For several years I maintained an annual summer tradition of travelling from Vancouver to Alberta, deploying a different itinerary each road trip.
The idea of logging all those kilometres—about 2,000 per trip—without spending money on gas is appealing.
But for a long time rural British Columbia seemed hostile to the electric vehicle, with limited charging support and technical terrain.
I have since moved to rural BC. A friend looking to visit asked, “Can I drive my Tesla there?”
Just a few years ago, I would have shook my head. Bring the guzzler.
Today, it’s a different story. Electric vehicle road tripping in rural BC is not just possible—but actively encouraged by the Province of British Columbia. Local municipalities from the Island to the Interior now boast of their respective charging station specs.
“I drove a rental EV from Vancouver Island to Dawson Creek and everything went fine,” one BuzzFeed-esque blog headline read last year.
“What I learned driving B.C.’s interior with a rented Mustang Mach-E,” went another. (The faster the charging station the better; efficiency and range varies a lot vehicle-to-vehicle; electricity is much cheaper than gas but not free.)
While steep mountain passes and winding forest roads remain indefinite challenges to all drivers, support for electric vehicle road tripping throughout BC is rapidly emerging.
“We’re building a cleaner, better future for people with more fast-charging stations for electric vehicles in communities throughout the province,” stated George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for the Province, earlier this year.
Heyman wants 90% of all new light-duty vehicles sold in BC to be zero emission by 2030 and 100% by 2035 as part of the CleanBC Roadmap.
By switching to an electric vehicle, an average driver saves approximately $2,500 every year on fuel, along with lower maintenance costs, according to the minister.
Electrify the Highways of BC
In BC, strong demand for EVs is spurring political and financial support for chargers.
British Columbians are among the highest adopters of Zero Emission Vehicles in North America, with approximately 18% of new light-duty vehicle sales in 2022 being EVs. More than 85,000 light-duty EVs were registered in BC in last year, up from 5,000 in 2016.
But it is no small task to eliminate “range anxiety” for EV drivers in semi-rural and rural BC (which is the vast majority of the province, at least in terms of geography). A 2022 survey commissioned by BC Hydro found perceptions around “electric vehicle range limitations for out-of-town road trips is a significant factor in British Columbians’ hesitation to purchase an electric vehicle.”
More to the point, BC Hydro found that fewer than one-third of British Columbians would consider taking a road trip in an EV; the majority would hesitate to do so because they do not think the vehicle can travel the distance they want to go, concerned about the availability of charging stations on their route.
Still, rural tourism is a big deal. According to Destination BC data, BC residents took more than 13 million trips within the province in 2016. BC Hydro and others are motivated to electrify the province’s highways with charging stations.
Regulated Canadian utility FortisBC first started exploring EV charging infrastructure in the province in 2015. Since then it has worked with numerous partners, including those with the Community Energy Association’s Accelerate Kootenays project, the Osoyoos Indian Band, as well as a number of local municipalities, to build a network of fast-charging stations.
For example, Accelerate Kootenays was a multi-year, $1.5 million initiative of the Regional Districts of East Kootenay, Central Kootenay, and Kootenay Boundary with support from Columbia Basin Trust, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Teck, the Province of BC, FortisBC, and BC Hydro. Accelerate Kootenays 2.0 later launched to strengthen the network with additional Level 2 and Level 3 chargers.
Since opening its first public charging station in 2018, usage across FortisBC’s network has “increased significantly,” according to a recent statement from the firm—almost doubling the number of charging events each year.
In 2022 alone, the network cracked 13,000 charging events, compared to 7,000 charging events in 2021, FortisBC noted.
Fast and Furious
These days, it’s all about building the “Fast” chargers, and building them furiously.
With support from Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program and the Province’s CleanBC Go Electric, FortisBC’s EV network has expanded over the past three years with the addition of 12 new charging stations since 2021, including its first high-powered 100 kilowatt chargers.
The CleanBC Go Electric Public Charger Program aims to increase the number of public direct-current fast-charger stations throughout BC in order to support the growing number of EVs on the road.
FortisBC’s network now includes 42 DCFC stations across 22 charging sites throughout communities in BC’s Southern Interior, with a majority of the stations along major highway corridors to facilitate highway travel through the region.
These higher-powered 100kW stations, known as “fast chargers,” better serve newer vehicles with larger batteries. EV drivers can travel up to 300 kilometres off just 30 minutes of charging, according to Heyman.
Even in a gas-powered vehicle, the vast majority of British Columbians are stopping during road trips for other reasons besides to fill up the gas tank, including: bathroom breaks (75%), food (50%), and stretching (40%), according to BC Hydro data. These activities can often be performed while a car is being charged, the corporation notes—especially fast-charged.
“As British Columbians are switching to electric vehicles at record speed, we continue to expand our network of electric charging stations,” Bruce Ralston, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, stated in October, who calls the project an “Electric Highway.”
There are now more than 3,000 public charging stations in BC, including 750 fast-charging stations. The province claims thousands of kilometres of rural highway are now “connected” for electric vehicle travel.
“With these new charging stations, British Columbians can travel to different communities throughout the province with ease,” Ralston said.
With “ease” may be an exaggeration, but the minister maintains a point: regions of the province are becoming more accessible than ever, with electric vehicles driving the charge.