Today, California buys the largest number of plug-in electric cars by far of any North American state or province.

But the many civic benefits of electric cars--from zero emissions to greater energy efficiency--are inspiring other locales to step up to the plate.

Last Friday, the government of Quebec announced Canada's most comprehensive policies to encourage the sale and use of plug-in vehicles.

The program is part of a broader $516 million Transportation Electrification Strategy. Among many initiatives, the plan includes:

  • a goal of deploying 12,500 more electric vehicles in the province by 2017
  • a three-year extension of the up-to-$8000 electric-vehicle rebate program
  • a three-year renewal of the $500 hybrid-car incentive program
  • installation of 5,000 public charging stations
  • "greening" of 525 taxis
  • gradual electrification of the provincial government's own vehicle fleet
  • creation of an Institute of Electric Transport
  • $115 million to promote electric transportation among consumers and businesses

Strategy for electrifying transportation, Province of Quebec, Oct 2013

Strategy for electrifying transportation, Province of Quebec, Oct 2013

Quebec's next elections are scheduled for October 2016, so the Transportation Electrification Strategy will have three years to prove its value before citizens return to the polls.

While the separatist / secessionist Parti Quebecois is a minority government–meaning an election could be called at almost any time–the legislation seems relatively protected: In its response to the announcement, one of the main opposition party's complaints was that the government stole its ideas.

Readers who want to give their French–or Google Translate–some practice can read the government announcement here. A two-page policy summary is also available.

The fine print

Delving into the complete 113-page policy document adds considerable context to the above initiatives.

The 12,500 electric vehicle goal consists of 10,200 consumer cars, 325 taxis, and 2000 government-fleet vehicles. The authors claim this is about five times the number of plug-in electric cars currently on Quebec roads. (The current figure may include low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles.)

The vehicle rebate program of up to $8,000 will be seeded with $65 million in funding. (Not every plug-in electric car will receive the full rebate--there's a graded scale--which is how $65 million is planned to spread over 10,000 or more vehicles.)

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

2011 Nissan Leaf SL

The $500 hybrid rebate program will be extended for three years, as will a $1,000 rebate program for neighborhood electric vehicles.

The 5,000 new charging stations will include 500 around various cities and along the province's so-called Electric Circuit route, 1,000 near government buildings, and 3,500 at various workplaces for employee use. Businesses will be granted a 75-percent rebate on installation costs up to $5000 for Level 1 or Level 2 charging stations. And 50-percent rebates will continue to be offered to individuals for installation of home charging stations, with a maximum of $1,000.

Rebates for the 525 "green" taxis will be split between 325 plug-in vehicles (275 PHEV's, 50 BEV's) and 200 hybrids. Incentives will decline over time, starting at a generous $20,000 for battery-electric taxis, $12,000 for plug-in hybrids, and $3,000 for conventional hybrids. The province will also subsidize 125 Level 2 stations for the taxi industry, paying 75 percent of the cost up to $5,000. And, importantly, the government will also pay the majority of costs to fund 10 Level 3 chargers for taxis.

Gradual electrification of the government fleet will replace vehicles of the provincial government's 34 ministers (cabinet-level officials) with plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicles by March 2017. The government expects to bring 2,000 plug-in vehicles into the provincial fleet over the same time. If I'm translating page 96 correctly, bureaucrats will require sign-off from the Ministry of Transport in the future if they want to buy any vehicle that does not plug in.

 

zenn

zenn

In other words, the Quebec government has committed to making plug-in vehicles the default purchase going forward. Special waivers will be required to purchase conventional vehicles.

An Institute for Electric Transport is intended to be a conduit that will ink academic research and innovation with the private sector.

Overall, the plan for the $115 million to promote electric transportation is intended to be flexible, with the government planning to prioritize future spending based on lessons learned from the early successes or struggles of the various initiatives.

Quebec already leads Canada

With one-quarter of Canada's population, Quebec is already home to 40 percent of the country's plug-in electric vehicles. Its previous rebate program, now superseded, clearly played a role in the success. But other factors have contributed too.

ZENN LSV

ZENN LSV

Quebec had its own electric-car maker, ZENN Motor Company. Roughly 500 of ZENN's eponymous Zero Emission, No Noise low-speed neighborhood electric vehicle were built in the province from 2006 to 2010.

Hydro-Quebec has shown strong support for electric vehicles, and this may have also helped raise awareness among the province's car buyers. The public utility exports almost a billion dollars' worth of hydroelectricity per year, so it is more than capable of accommodating incremental demand from plug-in vehicles.

And the absence of any oil sector in Quebec means that all money spent on gasoline leaves the region, giving electric-vehicle proponents a "local economy" card to play.

The very big picture

The Canadian Government's National Inventory Report on Greenhouse Gas Emissions for 1990-2011 shows that, two years ago, Quebec emitted the equivalent of 80 million tonnes of CO2 – down 5 percent from its total in the Kyoto Protocol reference year of 1990.

Road transportation was responsible for about one-third of those emissions, meaning that electric vehicles would appreciably lighten the province's environmental footprint. Of course, adding the planned 12,500 plug-in electric vehicles would still make them only 3 to 4 percent of the province's auto fleet.

But it's a great start.

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