Original Published on Aug 08, 2022 at 09:55

By Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In the battle to reduce the vast amount of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions erupting from roadways the world over, an immense weight is being placed on transitioning drivers to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). 

In areas like the Region of Peel, urban landscapes historically designed to cater to those getting behind the wheel and, in many cases, be hostile to active forms of transport, this transition is even more significant. When many perceive the automobile as the best method of transport—a mindset that can be incredibly hard to change—offering a greener alternative in a ZEV can offer benefits to the climate fight without tectonic shifts in urban planning or thinking.  

“As the Region continues to grow, the way we move is expected to change but there will continue to be a role for the light duty vehicle,” states Jodi Robillos, Chair of the Peel Climate Change Partnership and Commissioner of Community Services at the City of Mississauga, in an opening message to Peel’s recently released ZEV strategy. “Our goal is to ensure that the residents and businesses within Peel Region have the necessary resources and information to rapidly transition to zero emission vehicles to continue on the road to a low carbon healthier community.”

Transportation accounts for 35 percent of Peel’s community emissions, according to The Atmospheric Fund’s 2021 Carbon Emissions Inventory. This is the second largest contributor next to emissions from buildings. 

The Region currently has an emissions gap of 17,000 tonnes, a gap that must be closed if Peel hopes to reach its 2030 target of reducing emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels. While it won’t be the sole solution to closing this gap, increased ZEV uptake in Peel could play a significant role.  According to Peel’s ZEV strategy, five percent of Peel residents own a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle and four percent own a battery electric vehicle. Increasing these numbers would certainly help in bridging this gap in emissions reductions. 

“As the densest region after Toronto, Peel has an opportunity to reduce transportation emissions by building transit and electrifying transportation,” reads the Carbon Emissions Inventory from The Atmospheric Fund

The ZEV strategy was developed by the Peel Climate Change Partnership (PCCP) which includes the Town of Caledon, City of Brampton, City of Mississauga, Region of Peel, Credit Valley Conservation and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. It was developed with the goal of accelerating the uptake of ZEVs among Peel residents and businesses over the next five years, and outlines a number of actions these partners can take to encourage ZEV purchases, and ease their usage across Peel. 

A pillar of the strategy is educating residents about the accessibility and knowledge of ZEVs. 

“The majority of Peel residents believe driving a ZEV will lead to environmental benefits and help address climate change; however most have moderate-to-low levels of knowledge about many aspects of ZEVs,” the strategy states. 

In addition to electrifying their own fleet of municipal vehicles, the strategy calls on PCCP members to include EV education campaigns among its communication with the public and as part of community events. 

The City of Mississauga told The Pointer that the City is in the early stages of planning community-wide events that will provide EV awareness and may include test drives.

The Town of Caledon has already begun an awareness campaign, partnering with Electric Vehicle Society Caledon and ecoCaledon to host “Electrify Caledon” on July 9. The event provided education on electric vehicles, EV test drives for the community and various vendors of zero emissions equipment.

The strategy also addresses the challenge of physical infrastructure. One of the biggest barriers the Region is staring down on its path to widespread ZEV usage is the availability of charging stations.

A lack of public charging stations is one of the most common reasons—aside from the price tag—residents decide against purchasing a ZEV, but approximately two-thirds of residents support installing publicly accessible charging infrastructure at municipal buildings. This suggests that if more charging stations are installed, the more ZEVs Peel can expect on the roads.

But this results in a chicken and egg scenario for cash-strapped municipalities. It can be difficult to build charging infrastructure without seeing the sales of ZEVs increase, yet it is just as difficult to convince people to purchase ZEVs if no charging infrastructure is available.

Installation at publicly owned facilities—community centres or parks—and other municipal buildings like City Hall is already starting across the Region. 

The PCCP received $652,000 through Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program to support the expansion of EV chargers, and all three municipalities in Peel have a portion of their capital budgets dedicated to EV charging infrastructure.

