One step closer to my flying Cadillac

Just over a year ago, low-speed electric-powered vehicles were ‘legalized’ in Vancouver. It had been a convoluted bureaucratic struggle, but many are hoping that the theoretical tipping point has finally been reached, and that electric cars will soon become more than a curiosity.

Vancouver is not alone. Vancouver Island municipality Oak Bay led the charge, legalizing the ‘Neighbourhood Electric Vehicles’ on roads up to 50 km/h in July 2008. Whistler, Burnaby, and at least three other Island municipalities have followed with similar legislation.

Most recently, it appears that critical mass may be approaching – at least for BC. This past July, Vancouver council passed a solution to a large logistical hurdle – the plugs. Law requires new condominium developments to install charging stations for electric vehicles in 20-percent of their parking stalls. City-owned EasyPark parking lots will also provide some public charging stations.

For these urban electric cars, the Vancouver initiative helps to clear perhaps the largest obstacle: the venerable chicken-versus-egg debate. Perhaps now that prospective electric car buyers are guaranteed somewhere to charge their vehicles, they will buy them. Simultaneously, knowing that more electric cars will be purchased could convince (yep, you’ve guessed it!) developers and planners to incorporate more charging stations. Which does comes first? In Vancouver, the answer is, both.

But why has it come down to municipalities to legislate whether or not to allow such vehicles? The federal entity, Transport Canada, has the mandate, but not the will to do so. Anyone remotely familiar with climate change policy in Canada would not argue that under the Conservatives, any mildly progressive environmental policy is as good as fire-starter.

The provincial government therefore resolved to give municipalities the option of whether or not to allow the vehicles. Quebec, which until approximately a month ago boasted two electric vehicle manufacturers (ZENN and Nemo) is the only region to have addressed the issue provincially.

Regardless, soon enough these laws may be left in the slow lane. With the pending of the highway-ready ‘family’ of Ford electrics, Chevy Volt, Mitsubishi’s I MiEV, and the Nissan LEAF (which Vancouver council and BC Hydro recently agreed to debut in 2011), special legislation will no longer be required. The expensive and rare Tesla Roadster can already travel from the U.S. to Whistler on a single charge.

The reduced carbon emission footprint of electric vehicles is a great leap, as well. A UBC researcher, Kimberly Jones, concluded that “airborne emissions of [CO2, hydrocarbons, and sulfur oxides] from [hybrid electric vehicle] battery production are dominated by air quality improvements during the use phase.” Essentially, the environmental impacts of the battery production and disposal processes are dwarfed by carbon emissions of traditional engines – especially when advances in battery recycling programs are considered. The Natural Resources Defense Council have deduced that electric cars produce extremely significant CO2 reduction benefits when compared to conventional vehicles. The NRDC states, “In 2010, current coal technologies result in 28% to 34% lower GHG emissions compared to the conventional vehicle.”

Of course, contemporary mass-journalistic coverage of this issue has led us to question whether or not electric cars are even a solid environmental choice. The answer in British Columbia is unquestionably yes, unless we are considering bicycles and mass transportation as the replacements for all of our combustion engine vehicles.

//Jens Ourom

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com