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An electric vehicle is charged in Ottawa on July 13, 2022.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

I was recently test driving an all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV, which has a range of a little more than 400 kilometres. Both times when the battery was running low, I went to fast charge it at an Electrify Canada station. The first time, I was billed by the minute and the second time, I was billed by kilowatt-hours dispensed, after the station changed the way it billed.

The energy-based billing was significantly more expensive.

Bear with me while I compare electric apples to oranges and then show how billing by the kilowatt-hour stacks up to paying for gas.

Let’s start by looking at billing by the kilowatt-hour, since that’s the direction more public charging stations are going. It took about 32 minutes for the station to dispense 49.65 kilowatt hours of energy with a maximum charging rate of 107 kilowatts per hour. At a price of 70 cents per kilowatt-hour, the bill came to $34.50 before tax, which increased my range by about 200 kilometres.

Using Electrify Canada’s old timed rate of 57 cents a minute, that same amount of energy (32 minutes x 57 cents) would have cost me $18.24. That’s nearly half the price of paying by the kilowatt-hour.

Now let’s look at how billing by the kilowatt-hour compares with filling a gas car. Turns out, it’s basically the same price.

A gas-powered Mercedes GLE 450 SUV, which is about the same size as the EQE SUV, has an 85-litre fuel tank. At $1.60 a litre for premium gas, it would cost $136 to fill and has an approximate driving range of 788 kilometres. That’s 17 cents a kilometre. When I charged the EQE, I got about 200 kilometres of range for $34, which works out to 17 cents a kilometre.

Public EV charging stations in Canada were initially required by government regulations to bill customers for the time spent charging and not by how much energy was being delivered to the vehicle’s battery. That changed last February because of a policy change from Measurement Canada. That’s the federal agency responsible for ensuring accuracy of measured goods and services, as well as inspecting and approving measuring devices like those that tell you how much gas you’re pumping.

The new temporary dispensation program allows public charging station owners to bill by time or kilowatt-hours. Paying this way is considered more fair because you’re billed only for what’s dispensed, just like filling up with gas, and is welcome news for EV owners and operators because it increases transparency. You know exactly how much you’re going to pay for your vehicle’s electricity, just like on your hydro bill. Public Level 3 fast charging is still in its infancy and timed billing meant that prices could fluctuate dramatically, depending on how efficiently the charger delivered the energy.

If a charger charges at a slower rate, the customer pays more. Pricing by the kilowatt-hour levels the playing field.

Electrify Canada switched to energy-based pricing for all its stations across Canada on Jan. 9. “We believe this is the most fair and transparent way to bill customers,” says Rachel Moses, senior director of sales, business development and marketing for Electrify Canada and Electrify America. “Now that recent regulatory changes have enabled energy-based billing for applicable direct current (DC) fast chargers, we were able to make the switch.”

According to Electrify Canada, charging 70 cents a kilowatt hour is based on market prices in the area and the cost of maintaining and running the station. The company currently has 35 fast charging stations across the country with plans to expand to more than 100 by 2026.

At 70 cents, Electrify Canada is on the higher end of the price spectrum for fast charging. Some Tesla stations in Ontario charge as little as 29 cents a kilowatt hour during off-peak times and 61 cents when demand is heaviest. And it’s even cheaper in British Columbia.

“Electrify Canada’s kWh prices are competitive in the market and may vary by specific station, and factors related to running a station and providing the power vary depending on the location,” Moses says in an email. “We still offer our Pass+ membership – for $7 a month, customers can save 20 per cent on energy cost.”

Electrify Canada currently operates some of the most powerful stations with outputs of up to 350 kilowatts, but in order to offer the most value to the public, time-of-day pricing, which Electrify Canada isn’t currently offering, is necessary so that customers have more options and more opportunities to save on energy.

“Electrify Canada strives to have the most transparent and clear pricing in the market. We want people to understand what they can expect to pay ahead of time,” says Moses. “In the future, different pricing models may be explored, but at this time we are focused on our transition to kWh pricing.”

The Ivy Charging Network, which was formed through a partnership between Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, switched all of its ONroute rest stop locations on highways 400 and 401 to energy-based charging in November 2023, using a rate of 55 cents a kilowatt-hour (62 cents after tax). “The rest of our Level 3 locations currently offer time-based pricing [35 cents a minute before tax]; however, we will be expanding energy-based pricing to these locations shortly,” says Michael Kitchen, general manager at Ivy.

Flo, which operates another large network of DC fast chargers in Canada, has also enabled kilowatt-hour billing, but at the beginning of February many of the stations within the Greater Toronto Area and beyond are still billing customers by the minute.

“Flo works with site hosts to determine what billing mode is most suitable based on their use case and location,” Travis Allan, chief legal and public affairs officer for Flo said in an email. “Fees are set by the site owner. More than 99 per cent of stations on our network are owned by an entity other than Flo. If a station owner wants to transition to kWh pricing, we can support their request.”

According to Natural Resources Canada, Flo has 633 DC fast charging ports across the country and plans to expand to more than 1,900 by 2027. This will include the rollout of a new high-powered fast charger that will be able to charge most EVs to 80 per cent in 15 minutes.

There are quite a few more charging networks, including Tesla’s Supercharger network, which operates one of the largest fast charging networks in the country and is slated to become an even bigger player as more manufacturers adopt its plug.

Tesla also bills by the kilowatt-hour now and goes a step further, offering time-of-day pricing at a few Supercharger locations. After 7 p.m., it’s cheaper to charge and prices drop even more past midnight.

While this is good news for customers who can charge outside of peak times, and kilowatt-hour pricing is more equitable, it also means many customers will be paying more for the same amount of electricity than when they were paying based on time, as I learned charging the Mercedes.

EV proponents advertise cheap running costs. Electricity is cheaper than gasoline, after all. Even the smallest gas vehicle will need $50 to $60 worth of fuel to fill its tank. The difference is the gasoline vehicle will likely be able to travel a lot farther before having to fill up again and it isn’t as affected by cold temperatures. Even long range EVs with upward of 500 kilometres of range can lose up to 50 per cent of that in sub-zero weather. So while filling an EV may be cheaper than filling a gas car, it isn’t taking you as far.

Public fast charging is quickly reaching price parity with gas, and we still haven’t determined how to tax EVs for the upkeep of public roads in the same way we tax the sale of gasoline.

EVs have a big advantage over gas cars, however, and that’s their ability to charge at home, where it is considerably cheaper than charging on the road. Natural Resources Canada estimates a Tesla Model Y Long Range will cost an owner about $570 a year if charged at home every day. That’s about $1.56 per charge. Compare that to about $3,500 a year or $9.58 a day to run a gas-powered BMW X3 M40i. Both figures are based on covering an average distance of 20,000 kilometres a year at current gas and electricity prices. But not everyone has the luxury of charging in a private driveway or garage.

The federal government’s new Electric Availability Standard – which requires automakers to meet increasingly strict sales targets for zero-emission vehicles – is ambitious but necessary. And while the government has committed to expanding charging networks, more needs to be done to give more people access to a plug at home by requiring Level 2 chargers in new condos and apartment buildings, by retrofitting existing buildings and by installing chargers where street parking is allowed.

Public fast charging is quickly improving and becoming more reliable, which is a good thing, but it’s becoming expensive and only underscores the importance of giving more people the ability to charge at home.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated the rate to fast charge at ONroute stations in Ontario was 62 cents a kilowatt-hour. That is the after-tax rate. The pre-tax rate is 55 cents. This version has been corrected.

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