Round two for BC Hydro’s EV Charging Rates

by Tom Hackney and Bill Andrews

21 August 2023

For the second time in 30 months, BC Hydro has applied to the BC Utilities Commission for approval of the rates BC Hydro will charge drivers at its electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

These stations are an important part of the province-wide network that is a crucial element of the BC government’s climate action plans. The government has given BC Hydro, and FortisBC in south-central BC, a leading role to kick-start this EV charging network, so that EV drivers can conveniently travel on all of BC’s major highways and find fast charging in urban areas. This in turn will maximize the speed at which BC’s vehicle fleet can switch to electricity from fossil fuels. 

In 2020, the BC government passed a regulation requiring the BCUC to allow BC Hydro and FortisBC to cover their costs of providing public EV charging infrastructure and operations. However, the regulation didn’t specify if the costs were to be covered solely by the EV drivers who use the charging stations or also by regular utility customers. 

In 2021 BC Hydro asked the BCUC for approval of a schedule of rates for public EV charging service. But the Commission refused to approve them on a permanent basis. The Commission said it was unacceptable that the proposed rates would not completely cover the utility’s costs of providing the service and would have required a cross-subsidy from Hydro’s other ratepayers. (See BCSEA article, Disappointing BCUC Decision on BC Hydro Rates for Public Fast Charging, 11 March 2022.)

The BCUC allowed the rates on an interim basis, and ordered BC Hydro to come back with revised rates that would fully recover all of Hydro’s costs of public fast charging service from the EV drivers who use the service. The Commission added that Hydro’s rates for its public EV charging service must not compete unfairly with private providers of EV charging, such as Suncor. 

The Commission also took issue with Hydro’s billing for public EV charging by the minute, instead of by the kilowatt-hour. The problem across Canada is that Measurement Canada has not yet certified any EV charging units to enable energy-based ($/kWh) billing. The Commission ordered Hydro to apply to Measurement Canada for a dispensation that would allow Hydro legally to bill by the kWh. 

Now, seven months after the BCUC’s initial deadline, BC Hydro has filed its new application for permanent approval of public EV charging rates. Hydro proposes that EV charging rates will go up by an average of 15%, so that the rates will cover all infrastructure and operating costs on a ten-year levelized basis. Hydro says these rates are in line with those of other EV charging service providers across Canada and in the US, and therefore they do not unfairly compete with other providers of EV charging services in BC.

BC Hydro’s proposed rates cover both Level 2 devices and DC fast charging devices with capacities ranging from under 25 kilowatts to over 200 kW. The package of rates includes both time-based and energy-based  charges. At first, however, Hydro would continue with time-based billing. Once Measurement Canada allows BC Hydro to use energy-based billing, and once Hydro has completed the necessary technology updates, Hydro will switch to energy-based billing for its public EV charging service.

Hydro’s application also asks for the authority to apply an extended stay charge (idling charge) where it is needed to reduce congestion at public EV charging sites.

As part of the application, Hydro has filed its 10-year Charging Infrastructure Deployment Plan. Hydro forecasts that by 2032, there will be between 400,000 and 800,000 light duty EVs on the road in BC. By then, Hydro plans to have deployed about 1,500 chargers in urban locations and about 500 in non-urban locations, i.e., in small municipalities and along travel corridors.

Level 2 chargers will make up over half of Hydro’s fleet of public EV chargers. These will mainly be deployed in urban areas, where they will support EV owners who don’t have access to home charging and in municipalities that need community based charging.

Until around 2029, Hydro plans to keep installing new public EV chargers ahead of the rate of increase of EVs on the road. After that, Hydro plans to  scale back its efforts, in the expectation that other EV charging service providers will be able to start meeting the demand.

In the application, Hydro acknowledges that several EV manufacturers have recently said they will adopt the “NACS” (i.e., Tesla) connector starting in 2025. Hydro has started discussions with EV charging equipment vendors and says it will update its approach to connectors when more information is available.

Meanwhile, Hydro is working to meeting the appropriate standards at its public EV charging stations for persons with disabilities, and Hydro is making accessibility upgrades to its older sites when it installs additional chargers at those sites.

BCSEA and the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association (VEVA) have teamed up to intervene in the BCUC’s review of this application, as we did for Hydro’s previous application.

BCSEA-VEVA supported Hydro’s initial application for public EV charging rates, despite the proposed cross-subsidy. We wanted to see BC Hydro rapidly build out its EV charging network with a minimum of regulatory encumbrance. Since Hydro’s current application appears to address the Commission’s concerns, and subject to our usual due diligence, we hope the present review can proceed quickly to a positive conclusion.