The fate of the electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Spences Bridge hangs by a thread, with the lease for the land on which it sits due to expire on Jan. 31 and no agreement (as of the time of going to press) on its future.
“There has been nothing new over the holidays,” says Alec Tsang, who is in charge of EV infrastructure planning for BC Hydro, which owns the equipment. “We’re waiting for the chair of the Spences Bridge Improvement District [SBID] to take the next step.
“The ball is in his court. It’s up to him to licence the area [on which the charging station sits] to us or terminate the current lease.”
In 2015 the SBID and the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) entered into a five-year lease agreement for a piece of land owned by the SBID adjacent to the fire hall. BC Hydro agreed to pay $1 per year in order to site the fast-charging station there.
Last year BC Hydro offered the SBID $1 a year for a further 10-year lease of the site, with the agreement made directly between them and the Improvement District. However, the three-member board of trustees — Ross Figley, Cheryl Klyne, and chair Michael Jefferson — counter-offered, saying they wanted BC Hydro to pay the SBID $15 per day ($5,475 per year) in order to keep the station where it is. They also said that BC Hydro needed to provide a washroom facility at the site and pave the area surrounding the station.
BC Hydro has, to date, rejected that offer, saying it is not part of their business model for EV charging stations. At its regular meeting on Dec. 17, 2020 the board of the TNRD voted to approve an agreement that would see the TNRD cease to be a partner in the agreement. However, TNRD Area “I” director Steve Rice offered funding for the construction of a washroom adjacent to the site and legal services for the vetting of a contract between BC Hydro and the SBID, as well as the services of a local volunteer organization to maintain the site.
Jefferson maintains, however, that the TNRD should have “nothing to do” with the situation, and has indicated that the trustees do not find Rice’s offer acceptable. He also says that according to its letters patent, the SBID cannot legally host the site.
“The only lawful authority we have is to provide fire service and street lights. We can raise money for taxes through that. We’re not an economic development agency, and have no lawful authority to act as one. BC Hydro entered into an agreement with the TNRD in 2015, and Al Dickinson [then the SBID board chair] and Ron Storie [TNRD director of community services] signed off on it. They should not have entered into such an agreement. It compromised the SBID.”
Storie disagrees. “My understanding is that [the lease] didn’t impact the letters patent. Al Dickinson seemed very thorough in vetting this stuff, which is why Steve Rive offered funding to vet any agreement between the SBID and BC Hydro. Michael Jefferson has continually said we are going outside their letters patent, but my understanding is that Al vetted this through a lawyer.” (The Journal has not been able to reach Dickinson for comment.)
Asked why the SBID made an offer to continue hosting the site for $15 a day plus the construction of washrooms and paving of the site, when they also maintain that their letters patent prevent them from legally hosting the site at all, Jefferson says “We can rent it but we can’t subsidize it, otherwise we’re giving it away.
“We asked BC Hydro ‘How can we make it work?’ and came up with $15 a day to be credited to our street lighting account. That saves the taxpayers money and opens up a little budget. Out of that we can hire a maintenance person to clean the site, take out the garbage, clear snow, etc.
“We can’t subsidize a BC Hydro operation, but we can host it, which generates rental income and a job for a local resident.”
Jefferson says that the land where the charging station is located is one of the SBID’s few assets. “By entering into a land tenancy agreement with the TNRD for $1 a year, the SBID was giving away an asset. That agreement has cost the SBID lost income for the site, plus labour to clean it.
“All of a sudden that little piece of land is valuable. We support the idea of a charger in the community, but we’re not giving it away for free.”
Jefferson says he is in the process of writing to BC Hydro and all other stakeholders. “I’m just the spokesperson, but all three trustees are on the same page. If BC Hydro is unable or unwilling to modify their business plan then it’s not the SBID’s issue, it’s their issue.
“We reached out with a $15 a day, pave the site, washroom offer that would satisfy the needs of the SBID and keep it there. BC Hydro said ‘We’re not going to do that,’ so we’re stuck with this thing. It’s their baby: make it work or take it out.”
Jefferson acknowledges that there is a lot of emotion wrapped up in the charging station, and reiterates that the SBID is not opposed to the idea of a charging station: it simply needs to be somewhere else if BC Hydro cannot, or will not, meet their demands.
“We’re looking for solutions, not trying to dump a bucket of cold water on this. An option is the Spences Bridge Community Club [SBCC] and Clemes Hall [on the other side of the river on Highway 8]. Perhaps BC Hydro could approach them about siting the station over there, and if the TNRD wants to support the SBCC with washrooms they can do that. It doesn’t work on SBID property.”
Clemes Hall was one of several places considered before the station was installed at its current location near the fire hall, which was the favoured choice of residents who responded to a survey about possible sites. Storie notes that the fire hall site was sanctioned by the SBID trustees of the day, as well as by Dickinson and Rice. “They knew the community, knew the best location.”
Tsang says that if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, then BC Hydro will have no option but to remove the equipment.
“If the lease is terminated that gives us 90 days to remove our equipment. We would be digging it out reluctantly, but we would have to if we don’t have legal tenure to stay there.
“Hopefully we will hear from Michael Jefferson that they will licence the land to BC Hydro for the operation of the station. BC Hydro wants to keep it in Spences Bridge. We chose the community as a strategic spot on the highway to meet the needs of EV owners and drivers. If we can’t find a suitable place in the community we will have to remove it and find some other suitable location.”
Jefferson argues that BC Hydro has a cookie cutter, one size fits all model that does not work in rural communities in general and Spences Bridge in particular.
“The charging station could compromise emergency response. It just doesn’t fit. They’re trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. We asked BC Hydro to help us, and they said no. Shame on them for taking advantage of a small community. In doing so they’re pitting people against each other.
“If they don’t meet our demands, they’ll have to take it out. I’d like to see an EV station here, but it can’t be on SBID land under the terms of the 2016 agreement. If BC Hydro wants to make it work, they know what the terms would be.
“They don’t want to do that, so when this contract expires, take it away. It should never have been there in the first place. It’s in the wrong place for the wrong reasons, and belongs somewhere else. When [the Province] took the bridge out they said it was only a four kilometre walk from Highway 8 into town. If that’s the case, then put the station over there, and if people want a cup of coffee they can walk the four kilometres.”