others are at Beban Park.

“The first time I plugged in, it was so exciting I wished I was one of those Twitter people,” she said. “I wanted to shout it out to the world, because we’ve been at this for 20 years. It was like a dream. You know, like ‘Wow, I’m living the future.’ It was so cool.”

Holmquist is among the minority of drivers who use electric vehicles.

There are only 10 registered electric vehicles in Nanaimo, according to ICBC, and only 65 on Vancouver Island.

But there is a growing effort to change that in Nanaimo and provincewide.

“I think we can all agree that (the use of electric vehicles) is going to grow between now and 50 years from now,” said Susan Clift, director of engineering and public works for the City of Nanaimo.

“Our responsibility is to make sure we continue to monitor the uptake on these vehicles and the need for infrastructure. And so that’s what we’re planning to do, and that’s what we’re doing now. It’s a very chicken and egg thing.”

Holmquist said that despite the environmental benefit and increased range and fuel savings associated with electric vehicles, many people still feel skittish about investing in an all-electric vehicle because of a lack of infrastructure to accommodate them.

“And that’s why it’s really important for municipalities and businesses to step up and provide that,” she said.

Newcastle Nissan salesman Ryan Biggs said the dealership has sold approximately 20 allelectric Nissan Leafs over 2011 and 2012.

He said teachers, professionals and people who do a lot of commuting downtown tend to like the vehicle, but he said a lot of potential buyers express two common fears: limited range and battery life.

“People are scared of being left on the side of the road,” he said, although he added the vehicles come with a roadside assistance package and a 10-year battery lifespan.

Nanaimo was one of 12 local and regional governments to apply for a provincial planning grant administered by the Fraser Basin Council, a non-profit NGO founded to promote sustainable projects.


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