Peel municipalities are also in the process of amending parking bylaws to advance ZEV requirements in new developments. This means when developers propose new commercial projects with large parking lots, Peel municipalities will require a minimum number of electric vehicle charging stations. The City of Mississauga recently made amendments to parking requirements in its zoning bylaw to do the same thing.  

Some Canadian cities like Vancouver are taking this requirement to the next level, penalizing those who do not provide the means to charge EVs.

“I think that kind of thing where you have the carrot and stick where the federal government is mandating the sales targets, which will create demand for private investment and charging, but also, you know, the stick as well with the financial penalty, and that those sorts of things should be working together,” says Nate Wallace, Program Manager of Clean Transportation at Environmental Defence.

But there is still one significant barrier—charging infrastructure in residential homes. It’s a sticking point that would benefit from intervention by the provincial government. 

“ZEV drivers tend to recharge daily or once every two days, typically overnight at home, and overall, about 70-80% of charging occurs at home or at a workplace parking lot,” the ZEV strategy states.

Peel’s strategy calls for changes to the Ontario Building Code to support the inclusion of ZEV chargers in new homes. The former Liberal government instituted changes requiring homes in new developments to be equipped with the proper infrastructure to charge an EV. After winning a landslide victory in 2018, the PC government under Premier Doug Ford immediately axed the requirement.

The sales of ZEVs are slowly on the rise—as of February more than 8,000 ZEVs were registered in the Region, an increase of 40 percent compared to 10 months prior— but a major financial barrier still exists.

ZEVs have a much higher upfront cost compared to gas-powered cars—although they save money in the long run. A 2020 study conducted by Consumer Reports found that battery electric vehicles are estimated to save consumers 60 percent on fuel costs. These savings will only increase as gas prices continue to rise. 

Nevertheless, a Peel Survey found that “cost too high to purchase” is the number one reason respondents were unlikely to purchase a ZEV. 

Previously, the Ontario government tried to help with that burden, providing subsidies of up to $14,000 to help align the cost of an electric vehicle with its gas-guzzling cousin. The subsidies were incredibly successful when introduced by the Liberal government with EV sales on the rise before the 2018 election.

Almost immediately after being elected Premier in 2018, Ford canceled electric vehicle rebates. The move caused the sale of climate-friendly cars to fall off a cliff. 

Ford has repeatedly said he has no plans to reinstate the  subsidies, claiming they too often benefit the rich who buy expensive vehicles like Teslas.

But in BC and Quebec, EV incentive programs have worked and both provinces currently have higher rates of EV uptake compared to Ontario. 

Neither Caledon nor Mississauga say they are planning on providing subsidies at the municipal level, thus the only financial subsidy that currently exists for those in Peel who are thinking of purchasing a ZEV is the federal government incentive, which offers up to $5,000 for the purchase of new electric vehicles.

Ahead of the 2022 election, Ford appeared to change his tune on electric vehicles, going from a premier who approved the ripping out of existing EV charging stations early in his tenure, to one heavily invested in bolstering the development of these vehicles in Ontario. In March, he announced $91 million to expand charging infrastructure at stops along Ontario’s major highways

Ford and his PC government have set a target of 400,000 EVs made in Ontario annually by 2030. 

Brampton is in a unique position to manufacture electric vehicles after a $3.6 billion dollar investment from Stellantis, and provincial and federal governments to retool its Brampton and Windsor plants.

While increased production and availability will eventually drive the price of EVs down, encouraging further uptick, it’s unclear whether that transition will come fast enough to have any effect on limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. After that threshold, climate experts believe increased weather catastrophes and other disastrous impacts of our heated planet will be unavoidable. 

The reintroduction of EV subsidies and changes to the provincial Building Code requiring chargers in all new homes would address the two biggest barriers for those looking to buy an EV—cost and charging availability. These small changes could have a significant impact on the uptick of EVs across Ontario. 

The Ford government has not signaled any willingness to budge on these two fronts. 

This item reprinted with permission from The Pointer, Mississagua, Ontario