Multifamily leads take-up of EV charger funds

Multifamily leads uptake of EV charger funds

Newly released audit called pertinent for next rounds of federal subsidy program
Thursday, November 9, 2023

Multifamily landlords and condominium corporations have claimed more than a third of the funds the Canadian government has thus far allocated through its Zero Emissions Vehicle Infrastructure Program (ZEVIP) to subsidize EV chargers that are made available to multiple users. That’s largely because applicants from the multifamily sector were the most proactive among the four groups ZEVIP targeted in a effort to spur installation of 33,500 charging ports by March 31, 2026.

Newly released audit findings conclude that Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) — the federal department overseeing the program — is on track to meet that target, but could do more to reach regions and user groups where there has been less uptake. That advice is considered pertinent to NRCan’s joint mission with Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to disperse funding for a further 50,000 EV chargers to be installed by March 31, 2029.

The audit was tabled in the House of Commons earlier this week as part of the Commissioner of Environment and Sustainable Development’s mandate to scrutinize and provide objective analysis of federal policy and programs related to environmental protection, climate change action and fostering sustainable development. Other associated recommendations for ZEVIP call for: greater attention to post-installation operations and maintenance; improved collection and disclosure of program data; more explicit delineation of NRCan and CIB’s quotas for their shared mandate; and a streamlined application process.

“A number of improvements have been made or are underway to improve the program,” Canada’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonathan Wilkinson, promised in response. “Work is already underway to address charging infrastructure gaps and identify targets focused on charger use types that will be in place in 2024. Additionally, work is being done to strengthen tracking and reporting to ensure the program is working as intended.”

On pace to 2026 targets with procurements to 2029 in progress

ZEVIP was announced in the 2019 federal budget, with an initial allocation of $130 million toward funding 20,000 charging ports. A further $150 million was unveiled in the 2020 fall economic statement to underwrite another 13,500 chargers. This funding has now been committed through various rounds of requests for proposals (RFPs), and 6,654 or about 20 per cent of the chargers were installed and operational when the audit was conducted at mid-year 2023.

The government’s ZEVIP expenditure of nearly $266 million up to July 2023 is calculated to have spawned an additional $461 million in spending on EV charging infrastructure. Nevertheless, the auditors caution that should not all be attributed to the private sector since some of it comes from other public sector investors such as provincial/territorial and municipal governments and publicly owned utilities.

NRCan is continuing to allocate a subsequent $500-million pot of funds announced in the 2022 federal budget. In his response to the audit, Wilkinson reports that about 45,000 charging ports have now been procured through all iterations of the program.

Project proponents can receive up to 50 per cent of the costs of installing Level 2 or Level 3 EV chargers, to a maximum of $10 million. Four types of locations qualify:

  • public parking places, which can be either publicly or privately owned, and include street parking and parking areas at commercial, community and institutional venues;
  • workplaces, in which EV chargers are reserved for employees during working hours, but may be available to the wider public at other times;
  • multifamily buildings with at least three storeys and 6,540 square feet (600 square metres) of floor area; and
  • parking areas for vehicle fleets.

Applicants directly to NRCan are asked to submit project proposals valued at a minimum of $100,000. However, ZEVIP funding is also dispersed through a number of third-party delivery organizations, which serve as aggregators of smaller projects.

As of July 2023, the audit reveals NRCan has directly channelled about 34 per cent of ZEVIP funds to multifamily buildings to subsidize installation of 11,513 charging ports. Some landlords and condo corporations may have alternatively received their ZEVIP subsidies through third-party delivery agents.

Thus far, NRCan has dished out the second biggest piece of the funding pie (31 per cent to support 10,479 EV chargers) to such organizations, but there is no breakdown of the property types receiving subsidies through this route. Meanwhile, public parking places account for 18 per cent of funds NRCan has directly allocated, underwriting 6,133 charging ports. The remainder is roughly split between workplaces (2,958 charging ports) and fleet parking (2,804 charging ports).

Regionally, 87 per cent of ZEVIP funds have flowed to three provinces: Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. The auditors acknowledge that’s related to the profile of program applicants and reflective of areas where there is a greater concentration of electric vehicles. Notably, 95 per cent of the roughly 250,000 EVs on the road in Canada in 2021 had a home base in Ontario, B.C. or Quebec.

Some program adjustments recommended

Nevertheless, the audit critiques the lack of specific targets for “equitable distribution” of the funding given that the other seven provinces and three territories represent 25 per cent of the population. “The project assessment process did not include weighted criteria to favour projects in rural, remote and northern areas or other areas, such as lower-income communities that may have significant gaps in charging infrastructure,” it states.

The auditors also suggest that performance criteria for equipment and installations could be more rigorous than ZEVIP’s two stipulations that it be certified for use in Canada and comply with applicable building and electrical codes. They point to Quebec’s provincial subsidy program — which includes requirements for operability of payment mechanisms, pricing displays, contingency for internet outages and site lighting — as a possible example, and suggest potential additional measures related to  accessibility, snow clearance and protection against adverse weather and convenience for users. They also cite examples of standards and regulations for the reliability of public EV charging infrastructure in other jurisdictions, such as California and the United Kingdom.

The audit commends NRCan for awarding merit points to project proposals that include operations and maintenance plans, but criticizes the one-size-fits-all assessment criteria. “Charging ports intended for public use do not serve the same needs as those for multi-unit residential buildings, workplaces or fleets. Some tailored criteria could have been used in the applications for each stream to help encourage project proponents to better meet the unique needs of their intended users,” it states.

Prospective applicants may also be interested in recommendations for speeding up the review and approval process. The auditors critique ZEVIP’s over-reliance on manual data entry and underscore that turnaround times for decision-making have thus far lagged well behind the government’s service standard of 100 business days from the application deadline. However, they note that the department is implementing an automated information technology system to improve efficiency, which NRCan projects will be fully operation by late March 2024.

Wilkinson confirms his department is in agreement with all the audit’s recommendations. “I am grateful for the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s report and his continued efforts to help the Government of Canada remain accountable as we work to achieve our ambitious objectives,” he maintained.

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