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A power cable is seen running from an electrical outlet to recharge an electric vehicle in downtown Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
A power cable is seen running from an electrical outlet to recharge an electric vehicle in downtown Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Robert Matas

Crosscheck: Does B.C.'s green agenda add up? Add to ...

“These programs will help us build on our global leadership in low-carbon transportation infrastructure and technology, and that means new jobs and more economic opportunities,” says Energy Minister Rich Coleman in announcing new incentives for clean-energy vehicles.

The B.C. government continues to pursue Gordon Campbell’s green agenda, although the former premier resigned more than a year ago. In its most recent initiative, the government unveiled a $17-million program that includes cash incentives for purchase of new vehicles powered by fuel cells, compressed natural gas and plug-in hybrid electric and battery technology.

Although B.C. cabinet ministers talk about the province’s “global leadership,” B.C. is far behind Ontario, as well as trailing Quebec. The province is offering more modest incentives and not doing as much to provide infrastructure support for those who take the leap and buy clean-energy vehicles. Also, the government may have misjudged the market for these vehicles, offering projections that are 10 times as high as Ontario has experienced.

The B.C. program provides for incentives of up to $5,000 on new clean-energy vehicles. Many of the choices on the list of vehicles eligible for incentives are not cheap. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price before taxes and associated costs for the Nissan Leaf, for instance, starts at $38,395, while the sticker price for a Chevrolet Volt is $41,545. The government incentive will also be available for the Tesla Roadster, with a price tag of more than $110,000.

With a limited range before needing to be recharged, the vehicles would be most attractive to people who live in the urban core, close to where they work. British Columbians outside the heavily populated areas of the province may have little interest in this program.

The government incentives will be available from Dec. 1 until March 31, 2013, when B.C.’s 12-per-cent harmonized sales tax on vehicles and other items will be eliminated.

The new program also includes a grant of up to $500 to those who install a specialized 240-volt electric battery charging station at their home, a process that could cost more than $1,000. The government estimates that 1,060 people will be interested in this grant.

Also, the government is setting aside $6-million for new charging stations and upgrading hydrogen fueling stations, and $2.5-million for payments on trade-ins of a vehicle that is more than 16 years old for a vehicle that is seven years old or less.

Ontario in 2010 set out its vision for the number of electric vehicles on its roads – one out of every 20 vehicles driven in Ontario will be electrically powered by 2020. Since July 1, 2010, Ontario has provided an incentive of up to $8,500 on new clean-energy vehicles.

The Ontario government has also announced an $80-million fund to provide seed money for proposals to build, test and expand recharging facilities across the province. Special parking spots to plug in electric vehicles have been designated in selected transit parking lots.

Ontario, unlike B.C., acknowledges that other jurisdictions are taking similar actions. “Places around the world such as China, U.K., Denmark, Germany, Israel, U.S., France, Shanghai, Vancouver, Paris, New York City, B.C. and Quebec are all investing in the charging stations and infrastructure to support the adoption of electric cars,” says an Ontario government news release.

By promoting the B.C. government’s “global leadership,” Mr. Coleman sounds as if he is out of touch with developments outside the province. He speaks as if he is unaware of the response in Ontario to government incentives for clean-energy vehicles.

Ontario, with three times the population of B.C., made around 130 incentive payments in the first 16 months of the program.

B.C. is offering a less generous grant than Ontario, but expects in the first 16 months of the program to make payments to 1,370 motorists, 10 times as many as in Ontario. Its leadership will certainly be tested, with projections like that.

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