Fort St. John residents get insight into electric vehicle ownership

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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Residents of the Energetic City were treated to an interesting look into the world of electric cars both in person and online yesterday.

The City of Fort St. John held a public demonstration live streamed on Facebook at around 2:00 p.m. yesterday featuring Nissan Leaf owner Ernie Freeman and Peace River area manager Chris Flury from SMi Faciliop, a company that installs charging stations. The demonstration featured a quick drive in Freeman’s electric car, followed by a showcase of the car’s features, and a Q&A session.

Freeman said that the car is one of the best that he has ever owned, saying that the cost of driving and maintaining the car is incredibly low. The only routine maintenance he’s had to do so far is topping up the windshield washer fluid reservoir. A look under the hood shows part of the car’s charging equipment, electric motor, braking and power steering systems in lieu of an engine. When it comes to running errands and commuting around the city, Freeman says that the car works incredibly well. At yesterday’s test, the car was seen to have a range of 190 kilometres on a 94 percent charge. The cost to top up the battery completely is approximately $3.00 based on current BC Hydro rates.

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Despite the cold temperatures in winter, being an electric car, many things including the heater and defrost fan are able to run hot nearly instantly since they aren’t taking heat from an engine’s coolant. Freeman can also remote start the vehicle using his mobile phone, allowing the car to “warm up” while still plugged in. The 600 lb. lithium-ion battery pack is mounted in the car’s floor, providing for excellent handling even on snowy roads.

He added that though the car is incredibly reliable, simple and inexpensive to maintain, it does have some drawbacks.

Though the car hasn’t needed a major servicing so far, the closest Nissan dealership in Grande Prairie won’t work on the car. Freeman needs to drive to the Nissan dealership in Kamloops to get service work done.

According to Freeman, the car does lose some of its effective range in winter, since the battery isn’t able to hold as much charge. That slight range drop in winter can make for lengthier charging times after a trip to Dawson Creek. Freeman says that in summer it takes one hour to top up the battery, while in winter the time is nearly doubled to one hour and forty-five minutes. A completely flat battery would take roughly 3:00 to 3:30 to fully replenish. Those times could be cut down to as little as thirty minutes or less with a “fast-charging” station, although the closest to the Peace is in Red Deer or Kamloops.

Among the other challenges is a lack of fast charging stations in the region. While Fort St. John, Charlie Lake, Dawson Creek, Pouce Coupe, and Hudson’s Hope all have electric vehicle charging stations, the 367 kilometre gap between the next-closest charging stations in Prince George also presents challenges. The car does come with a portable charger that weighs 22 lbs. and can be hooked up to any outlet that runs at 240 volts, such as that for a clothes dryer.

Flury says that his company, as well as Freeman are trying to work with the Ministry of Energy and Mines in order to push for more electric vehicle infrastructure in the Peace. Flury says that though the cars work well for urban residents, until better range and performance are achieved, internal combustion will probably be the rule as opposed to the exception in Northern BC for the foreseeable future.

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