The Accelerate Kootenays project in the Regional Districts of Central Kootenay, East Kootenay and Kootenay Boundary, BC, is the 2020 winner of the Visionary Award from FCM’s Sustainable Communities Awards.

When regional governments in the Kootenays, BC, wanted to address the gap in electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the area, they spearheaded a project to build a regional clean transportation network. Thanks to collaboration between local governments, communities and many partners, the project established a network throughout the region that encourages EV use and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Commitment to collaboration drove project success

Since transportation accounts for 61% of GHG emissions in the Kootenays, enabling more electric vehicle use can have a significant environmental impact. Communities in the region are small, have low population density, and local governments have limited capacity and capital funding for large-scale infrastructure projects. To succeed in accelerating adoption of EVs, remove barriers to travelling within the region and encouraging EV tourism, it was necessary for local and regional governments to collaborate, work with 10 funding and implementation partners, and design one coordinated regional EV charging network.

Regional network considered local co-benefits

To build the network of 13 DC Fast Charging stations and over 40 Level 2 stations, the project team leveraged a $90,000 commitment from the Regional Districts to secure over $1.9 million in funding. Each community hosting EV stations was engaged in the site selection process, with a focus on generating co-benefits to the community by selecting sites near amenities, tourist attractions or community facilities. A number of community engagement activities were used to build interest in the project, including a winter driving video, EV test drive opportunities and promotional events at outdoor summer markets.

In an innovative arrangement, Level 2 equipment is owned and operated by the site hosts, representing the first time in BC that regional and local governments managed procurement independently of utility partners. This community-focused approach has become a model for similar jurisdictions across Canada.

Project reduced GHGs and sparked more green initiatives

During the pilot project alone, nearly 87,000 kilometres of EV travel were supported by the charging stations, which represents a reduction of 9,250 litres of gas and 21 tonnes of CO2e, and the project is expected to achieve direct emissions reductions of over 25,000 tonnes of CO2e by 2030. PetroCanada, Tesla and FortisBC have committed to installing more than 25 additional charging stations throughout the region and the project has inspired municipalities in the Kootenay Region to make further investments in clean energy. Several communities have installed solar arrays, and the City of Kimberley purchased an electric vehicle for municipal use.

Regional model created challenges for the project

One of the challenges the project faced was in developing a new model for regional and local municipalities to work with utilities to implement the project. It was the first time in BC that local governments designed and funded such a project, and new processes were required to make it work. They learned vital lessons about the importance of engaging provincial, regional and local government support early in the project, and the value of engaging local champions (the EV drivers) to help with outreach and public education, especially in rural areas where electric vehicles are a relatively new concept.

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