Indigenous Clean Energy launches program to finance EV charger installations in Indigenous communities
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EV Charging
Mar 23, 2022
Mehanaz Yakub

Over $300,000 in funding will help up to 20 Indigenous communities across Canada install electric vehicle chargers in a move that looks to bring more equity to the transition to electric mobility

Bella Bella on Campbell Island is home of the Heiltsuk First Nation, one of the Indigenous communities across Canada looking to invest in charging infrastructure through Indigenous Clean Energy’s Charge Up program.

Over $300,000 in funding will help up to 20 Indigenous communities across Canada install electric vehicle chargers in a move that looks to bring more equity to the transition to electric mobility

Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), an Ottawa-based not-for-profit organization, has launched a program to install up to 25 electric vehicle chargers in approximately 20 Indigenous communities across Canada.

The program, called Charge Up, is supported by $316,250 in funding from Natural Resources Canada’s Zero-Emissions Vehicles Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP).

This initiative is a natural fit with ICE’s mandate to help Indigenous communities and groups across Canada to pursue clean energy opportunities. Many Indigenous communities are located in remote areas and the Charge Up program aims to help fast-track the deployment of EV chargers in underserved regions.

Ian Scholten, program director at Charge Up. Photo: LinkedIn

“If you’re along the Trans-Canada Highway or if you’re along any major centres, then … charging is a lot more accessible,” says Ian Scholten, Charge Up program director in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

“The way we structured [the program] is really…as a way to grow the charging network by specifically targeting communities that don’t already have charging stations and who are away from those urban centres.”

ICE’s Charge Up funding can be used for equipment and installation expenses for both DC fast chargers and Level 2 electric vehicle chargers in Indigenous communities transitioning to EVs. The money does not cover ongoing maintenance and operating costs.

Charge Up program applicants are required to choose an eligible location (multi-unit residential buildings, workplaces, public places, light-duty fleets, or on-street parking), pick the type of charger to install, have an electrical contractor verify electrical load capacity and provide a quote for installation, take photos of the site, and complete an online application form.

Applicants can choose to install Level 2 chargers, with a rebate of $5,000 per connector, or a DC faster charger with outputs of 20kW to 49kW, 50kW to 99kW or 100 kW and above with rebates of $15,000, $50,000 or $75,000, respectively, per charger.

They also have the option to choose a FLO, ChargePoint, Blink, Tesla, Siemens or ABB charger — with FLO offering an additional discount of five per cent off the equipment fee.

Indigenous communities interested in applying for funding for chargers will have to be able to cover the total cash flow of the project upfront before being reimbursed for half of it later.

Heiltsuk Nation climate action plans

Already there is interest in the Charge Up program.

Just off the central coast of British Columbia on Campbell Island is the community of Bella Bella, which is home to the Heiltsuk First Nation. Bella Bella has climate action goals and an energy plan, which specifies that the Heiltsuk Nation — a population of 1,300 people — is looking to electrify 75 per cent of its transportation fleet over the next decade.

“Electric vehicle projects can unlock a variety of opportunities for people to become
directly involved in the clean energy transition away from fossil fuel dependence,” reads the plan.

“Using EVs will not only offset the environmental impact of gas-burning vehicles but also stimulates conversations about how people use fossil fuels for their everyday needs.”

Leona Humchitt, a member of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, the community’s climate action coordinator and member of the advisory council of ICE, says the Heiltsuk are looking to take advantage of ICE’s Charge Up program in order to help meet their climate targets and advance EV adoption in the community.

Leona Humchitt, member of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, says her community is looking to apply to receive Charge Up funding. Photo: LinkedIn

“[Bella Bella] is on a remote, isolated island and we’re serviced by BC Ferries that comes in once a week. We probably have five kilometres of road, there are about 470 residential units. Every home has a vehicle,” says Humchitt.

While there are currently only a couple of EV-owners in Bella Bella, the energy plan outlines initiatives to expand EV use in the community by installing 10 EV chargers and deploying six electric cars to service public infrastructures such as the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, the Health Centre Society and the Elder’s Building.

“There are a couple of people that have purchased hybrids thus far,” says Humchitt. “I’m really happy that people are interested in having the opportunity to take better care of our land and our water and resources by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Humchitt says the community would like to have “at least half a dozen fast chargers” on the island “as soon as possible.” However, only one or two of those chargers are able to be funded through Charge Up because of the program has a cutoff of up to two stations per community application. This means the Heiltsuk Nation will have to look to other streams of funding for the remaining chargers.

“[Bella Bella] doesn’t want to come to the table empty-handed. We have NGOs that support us in raising funds for clean energy and climate action,” says Humchitt. “But I know there are other nations that might not have somebody to support them. So I think it’s really important for an organization [like ICE] to make sure there’s some form of outreach and some form of support mechanisms for other communities that might not have even thought about [EV chargers] yet.”

The community has not yet submitted a formal application to the Charge Up program, but Humchitt adds that “my Heiltsuk Nation will be applying.”

Stackable funding

Through the Charge Up program, 50 per cent of the costs are covered for projects or up to a maximum of $75,000 per charger depending on what level of infrastructure is installed. But shouldering the upfront cost before the grant kicks in may be too heavy a lift for some communities, meaning there is a risk of a have and have-not situation.

“One of the challenges that we’re sort of pushing and thinking about is the way the contribution agreement is structured,” says Scholten.

“That’s something that can be a real challenge for communities who are short on resources. We’re trying…to make sure we think about equity. If you can only do a project because you already have the funding, then that leaves out potentially a group of people who can’t access it.”

One way around offsetting those expenses for communities is by stacking the funding with other provincial or NGO programs.

Normally, through ZEVIP, funding for corporate-led projects can be stacked with other forms of government assistance of up to 75 per cent of eligible project costs, says Scholten, but ICE made sure Indigenous communities would be able to stack up funding to 100 per cent — which is the same for other municipalities in Canada.

So far, British Columbia is the only province that offers a dedicated rebates program for Indigenous communities and businesses to cover 75 per cent of the costs to purchase and install Level 2 charging equipment at homes and businesses and up to 90 per cent of DC fast chargers (to a maximum of $130,000), through its Go Electric program.

However, in New Brunswick, NB Power utility has also worked on one-on-one bases with the Maliseet First Nation and Mi’gmaq First Nation to install EV chargers in those communities.

The utility has installed DC fast charge stations for the Maliseet First Nation at the Grey Rock facility, near Edmundston and at the Osprey Truck Stop in Ugpi’ganjig, Eel River Bar for the Mi’gmaq First Nation.

Supporting community outreach

The team at ICE will review applications at the end of each month until the total funding is dispersed. So far, only one application has been sent in since the program launched earlier this month.

“This was kind of what we anticipated [because] we are asking people to do a bit more work than is typical in our other application processes, in that we’re asking people to…do some homework beforehand…to minimize back and forth and get the projects installed as fast as possible,” says Scholten.

If the team notices a high concentration of applications are coming from certain areas across the country, Scholten adds, “we’ll leverage our networks and we’ll do really targeted outreach [and] really be more intentional about putting our energy into those areas that aren’t represented well.”

ICE’s goal is for installation of the chargers funded by the program to be completed by March 2023.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see these projects launch and that this will be the tip of the iceberg here,” says Scholten.

“With these first 20 or so communities, I’m hopeful that we’ll eventually be able to have a map where communities can go from Indigenous community to Indigenous community and travel all the way across Canada [by EV].”

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