Seven of 16 Co-op Connect DC fast charging stations in an initial pilot program are now open in Saskatchewan and Alberta, with the rest coming this fall and next spring for drivers in all three Prairie provinces
From wholesale food to gasoline to agricultural products and building supplies, the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. is already a one-stop shop, but now it can add an electric vehicle charging network to its list of services.
Through Natural Resources Canada, Co-op received $1.4 million in funding to help start the Co-op Connect EV charging network — a 16-site charging station pilot project — in 2019.
“[The idea] formed out of a combination of inquiries and interest from members and customers at the local [Co-op] clubs, as well as our commitment, overall, to a low-carbon economy and making that transition,” says Cam Zimmer, Co-op’s communications director, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.
“I think Co-ops and EVs go well together…[and] Co-ops are known for being sustainable and really investing in their communities and so we think there’s going to be a lot of interest going forward on this.”
Originally slated for a 2020 launch, COVID-19 delayed the pilot, says Zimmer. But, by March 2021, the project was back on track and the first charging stations opened in Saskatchewan.
In total, seven locations are operational (six in Saskatchewan and one in Carstairs, Alberta.); five are under construction (three in Manitoba and two in Alberta.) and are expected to open in the next few weeks; while four more are scheduled for completion by spring 2022.
Distinct regional demand
All Co-op Connect sites will offer both CCS or CHAdeMO connections, which are compatible with most EVs and to Tesla users who have adapters. Users can pay on the spot using a credit card or get Co-op’s specific Connect app that features the locations of chargers and allows users to make payments and monitor their charging progress remotely.
The 16 stations are all located near the Trans-Canada Highway to help service EV drivers on the highway. Most offer fast charging speeds of 100 kW, with 50kW chargers at a few locations, says Zimmer.
“[The] maximum charging speeds are set locally and may vary by location,” reads the company website.
Matthew Pointer, founder of Saskatchewan Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA), says in an interview with Electric Autonomy that he expects there will be a growing number of electric pickup trucks hitting the roads sooner than later in Western Canada and hopes Co-op decides to develop charging sites near agricultural hubs and rural areas as well.
“When it comes to the long-term kind of game with agriculture and electric vehicles for trucks in farming, [people] are going to need access to those DC fast chargers in those rural areas,” says Pointer.
“The great thing with Co-op, in particular, as opposed to some of the other gas stations… is that… the regions that they serve with their fuel stations are province-wide. So they have a tremendous opportunity in front of them to electrify.”
Boosting EV exposure
In Saskatchewan, the six Co-op charging stations are located in Whitewood, Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Maple Creek, while two charging stations are located in Regina.
“[It’s] been a huge addition to our province, as well as Western Canada, for lots of different reasons. Because there are starting to be many more cars now, but also, geographically, having more stations in more neighbourhoods is also a benefit to obviously many different electric vehicle owners,” says Pointer.
“The great thing by having the Co-op charging network, is it really justifies the electric vehicle movement and makes it more relatable for people in smaller centres. As the network continues to grow, it’s going to be easier for people to adopt and transition to electric vehicles.”
Pointer believes the addition of Co-op Connect stations will ultimately bolster exposure and curiosity for EVs in Saskatchewan — a province that took heat earlier this year when the provincial government announced EV drivers would be required to pay a $150 road user fee — and lead people to do research, speak with SEVA and other EV drivers to learn about the benefits of switching to electric.
It’s a ripple effect that Co-op hopes will catch on, as well.
“In the Prairies, the market is still growing, it’s still fairly small. But even then, we’ve had lots of expressions of interest from members of the different local co-ops asking when will my Co-op have an electric charging site available,” says Zimmer.
Future expansion into B.C.
And Co-op is listening to the feedback from the public. In addition to the 16 chargers slated to go into operation in the next 16 months, the company is also looking into adding more provinces to its network.
Once construction on the charging sites for the initial pilot project is finished, Zimmer says Co-op’s next step is to focus on expanding its network to British Columbia — where the company sees an accelerated interest in the market for EVs within Canada.
Co-op is planning to build a mix of Co-op Connect branded stations and charging stations in partnership with different utilities and suppliers from other provinces.
“We’re excited to see how the pilot goes. It’s very much still in the early stages, but we’re looking forward to building out and helping more Co-ops and their members connect through Co-op and different EV charging stations,” says Zimmer.