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EV drivers say lack of charging stations on main route to northern Manitoba leaves them stranded

Electric vehicle owners and advocates in Thompson, Man., say the province is ignoring the north with a lack of charging stations and infrastructure along highways. 

Roman Briones moved to Thompson from Winnipeg last year and brought his Tesla with him. 

However, due to a lack of  fast, Level 3 charging stations along Highway 6, Briones said the 760-kilometre drive, which should have taken him eight hours, took nearly 30.

“It’s a difficult journey because there’s no charging stations really along the way. There’s none,” he said. 

Instead, Briones had to rent a cabin in Grand Rapids and stay overnight so he could charge his car in the yard of a nearby trucking business.

“They have a 240 volt [level 2] so I was able to plug it in and I didn’t have to wait like a week [for it to fully charge],” he said. 

Briones said it would take him two or three days to fully charge his car using a standard outlet. 

He’s frustrated which the lack of infrastructure that leaves him stranded in the north. 

“I can’t visit my my family in Winnipeg because I’m here,” he said. “I have to take the plane or a bus ride.”

He and others would like to see level 3 charging stations established along Highway 6 and Highway 10 so that electric vehicle owners from Winnipeg or Prince Albert can drive to Thompson without running out of juice.

Charging stations

There are three different types of charging stations for electric cars. 

A level 1 is a standard electrical outlet commonly found in garages, parking lots, and exteriors of homes and businesses. It can take up to 50 hours to fully charge an electric car using one of these outlets, according to the federal government. 

A level 2 is a special electrical outlet: the type on a stove or clothes dryer, for example. They are relatively inexpensive costing just a few thousand dollars to buy and install. It can take between four and ten hours to charge a car using a level 2. 

However, when travelling  long distances, a level 3 charger is preferably because it will recharge the battery in 25 to 30 minutes.

“You need level 3 chargers which are expensive,” electric vehicle advocate Volker Beckmann said. “If there is no charging station in Grand Rapids which has a hydro dam there, or Ponton, you will never be able to drive from the south the north.”

A man in a black jacket and a button up shirt standing on the road.
Volker Beckmann has been lobbying the province to install level 3 fast charging stations along Highway 6 from Winnipeg to Thompson. (Brittany Greenslade/CBC)

The Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association said there are more than 80 level 3 chargers in Manitoba and around 180 level 2’s.

Beckmann lives in Thompson and said the lack of fast charging stations along Highway 6 is stopping him from buying an electric vehicle. 

“It’s a huge hindrance for us,” he said. “I live in Thompson, I’m surrounded by hydro dams … and we can’t have a vehicle in Thompson because you can’t drive it to Winnipeg.”

Beckmann said he has been lobbying the government and Manitoba Hydro for the past three years but hasn’t gotten very far. 

He said adding more stations should be a no-brainer given the surplus of hydroelectric power in the province.

‘There is a demand’ 

PlugShare, an online site dedicated to mapping out electric vehicle charging stations, shows the large gap in northern Manitoba.

The Manitoba Electric Vehicle Association said demand for the cars has been growing significantly.

In 2020, there were 681 battery-electric passenger vehicles and one pick-up truck registered in Manitoba, according to the association. 

Fast forward to 2022, and those numbers grew to 1,933 battery-electric passenger vehicles and 94 pick-up trucks.

“So there is a demand for those charging stations along that highway and to really connect the south and north,” said association president James Hart. 

Hart said the association believes there needs to be four fast chargers between Winnipeg and Thompson to make the trek possible.

“That’s giving the distance of less than 200 kilometres between chargers which is kind of the magic number for winter time,” Hart said. 

Hart said while there is interest from people in the north, with such a major gap between the two cities, many are hesitant to invest in switching to electric. 

“It’s kind of the chicken and egg situation, right? People don’t have the vehicles because there’s no chargers and there’s no chargers because there’s no vehicles,” he said. 

Hart said Manitoba Hydro needs to step in and help out with the costs involved in getting the chargers in place. 

“It’s just a waiting game.” he said. 

CBC reached out to Manitoba Hydro but did not hear back by deadline.

The Environment and Climate minister’s office declined to comment on any further charging station plans and deferred to Eco-West Canada, a Manitoba-based not-for-profit that focuses on green infrastructure.

Eco-West did not respond to a request by CBC.

In 2022, the federal government announced $2.5 million in funding for Manitoba and Saskatchewan to install 400 new charging stations for electric vehicles in public places to be installed by the end of 2023.

The money came from the federal government’s Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program. The Liberal government has previously said that by 2035, all new light-duty vehicles sold in Canada must be zero emission.

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