Canada Infrastructure Bank CEO Ehren Cory says expanding the country’s network of EV charging stations is a perfect fit for his organization and suggested the bank may recoup its investments or even turn a profit.
Mr. Cory said he welcomed the federal government’s recent budget announcement that the bank will invest $500-million in zero-emission transportation projects, including electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.
The head of the Crown corporation made the comments as part of an update on plans for the organization, which was created by the Liberal government in 2017 with a 10-year budget of $35-billion. The Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) was tasked with the goal of investing in infrastructure projects in a way that attracts large private-sector investors, such as pension funds.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s April 7 budget included an announcement that the CIB would have a “broadened role” to invest in projects that accelerate Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The budget said this allows the bank to invest in small modular reactors, clean-fuel production, hydrogen production, transportation and distribution, and carbon capture and storage.
It also said the bank will invest $500-million in large-scale, zero-emission vehicle charging and refuelling stations The budget said these efforts would “complement” the work of a $15-billion Canada Growth Fund, which was also announced in the budget. Like the bank, the fund aims to attract private investment partners.
Some public finance experts have questioned the rationale for the fund and whether the government has learned from the challenges it faced in launching the CIB, which has been criticized for falling short of the government’s ambitious goals.
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Cory said he expects the Canada Growth Fund, and its focus on supporting green technology will complement the bank’s work. He said the bank could help scale up and deploy new technology that is supported by the fund.
“We think it’s a really important and complementary kind of model,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Cory provided an update on the bank’s work through a virtual presentation with the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships.
The bank’s Wednesday update said it has allocated $7.2-billion of its $35-billion budget. It said it has partnered in 28 projects to date and that those involve $7.6-billion from private and institutional investors and $6.1-billion from other public partners.
Mr. Cory said the priorities for the CIB as described in the budget “are all perfect examples” of how the bank can help get more projects build more quickly.
“All of these are new areas the budget signals that we should turn our attention to. We’re already having great conversations with the market on those things,” he said.
Mr. Cory said research shows EV charging stations may eventually be economically viable as a business. But he said there is a “chicken and egg” problem in that they require more people driving EVs and consumers are hesitant to buy an EV until there is a broader network of charging stations.
It is the kind of situation, he said, that fits well with the bank’s mandate to take on some business risk so that private investors move ahead with infrastructure projects.
“Eventually we will get paid back. And actually, we might even make some money out of that if it goes well, right? But we can share that risk,” he said.
In addition to the new focus, the bank is continuing to work on large projects that it has previously said are under consideration for major investment, including the proposed Atlantic Loop power transmission project and VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail plan for new dedicated passenger rail lines between Quebec City and Toronto.
“We’ve been working on that for a while, but that’s really accelerating,” he said of the VIA Rail project, which the federal government has been studying for years.
Looking ahead, Mr. Cory said the bank is aiming to reach a “steady state” in which it invests about $4-billion to $5-billion a year in projects of varying size. When matched with funds from other public and private partners, he said this should contribute to the construction of between $10-billion and $20-billion in infrastructure projects.
“You’ve got to hit singles and doubles and home runs to be successful,” he said.
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