As feds unveil 2035 targets, Alberta needs more EV infrastructure: climate institute, motor association

Uptake of battery-powered vehicles in Alberta rose nearly 64 per cent in 2022 — nearly 20 percentage points greater than the national average

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As the uptake of electric and low-emission vehicles slowly rises in Alberta, the federal government has announced sweeping plans to increase the number of EVs by requiring manufacturers to hit production targets over the next decade-plus.

Those targets will require 100 per cent of cars for sale in Canada to be zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) by 2035, federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault announced Tuesday.

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In Alberta, the province’s motor association and a clean energy think-tank say major steps need to be taken to build out Alberta’s charging infrastructure to reduce “range anxiety,” while a local EV association says increased uptake will naturally fill out those gaps.

Meanwhile, Alberta is entering yet another fight with Ottawa as Premier Danielle Smith said Tuesday the province “will do everything within its legal jurisdiction to thwart implementation” of the regulations.

The strategy will require auto manufacturers to ensure at least a fifth of vehicles offered for sale in 2026 are electric or plug-in hybrids — a number that will increase to three-fifths by 2030.

Flexibility has been built into the final regulations, with automakers allowed to purchase credits if they fail to reach their targets, while companies that hit their targets sooner will earn credits for sale as early as 2024.

The feds also said companies can earn one credit — which can be banked or traded — for every $20,000 invested in a fast-charging station infrastructure project.

It added $1.2 billion is being put toward building 84,500 chargers across the country by 2029.

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EV sales targets
The federal government’s mandated targets for electric vehicle sales leading into 2035. Photo by Environment and Climate Change Canada

Pembina Institute, motor association raise concerns over charging for rural Alberta communities, long-haul trips

Charging availability in the province remains a concern from a range of interest groups around Alberta.

“I think one of the biggest challenges that dealers are seeing is that there still is very significant what we call ‘range anxiety’ out there,” said Gerald Wood, president of the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta (MDAA). “That exists simply because there isn’t enough charging infrastructure.”

The Pembina Institute, a clean energy think-tank, applauded the regulations but also said Canada needs a coherent plan to build out its charging infrastructure.

“Installing an adequate charging network is as important as the production of EVs to avoid market stagnation and assure people that they will have access to chargers on their road trips,” Adam Thorn, transportation director at the institute, said in a statement.

Thorn added in an interview he believes the regulations will give local markets more certainty that EVs will become more prominent in their communities. “Those who want to invest in charging infrastructure know that there’s going to be a market and they’re going to get a return on investment,” he said.

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ATCO’s electric charging station map shows a high density of charging stations south of Edmonton, but there remain several hundred-kilometre stretches in northern Alberta without charging stations.

William York, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Alberta, said there’s been a “mismatch between the government addressing vehicle supply and the infrastructure supply.” York said that as more EVs sell in northern and rural communities, he expects to see more infrastructure owners build out the chargers needed.

“It will happen north of Edmonton, it’s just going to take some time,” he said.

How the Alberta electricity grid will support the influx of EVs — particularly with the federal government’s Clean Energy Regulations, which targets a net-zero grid by 2035 — is a question that remains unanswered for Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s no conversation about what this means from a transmission standpoint — there’s a lot of infrastructure that has to be built to support this goal and, right now, we don’t have it,” Yedlin said.

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“It’s only addressing one side of the equation.”

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith stakes out new battle with federal government

Shortly after the federal government’s announcement, Smith said her government intends to thwart the implementation of the feds’ policies, calling them unconstitutional.

“Our electric grids are not equipped to handle the massive demand surge that a forced, full-scale transition to EVs would need to accommodate the delusional timelines in Ottawa’s regulations, and the federal government has not provided remotely enough financial assistance to assist provincial grids to meet this mandated electricity demand,” Smith said in a statement.

The statement came hours before the province was to make an announcement regarding its plans to fight the federal government’s ban on single-use plastics, which takes effect Wednesday. Smith and her government have had similar words for the federal government’s Clean Electricity Regulations, methane emissions-reduction regulations and cap on oil and gas emissions.

In a statement to Postmedia, Nagwan Al-Guneid, the Alberta NDP’s energy and climate critic for electricity, utilities and renewables, said Alberta needs to get in step with global trends as electric vehicle markets continue growing.

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“Smith is failing to support the industry in achieving these targets and she is failing to prepare our electricity grid by banning renewables development . . . This is a market trend that is outside of Smith’s purview,” Al-Guneid wrote.

Electric vehicles remain small portion of Alberta cars, but sales rising quickly

As of 2022, Alberta had 44,705 cars on the road that were battery, hybrid or plug-in hybrid electric — about 1.2 per cent of cars on the road, whereas in British Columbia, there were 173,594 of the same type of cars on the road — 4.8 per cent of all registered vehicles in the province.

Overall, about one in 10 new vehicles registered in Canada for the first nine months of the year were electric.

However, Alberta managed to outpace the national growth rates for low-emission vehicle uptake in 2022.

In Alberta, sales of battery electric vehicles rose 63.7 per cent, hybrid electric vehicle sales increased around 24 per cent and plug-in electric vehicle sales rose 41.1 per cent.

Nationally, growth rates for battery electric cars (46.8 per cent), hybrid electric (23 per cent) and plug-in electric vehicles (26.5 per cent) were lower than Alberta in 2022.

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“(With) a very low base, it’s easy to make year-over-year numbers look pretty significant,” said Wood of the MDAA. “The percentage of vehicles is still very, very small.”

Wood added the increasing number of electric pickup trucks on the market “makes a big difference in the province of Alberta simply because of the number of pickup trucks on the road.”

Last week, Ford announced it would cut in half production of its F-150 Lightning, its electric pickup truck, with slower-than-expected growth, in part due to prices and interest rates remaining high.

The City of Calgary has its own plan for accelerating the transition to EVs. According to its Pathways to 2050 strategy, released in 2022, it plans to roll out incentives for at-home charging and retrofits of charging infrastructure in multi-unit residential buildings.

It also says the city plans to require all new residential buildings to be built to an EV-ready standard by next year.

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