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Electric cars of Kootenay/Boundary: Modern pioneers

Updated: May 6, 2018

Last of five parts

Who was the first person in the Kootenay Boundary to own an electric car since their re-emergence and where was the first charging station installed?


Although these events occurred less than a decade ago, it wasn’t as easy to answer these questions as I expected. I asked Trish Dehnel of the Accelerate Kootenays initiative, which promotes the use of electric vehicles.


“2011 was the first year that modern EVs rolled out with the Nissan Leaf,” she says. “We have heard rumors of do-it-yourself electric vehicle conversions in Creston that would pre-date the Leafs.


“We always say that when we were preparing for Accelerate Kootenays in 2015 there was about one EV driver in the Kootenays. Now we have a suite of EV ambassadors in the East and West Kootenay as part of our program. I know of nine EVs from Kaslo to Rossland.”


Elizabeth and Don Scarlett, who live south of Mirror Lake, believe they bought the first Chevrolet Volt — a plug-in hybrid — from Kalwasky Pontiac Buick GMC in Castlegar in 2012.


The first pure electric may have been a Smart car purchased by Martin and Pam Oets of Six Mile in October 2013. It took more than eight months before it was delivered and they had to go to Kelowna to get it (it was built in France and was one of 250 imported into Canada that year). Then they had to figure out how to get it home. It could travel 140 km on a single charge, but at the time there were few if any charging stations along Highway 3, so they rented a U-Haul car mover.

Pam and Martin Oets and their 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.


“We thought it was a good thing to do,” Martin says. “There were good government incentives and the Smart car was the cheapest around other than the Leaf.”

After a couple of years, however, the car’s limited range became apparent: “We almost felt we couldn’t visit friends in Castlegar, especially in cold weather. You lose 30 per cent efficiency due to thicker air and because the battery performs poorly in cold air.”


But the biggest hiccup was the lack of local service: “To tinker with an electric car, you’re taking your life in your hands. Every year we had to take it to Kelowna and rent the U-haul carrier and a truck to pull it. We took it there twice and said we can’t keep doing this.”


After three years, they traded it in to Castlegar Honda, who “had a dickens of a time trying to find a buyer,” but gave them a reasonable credit toward a Honda Fit. They’ve since acquired a Chevy Bolt from Kalawsky’s, a car that received high-profile attention last year on an episode of The Amazing Race Canada filmed in Castlegar and Nelson. Contestants were each provided with a Bolt, and local entrants Ryan Lachapelle and Kenneth McAlpine won $5,000 for using theirs the most efficiently.


“The Bolt is terrific,” Martin says. “We can get it serviced locally, it goes 385 km [on a single charge] or even 400 km in nice weather.”


The second person in our area to buy a pure electric appears to have been Andrew Chewter, an environmental engineer who lives in Nelson and commutes to Trail in his Nissan Leaf SL. He bought it in May 2014 in Vancouver and drove it back to Nelson. It now has a little over 150,000 km on it. Chewter is a regular at the Green Home and Energy Show in Nelson and has blogged about his experiences here: kootenayevfamily.ca.

Andrew Chewter is seen at the 2015 Green Home and Energy Show in Nelson

with his 2014 Nissan Leaf SL. (Bill Metcalfe/Nelson Star)


The location of the first charging station in the Kootenay/Boundary is unclear partly because of the lag between the initial announcement and actual installation, and the different types of chargers. But it appears the earliest public charging station of any type was in Castlegar in 2011 when Kootenay Savings Credit Union installed a Level 1 charger as part of its new branch on 20th St.


“Level 1 is really just a wall outlet that all EV owners can plug into using the cordset that came with the car,” Chewter explains.


Dehnel says Midway’s charging station in front of the Kettle River Museum was another early one — and it’s definitely the most unique, repurposed from an old gas pump. It’s a Level 2, the regular speed public outlet, which typically charge a battery in four to six hours.


In early 2012, Castlegar won a Level 2 charger at a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, but it took until mid-2016 to begin operating in the library parking lot because the gift didn’t cover the cost of installation.


In September 2012, two Level 2 charging stations were announced for Rossland, and in December of that year one was announced for Trail. I don’t know exactly when they went into service, but Rossland now has four. Two Level 2 stations were operating in Invermere as of March 2013. Two were announced for Nelson in October 2015, but it took until April 2017 for the first one to be installed. The second is yet to come.


“Both Level 1 (120V) and Level 2 (240V) provide AC current to the car's onboard charger, so they are more correctly called ‘electric vehicle supply equipment,” Chewter says. “Direct current fast chargers (Level 3) connect directly to the battery on the EV.”


The first Level 3 was installed in Cranbrook last year, followed by ones in Canal Flats and Radium Hot Springs. They’re now in Greenwood, Christina Lake, Castlegar, Salmo, Creston, and Jaffray as well, with another to come in Sparwood.


Tesla, which has its own charging infrastructure, has stations in Creston, Kaslo, Salmo, Trail, Christina Lake, Greenwood, Midway, Rock Creek, and Invermere. It also has superchargers (480V) in Revelstoke and Golden, with another expected in Fernie by year’s end. The latter will give you enough juice in 30 minutes to get 270 km; a full charge takes 75 minutes.

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