B.C. is taking the EV market seriously with inquiry into charging stations regulations

The British Columbia Utility Commission (BCUC) has revealed the results of phase one of its inquiry into the business practices of electric vehicle charging stations.

The BCUC, an independent regulatory agency, looks after the public utilities in B.C by making sure that prices are fair and the quality of the service that residents pay for is what they need and expect.

On November 21st, 2018, the Government of British Columbia announced that it plans to make all new car sales in the province zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV) by 2040, so the release of this report helps line up with the province’s push to bring more ZEVs to B.C.

There are currently 76 fast-charging and 663 public level-two mid-level charging stations in the province, according to the BCUC’s report, but with the province’s push for zero-emissions vehicles, this number is expected to grow considerably.

The inquiry is taking place over a few stages and the results of the initial phase are now online.

Phase one

The goal of phase one of the BCUC’s inquiry was to gain an accurate understanding of the electric vehicle (EV) charging situation within Canada’s westernmost province.

The first stage’s results were determined through input from 10 community sessions, 20 letters of comment, 84 parties that expressed interest in the inquiry and finally 1,939 pages of documents that were submitted to the BCUC.

The motivation behind phase one of the study was to discover if there were monopolies in the market and if existing infrastructure needs further regulation. The BCUC then examined several key areas to help improve B.C.’s charging situation.

When looking into whether or not EV charging stations qualify as a public utility, the BCUC notes that the broad definition of ‘compensation’ in the B.C. Utilities Commission Act renders some charging stations as public utilities.

The definition describes public utilities as an entity that provides a service to someone but doesn’t require a direct payment and instead recoups costs through other means. Tesla used to bundle Supercharger credits in with the purchase of a new car which made it seem like it was acting similarly to how B.C. describes a public utility. 

Since the market doesn’t seem at risk of monopolization, the BCUC is requesting the B.C minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources to exempt charging stations from the BCUC’s regulations regarding public utilities. Although the BCUC wants the minister to continue holding responsibility for the safety of the stations.

The BCUC is worried about public utility companies like B.C. Hydro and FortisBC stepping further into the charging market and using the money they make off of selling power to regular people to subsidize their EV charging stations. This goes against the BCUC’s regulation regarding what a public utility can and can’t charge consumers for. This balance between public utilities and regular companies is on the BCUC’s docket to be investigated in phase two.

Since there are no monopolies thus far, the BCUC recommends that charging stations get exempt from BCUC regulations regarding monopolies. Which means that the stations will be able to set their own prices and the competitive market will keep costs in check.

Phase two

In the upcoming second phase of the report, the commission plans to examine how charging stations that are classified as public utilities and those that don’t can co-exist in the province.

It then wants to investigate how private charging station companies can help “kickstart” the EV charging market in B.C., and what obligations these companies have to customers.

In an interview with MobileSyrup, BCUC CEO and chairman Dave Morton said that the BCUC is trying to discover if more EVs on the road will bring more chargers to market due to supply and demand, or if more chargers are needed before people feel comfortable buying EVs.

The most intriguing aspect under investigation is if a non-regulated business entity should be created by a public utility to provide charging services across the province. Morton mentioned that this would likely be to help bring chargers to rural and remote areas in the region where private companies have less incentive to provide charging infrastructure.

The BCUC is also looking into determining wholesale rates for EV chargers and what are the justifications for non-public utility “ratepayers (and potentially non-EV customers) to subsidize the costs of EV charging services?” This section will dive deeper into how public utilities like B.C. Hydro can compete in the EV charging market while still following all of the regulations put in place on a public utility.

The BCUC is planning on exploring options to determine how both regulated and non-regulated chargers can operate in the same space and both offer attractive options for consumers while still making money.

Tesla spoke to the BCUC regarding phase one of the report, and it stood strongly against regulation on both pricing and charging port standards due to it wanting to have a tight grip on its business. Although it did mention it was going to invest in more chargers in the province if the market remained unregulated. This lines up with Elon Musk’s latest tweets claiming that more Superchargers will roll out in active markets in 2019.

Morton mentioned that B.C. could try and impose stricter regulations on chargers, but since it is just a province and not a country it doesn’t have the power to lead the charge in setting EV charging port standards.

The BCUC has also published a summary of the report and the full report online. 

Source: British Columbia Utilities Commission

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