EASY ON GAS
More people are making the switch to electric vehicles, but you’re lucky if you can get your hands on one.
John Kennedy was in a Whitehorse car dealership when he saw the blue Chevrolet Bolt on display. He was in the market for a new vehicle, but he hadn’t been intending to go electric. Curious, he took the Bolt for a test drive.
“It’s a whole different feel,” Kennedy says. “If you’ve ever driven one of these, you know that once your foot goes down you go forward, and there’s no lag between the two.”
Given that much of his driving is within city limits, well within the range of a single battery charge, electric made sense to him. Kennedy bought the Bolt and received two $5,000 rebates—one from the Yukon government and one from the feds.
“Gas prices were getting higher and higher, and it was just a good financial and emotional choice,” he says.
Ownership of electric vehicles, or EVs, is rising across the country as an environmentally friendly alternative to gas- and diesel-powered vehicles. In the Yukon, transportation accounted for 72% of greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019, with about half of that coming from passenger vehicles and half from commercial and industrial transportation. The Yukon government has set targets to reduce this number by 2030, including a 45% reduction in emissions from transportation, heating, and electricity generation. As part of its efforts to reach that goal, it aims to have at least 4,800 zero-emission vehicles registered in the territory. As of early July, there were 139, including both fully electric and plug-in hybrids—vehicles that have both a battery and a gas tank.
The government is also installing charging stations across the territory. In June, there were 12 level-three stations—also known as “fast chargers,” which can charge an EV in about 30–45 minutes—available for public use, from Watson Lake to Dawson City. And there were four public level-two chargers, plus eight private ones purchased through a rebate program the government introduced this year. The level-two stations charge a vehicle in a few hours.
By year’s end, every road-accessible community in the Yukon will likely have a fast charger, with stations being installed in Burwash Landing, Beaver Creek, Faro, and Ross River, says Shane Andre, director of the Yukon Department of Mines, Energy, and Resources’ energy branch.
“I love my electric car and I think they’re really useful and important, but I don’t think they’re going to be the one thing that gets us out of climate change.” Whitehorse Centre MLA Emily Tredger
For now, public charging stations are free to use. Andre says one day drivers will have to pay, but there are no plans for that anytime soon. “Our focus right now is to make every community accessible via electric-vehicle charging stations,” he says.
The length of a charge varies depending on the vehicle and the type of driving. Kennedy once drove about 180 km to Carmacks on a full charge, then plugged his car into the fast charger in the community before he drove back to Whitehorse. (The Bolt can travel up to 417 km on one charge, depending on conditions.) In the winter, Kennedy says his battery power is significantly reduced and he has to plug his car in more often.
Yet his EV hasn’t made a big impact on his power bill. Charging an EV for an hour is roughly equivalent to running the dryer for that amount of time. He also relies on the free charging stations in downtown Whitehorse.
One significant barrier to EV uptake is availability. Supply-chain and backlog issues have made vehicles hard to get across Canada, and the Yukon is no different.
Christopher Riemer, the sales manager at Whitehorse Subaru, says there’s been a lot of interest, but customers have to wait a long time—eight months to a year for a plug-in hybrid and a year or two for fully electric.
A Yukon-specific challenge when it comes to EV adoption is energy capacity since the territory isn’t connected to the southern power grid.
According to the Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources, nearly 93% of the Yukon’s power is generated by four hydro plants and one wind turbine, with 7% generated by diesel or liquefied natural gas. When demand exceeds what renewable sources can provide, the territory relies on non-renewables. Increased adoption of EVs will likely increase energy demands on the grid.
A team of researchers and students at Yukon University Research Centre is studying this issue, analyzing existing infrastructure and creating a model that will simulate EV uptake in different regions of the territory. Eventually, they’ll provide a report to the Yukon government and utility companies.
“These solutions can run the gamut of being social-policy things, involving rates and encouraging time-based charging [during off-peak hours], but they could also be technical and involve infrastructure updates, too,” says Joe Collier, a project coordinator with Northern Energy Innovation at the research centre. Yukon Energy, for instance, is building a new battery-storage system connected to the Whitehorse dam.
Customers have to wait a long time—eight months to a year for a plug-in hybrid and a year or two for fully electric.
Whitehorse Centre MLA Emily Tredger bought a plug-in hybrid last December. She likes that she can use its electric capability within Whitehorse and then gas up for longer drives to her parents’ cabin. But she thinks it’s also important to invest in public transit and active transportation.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love my electric car and I think they’re really useful and important, but I don’t think they’re going to be the one thing that gets us out of climate change,” she says. “They’re not fundamentally changing anything about the way we consume or about the way we relate to the world or the way we travel. And I do think we need bigger changes to come.”