Parkland Corp., one of Canada’s largest gas-station and convenience-store operators, is launching a network of electric-vehicle charging stations in British Columbia and parts of Alberta as the first step in an eventual national rollout.
Parkland, which sells gasoline under the Esso, Chevron and Fas Gas Plus banners in Western Canada, will spend about $10-million adding charging stations to 25 sites between Vancouver Island and Calgary, the company said.
It joins a number of petroleum and power companies expanding Canada’s charging infrastructure. Parkland chose B.C. for its first program because the province has Canada’s highest adoption of EVs, at 50,000 in a fleet of 3.1 million vehicles, said Bob Espey, chief executive of the Calgary-based company. About 9 per cent of new vehicles sold in B.C. last year were EVs.
“We’re fortunate to be in B.C., which is a leader in the transition space in Canada. That, coupled with the fact that we’ve got a really great network there, allows us to test and roll out the first ultra-fast charging network in the province,” Mr. Espey said in an interview.
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Locations of future sites will depend on EV adoption rates elsewhere in the country, he said. The availability of charging stations plays a role in consumer demand for electric cars and trucks.
“One of the things, when we’ve talked to and surveyed consumers, is it’s clear that range anxiety is still a challenge,” Mr. Espey said, referring to fears about running out of juice on a stretch of road where there are no chargers. “With our commitment in B.C., we’ll be able to cover all the major highways, every 100 to 150 kilometres with an ultra-fast charger.”
Under the current plan, Parkland will install chargers at sites in and between Victoria, Nanaimo, Vancouver, Whistler, Abbotsford, Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops, Revelstoke and as far east as Calgary. The units will be able to recharge batteries to 80 per cent of capacity in 20 minutes.
The program highlights how the business model for retail fuel has changed for major operators such as Parkland and competitors such as Alimentation Couche-Tard, which owns the Circle K brand, and oil companies such as Suncor Energy Inc. and Shell Canada.
All have prioritized their convenience-store and food-service offerings. Mr. Espey said the time it takes to charge an EV will bring more customers inside Parkland’s outlets, which operate under the On The Run name.
“The majority of the earnings in those sites are not fuel, so we’re less and less dependent on the fuel sale. We certainly see EV as an ancillary offer that will bring consumers to our sites and continue to increase traffic,” he said. Parkland’s same-store sales increased during the pandemic, even as fuel sales tailed off, which showed how the business had evolved, he said.
Alimentation Couche-Tard has said it plans a big EV charging push in North America, after its success in Norway, where it runs the largest network.
Petro-Canada, a unit of Suncor Energy Inc., has countrywide charging, which features stations every 250 kilometres or less between Victoria and Halifax. Ivy, a network run by Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, aims to have 71 locations in Ontario by the end of this year. Ajax, Ont.-based Electrify Canada is building a network of stations and currently has chargers in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec
More expansion is on the way. Last week, Seven Generation Capital of Montreal announced it had received a $20-million equity investment from Boston-based private equity firm Spring Lane Capital to develop charging infrastructure across the country for commercial fleets.
Parkland said it aims to have its B.C. charging network in place in 2022.
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