11/09/2011 09:02 EST | Updated 01/09/2012 05:12 EST

B.C. Paves the Way for Electric Cars

AP File

On a crisp, sunny Saturday, I joined about 50 people at Surrey City Hall to hear B.C. Ministers Terry Lake (Environment), Rich Coleman (Energy and Mines) and Kevin Falcon (Finance) announce a $17 million provincial initiative to have many more clean cars gracing the streets of British Columbia.

The big ticket items will be up to $5,000 off the sticker price of battery electric, fuel cell, plug-in hybrid and compressed natural gas powered cars, and $6.5 million for new charging stations across the province as well as upgrades to hydrogen fueling infrastructure.

It was an exciting day for climate-conscious British Columbians as an important step has been taken to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution caused by burning gasoline and diesel in our cars.

Over 1,000 clean cars could be on B.C.'s streets by March of 2013, if not sooner, as a result of the point of sale incentives. For those that end up being electric vehicles, our analysis shows that switching from a conventional fossil fuel powered vehicle results in 80 per cent less greenhouse gas pollution over its lifetime.

And the impact of those 1,000 vehicles will reach beyond their immediate drivers, as friends, neighbours and co-workers learn about them through word of mouth. The more people become familiar with the alternatives to conventional fossil fuel vehicles, the more likely they'll be to consider one for their own needs.

Charge away

As clean as electric vehicles may be, they aren't very useful unless they can be recharged. That's why the infrastructure investments that are part of the initiative are so important. The funds will help to develop a network of charging options that meets the needs of drivers. The initiative also includes a $500 rebate for household chargers, which is where the majority of charging will occur.

B.C. is in good company

British Columbia isn't the first province to provide

incentives for clean alternatives to conventional fossil-fuel vehicles.

As with the B.C. initiative, Ontario offers an incentive for electric vehicles, with their contribution offering up to $8,500. Ontario is also developing infrastructure for electric cars, at GO transit stations and government building parking lots.

With a total investment of $50 million, Quebec provides $8,000 off the sticker price of an electric vehicle, up to 50 per cent off residential charging stations as well as a province-wide electric vehicle awareness and promotion program.

Looking ahead

Getting from 1,000 vehicles to widespread adoption of clean cars will be the next challenge and there are opportunities for all levels of government to help make this a reality:

Local governments have options such as investing in vehicles for their fleets, educating their staff and citizens, and working with local businesses to increase infrastructure investment.

The province could require new buildings to come complete with the ability to charge electric cars, just as the city of Vancouver has done. A first step could be giving other local governments the option to voluntarily sign-on to this type of requirement -- much like B.C.'s recent solar hot water ready requirement.

The federal government needs to invest in this effort and raise the bar nationally.

As I got back in my co-op car to make the nearly 50-kilometre trip back to Vancouver from Surrey, I couldn't help but think of the emissions I was about to produce on the way, and how soon being a driver might not necessarily mean also being a polluter. With the provincial government now supporting the purchase of electric vehicles and improving infrastructure, I, like many British Columbians, may soon be able get from point A to B with a much cleaner conscience.

This post first appeared on