Where should you put public charging stations for electric cars?

Local businesses and governments and urban planners all over the country are grappling with that question right now.

But one Canadian city has passed a law that requires new or renovated gas stations to install electric-car charging equipment--or other "alternate fuel" filling-station infrastructure.

That town is Surrey, in the western province of British Columbia. Southeast of Vancouver and with 460,000 residents, it's the second-largest city in B.C. after Vancouver itself.

Quick charging, natural gas, hydrogen

The city's rule--you can read it here--says that new gasoline stations being built must install "alternative fuel refuelling or recharging infrastructure," defined as one of the following choices:

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

  • DC fast-charging station for electric vehicles; or
  • Fast-fill compressed natural gas (CNG) refueling station; or
  • Hydrogen fueling station; or
  • Liquified petroleum gas (LPG, also known as propane) refueling station.

The legislation was proposed in June 2012, and adopted by the city council several weeks later.

Gas stations may install DC quick-charging stations for electric cars at an approved off-site location, but that flexibility does not apply to infrastructure for any of the liquid or gaseous alternative-fuel choices.

Gradual deployment

The requirement will be reviewed after three years, "considering market penetration and vehicle availability with a particular focus on the continued inclusion of liquefied petroleum gas (propane) as an eligible alternative."

The memo proposing the law notes that deployment is expected to be gradual.

Surrey gets only one or two applications to build new gas stations each year. Of the current 75 stations within the city, the 45 that predate the year 2000 are "less likely to redevelop due to the increased costs" of a through renovation.

New stations, the report suggests, will be limited to new neighborhoods that are not presently served by an existing gasoline station.

Map of existing gas stations in Surrey, B.C., Canada

Map of existing gas stations in Surrey, B.C., Canada

Gas stations: right or wrong?

Not all electric-vehicle advocates necessarily favor siting quick-charging stations at gas stations--or in urban neighborhoods.

Quick charging is more likely to be needed on long journeys, so situating them on or near high-speed highways may make more sense.

In the U.S., Tesla's Supercharger network of quick-charging stations--usable exclusively by the company's Model S electric luxury sedan--is located largely on or near Interstate highways.

And the "Electric Highway" connecting Oregon and Washington follows the same model, using CHAdeMO quick-charging stations for Nissan Leafs.

With a range of 200 miles or more in the Model S, however, the Tesla stations can be spaced further apart than those for the Leaf, which has rated ranges of 74 or 76 miles, depending on model year.

In general, quick charging allows an electric car to recharge its battery pack to 80 percent capacity in 20 to 30 minutes.

That's somewhat longer than the average stop at a gas station, but between slow pumps and the purchase of coffee, sodas, salty snack foods, lottery tickets, and other casual items, most drivers spend at least 10 minutes--and often up to 20--on their fueling stops.

Nearby Richmond mulls same law

Now local officials in Richmond, B.C.--a slightly smaller city sited directly south of Vancouver--are considering adding a requirement modeled after Surrey's to the city's Community Energy and Emissions Plan.

Planners there are having an interactive open house, called "Let's Talk Energy," at Richmond Centre tomorrow and Saturday.

Meanwhile, we note that Surrey's official motto is "The future lives here."

Does the new green-fueling law live up to the motto--and is it good policy?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

[hat tip: Firat Ataman]


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