Hydro-Québec wants to offer per-kWh pricing, as well as Tesla plugs alongside CCS and Chademo connectors at its hundreds of DCFC stations. So what’s holding them back? Blame Canada (and Tesla, respectively).

Hydro-Québec is a massive vertically integrated power generation, transmission, and distribution company owned by the people of Quebec. The company has 36.8GW of hydro generation capacity, supplies 100% of Quebec’s needs and exports 8.2GW to New Brunswick, New England, New York, and Ontario. They’re lining up more transmission projects to increase exports to the USA.

They also own and operate an electric vehicle charging network with more than 2,350 charging stations, including 293 direct current fast-charge (DCFC) stations under the name “Circuit électrique“.

Electrek spoke with France Lampron, Hydro-Quebec’s director of Transportation Electrification, to discuss their growth plans.

A truly ‘public’ EV charging network, with prices governed by law

The term ‘public’ EV charging often gets thrown around for anything that’s not Tesla’s Supercharger network. But the big networks like Electrify America/Canada, EVgo, IONITY, Chargepoint, and Greenlots are privately owned, mostly by legacy carmakers and fossil fuel companies.

Last month, European drivers were shocked when IONITY, which had benefited largely from European public funds, raised its prices 500%. These charging networks have also resisted offering pricing-per-kWh, despite being authorized to do so in the majority of states. California got tired of waiting, banning the sale of electricity by time, which will begin to take effect next year.

Instead of giving taxpayer money to companies who seek to slow EV adoption, Quebec chose instead to own and operate its own infrastructure. The Assemblée nationale du Québec passed a law that directed its publicly owned utility to build out 1,600 DCFC stations by 2028. The law also controls pricing, which adjusts January 1 each year and is indexed to the consumer price index:

$11.78 CDN per hour at 50kW = roughly $0.23 CDN per kWh, or $0.17 USD, for 100% clean, renewable hydro-electricity delivered at 50kW into your car.

But why does Electric Circuit still bill by hour?

Lampron tells Electrek “kilowatt-hour pricing is what we want, because that’s the most equitable.” Hydro-Quebec has been stymied though because there is still no direct-current electricity meter on the market authorized by Measurement Canada, a federal agency. While Hydro-Quebec is a publicly-owned company, it’s still bound by Canadian federal law.

The ‘no meters’ claim is also why California’s ban on per-minute billing won’t apply to new DCFC stations until 2023. Asked if this was really a problem, California’s Division of Measurement Standards told Electrek: “No definitive data was presented that supported the claim of equipment not being able to accurately meter DC energy. Conversely, no commercially available equipment manufacturer came forward with a DC metering device claiming that it could measure within the adopted tolerances.”

Lampron tells Electrek that the staff at Measurement Canada have been very sympathetic. Hopefully, if no manufacturer comes forward soon, the federal regulation can be amended.

Adding 100kW and 25kW DCFC stations

In addition to 100kW stations, Lampron tells Electrek that Hydro Quebec will begin adding 25kW stations at places where people typically stay about an hour and a half.

Would like to add Tesla connectors to its DCFC stations, but was rejected by Tesla

Hydro-Quebec’s current stations offer both CCS and Chademo. Electrek was surprised to learn that they had already tried to offer Tesla plugs as well. Lampron tells Electrek “A couple years ago we asked Tesla, but they did not agree.”

At that time, the only DCFC stations with Tesla plugs were Tesla’s own iconic Supercharger stalls. However late last year, EVgo announced that it had integrated Tesla connectors into its own DCFC stations in San Francisco, and planned to do so nationally this year. Lampron says Hydro-Quebec remains keen to add Tesla connectors to its stations.

Electrek’s Take

A lot is going on here. First, from a purely functional perspective, our own experiences with Hydro Quebec’s “Electric Circuit” network have been very good, certainly much better than our experiences with privately-owned CCS/Chademo fast charging networks. Knowing that you’re not being ripped off really enhances the user experience as well. Non-residents of Quebec pay the same rate as residents, making Quebec an attractive destination for EV touring.

Second, what’s going on with this “no capable DC meters” thing? This doesn’t sit right.

Third, we really like the idea of 25kW stations at places where people linger, like movie theaters. It’s easier on your battery and the grid.

Fourth, while we suspect that Tesla’s earlier rejection of cooperation was mostly due to lack of staff bandwidth during its production hell, we sincerely hope Tesla will now follow up with Hydro-Quebec and gets its plugs on those DCFCs.

Some people are understandably upset that we have three competing DCFC plugs and standards, and may oppose adding Tesla connectors. Some say CCS Combo should just be the standard, which is what the European Union did.

Personally, I flipped from being sympathetic to hostile to that idea. Chademo was developed primarily by Nissan (an EV leader under Carlos Ghosn) and Tokyo Electric Power Company. They were committed to getting it right after Fukushima. It’s got the deepest build-out, and is the only standard to support bi-directional charging, so you can power your house from your EV in a blackout. China is working to make the next version of Chademo its national standard, and this year the group is preparing for a 900kW charging protocol.

Conversely, CCS Combo was sponsored by a whos-who of EV laggards (the dieselgate squad), even as they were continuing to cheat emissions regulations. Anecdotally, CCS Combo seems to be the least reliable standard. (Unless you’re using Electrify America’s stations; they can’t (won’t?) even keep the sole Chademo port operating at their flagship-headquarters station in Reston, Virginia). After the CCS gang (legacy OEMs) made their 500% price increase move with IONITY, they lost me. This is the gang that won’t shoot straight.

Finally, we hope that politicians and policy leaders in other jurisdictions look to Quebec as an example. Critical infrastructure should be publicly owned. If the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was going to be built in the 21st Century, it would still have been built with public money, but it’d belong to gas and car companies, who’d be pitching us “Driving as a Service (‘DaaS’) subscription contracts and ‘interstate roaming plans’.

Instead of handing these companies and their investors public money, we should follow Quebec’s lead. This is all the more important in cities, where curbside charging involves public rights-of-way and will likely be the final barrier to EV adoption.

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