A harbinger of change

Rousing the Rabble column by Roy Ronaghan, Sept. 2 issue of the Grand Forks Gazette.

A report to city council on August 17 by David Reid, Manager of Operations, included an announcement that one of the city’s aging vehicles would be replaced with an all-electric model and that three electric charging stations would be installed, two near city hall and another at the city works yard.

Will the city’s move be seen as the harbinger for an electric vehicle future for Grand Forks and area or will it be seen as another unnecessary investment?

In actuality, the purchase of the all-electric vehicle (EV) and the installation of charging stations is part of the city’s ongoing program to keep city’s carbon footprint as close to zero as possible as required by B.C.’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act and the Carbon Neutral Government Regulations.

The two charging stations at City Hall will add to the number of charging stations available to EV owners who are travelling on Highway 3. A charge will take less than two hours at a cost of under $10.

During the discussion of Reid’s report, Doug Allin, chief administrative officer (CAO, reminded council about the city’s carbon reduction program that began in 2008 when the Gordon Campbell government passed legislation that required all public sector organizations?schools, post-secondary institutions, government offices, Crown corporations and hospitals?to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2010. They were asked to measure all emissions, reduce them and to purchase offsets to achieve net zero.

Offsets were to be purchased through a Crown corporation called Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT), a body created by the government to invest in “made-in-B.C.” offset reduction projects that were in compliance with the BC Emission Offset Regulation.

The city was able to achieve the “carbon neutral” goal by the deadline but did not purchase offsets from PCT. Instead it placed the funds in a special account that will eventually be invested in regional offset projects. 

In 2014 PCT was replaced by the Climate Investment Branch (CIB) of the Ministry of Environment Climate Action Secretariat (MOE) as a cost-saving measure.

The phrase “carbon footprint” is the 21st century version of a phrase coined in 1992 by Dr. William Rees, a human ecologist, ecological economist, Professor Emeritus, and former director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning in Vancouver who used “ecological footprint” to describe the number of acres of land needed to support a given human population, not just to grow their food but to handle their overall carbon output.

An indicator of the growing use of EVs in British Columbia is the increasing number of vehicles being charged mainly in the lower mainland. A report from the Fraser Basin Council states that as of October 2014 the number of EVs using some 550 public charging stations in BC doubled between August 2013 and August 2014.

With the increase in charging stations, an increase in the number of vehicles to choose from in Canada (now at 39), more reasonable EV prices, and low operating costs, the transition to EVs may come sooner than expected.

The annual operating for an EV is estimated to be $350 while the cost of operating a fossil fuel powered vehicle is $3,600.

Following the council meeting I mused about the difference electric vehicles would make to the city environment particularly in the downtown commercial area.

I thought about a time in the future when gasoline and diesel powered vehicles no longer dominated the streets and parking lots. I thought about cleaner air, much less noise and an overall healthier environment. I also thought about the possibility of owning an all-electric vehicle after decades of operating gas-powered machines.

How many electric vehicles would it take to make a difference in air quality and noise pollution? The answer to the question will only be known when residents decide to take emissions seriously and make the conversion to EVs and that will take some time. Old habits die hard.