BC Hydro applies to raise rates for public EV chargers after competitors criticize subsidies

By Alec Lazenby and Allison Smith August 14, 2023

A BC Hydro fast-charging station in Keremeos (BC Hydro)

BC Hydro has filed a proposal to raise the rates customers pay at public EV charging stations by 15 per cent in order to keep pace with costs over the next decade.

In an application to the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) dated July 28, BC Hydro said a 15 per cent increase would put its charging station prices in line with other operators in Canada and the United States.

The new rates — which will be enacted September 1 if approved — would see customers pay “both time-based and energy-based charges” although BC Hydro plans to shift to only energy-based rates eventually, per its application.

For time-based charges, customers would have to pay between three and 60 cents per minute, while energy-based charges would range between 33 and 44 cents per kilowatt hour.

Charging rates at BC Hydro’s EV charging stations currently range from 12 to 27 cents per minute, depending on the speed of the charger.

Higher rates fulfil last year’s BCUC directive

In January 2022, BCUC signalled that it would not allow the utility to keep rates that low forever.

The commission rejected BC Hydro‘s application for the “subsidized” interim rates to be made permanent because they failed to recover the full cost of providing the service. The commission determined rates that low are “not just and reasonable” under the Utilities Services Act.

Maintaining the low rates would “directly contribute to an uneven playing field” and could “have a detrimental impact” on the province’s objective of increasing EV adoption by reducing competition in the charger marketplace, per the BCUC’s decision last year.

Suncor, which owns Petro-Canada and its charging stations, was among the intervenors in the BCUC’s study. The firm argued continuing to subsidize BC Hydro’s charging costs would “undoubtedly have a negative impact for private operators in the playing field who cannot recover such losses through ratepayer cross-subsidization.”

The commission ordered BC Hydro to come back with another rate application that ensures its EV charging services, including capital costs, break even and aren’t subsidized by the wider ratepayer base.

BC Hydro’s July proposal states that it is “consistent with the BCUC’s directives.”

While B.C.’s transportation ministry operates some EV chargers at no cost to customers, most other EV chargers in the province cost significantly more than BC Hydro’s, with most ranging from 27 to 54 cents per minute, depending on the charger. Tesla, for instance, charges more than a dollar per minute for its faster chargers. Petro-Canada charges 50 cents.

The BCUC has set up a panel to consider BC Hydro’s latest request.

Boosting EV use is a key component of B.C.’s climate plan, with the province set to end sales of new light-duty gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2035. The province estimates about 18.1 per cent of vehicle sales in 2022 were electric with over 88,000 EVs registered in the province. By 2030, 350,000 EVs are expected on B.C. roads.

Ramping up charging station access for EV drivers is part of that push and there are currently 141 fast-charging stations in 83 locations across the province, with 50 Level 2 stations — lower powered chargers better suited for home use — also expected to be installed by 2024. BC Hydro envisions 2,050 fast chargers and 1,255 Level 2 chargers available by 2033.

Getting there could cost up to $921 million by 2033, BC Hydro says, arguing it needs to generate more than $1 billion in revenue to cover those costs.

BC Hydro called the rate increases “just and reasonable” in its application.

“This will protect other ratepayers and help provide a level playing field for exempt-utilities also providing public electric vehicle charging service in British Columbia.”

BCUC has opened up the application to public comment and several EV users have written to the commission expressing concern about the possible rate hike, especially as the province attempts to make EVs more attractive to British Columbians.

Kevin Campos of Burnaby is worried a rate hike will diminish confidence in BC Hydro and people will decide to stay with a conventional gas vehicle instead of going through the process of getting an EV.

“Stability and affordability are key components to earning the trust and confidence of the public sector in the switch to electrification,” he said.