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Amid EV boom, B.C. urban gas prices to climb past $2/litre

Forecast suggests B.C. residents should brace for high gas prices this week with some areas around Vancouver and Victoria expected to climb past $2 per litre.
Gas prices are forecast to climb above $2 per litre in Metro Vancouver by Tuesday, May 30, 2023.

Gas prices in some communities across British Columbia are forecast to spike above $2 per litre this week, positioning them as the most expensive places to fill up in Canada.

Regular gasoline is expected to climb to 200.9 cents in the Vancouver region Tuesday, May 30, only slightly higher than predictions for Victoria (195.9), according to a price forecast from the fuel prediction service Gas Wizard.

Kelowna and Kamloops, meanwhile, are expected to see lower prices at the pump, with the cost per litre of regular gasoline expected to hover at roughly $1.75 Tuesday.

“These today are the highest prices that you've seen since Nov. 12, 2022,” said Gas Wizard's Dan McTeague.

For Metro Vancouver and Victoria, about half of the growing cost of gas will come from an increase in the Pacific Northwest oil spot market. The other half comes from regional taxes that support transit maintenance and expansion, among other public goods.

Gas stations elsewhere in the province — as well as across the rest of Western Canada and the U.S. — take pricing signals from the Chicago spot market, which tends to list cheaper gasoline prices.

“There are no issues as far as refinery closures,” said McTeague of the latest gasoline price spike. “And there's no maintenance scheduled… so none of those factors which often pop up at this time of year are contributing.

“That we get here to $2.00 a litre means that we could start to see the new normal, at least for the balance of summer and into fall, in the $2.15 to $2.20 range.”

McTeague said that over the next week, decisions made around the world — including a potential oil production cut from Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries — could shake markets and lead to further fuel price increases.

According to the fuel insights company Gas Buddy, average gasoline prices in B.C. remain more than $0.27 lower than this time last year, when fuel markets faced considerable uncertainty in the wake of Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine.

EV vehicle ownership reaching new highs in B.C.

The latest rise in gasoline prices comes as B.C. continues to lead new electric vehicle sales across North America.

In the first three months of 2023, almost 16 per cent of new vehicles sales were electric vehicles — a figure that climbed to about 18 per cent if you include plug-in hybrids, according to a recent report from S&P Global.

More than four per cent of vehicles registered in B.C. are now electric. The province leads all other Canadian jurisdictions in its share of EVs, with more than a quarter of the zero-emission light vehicles in the country.

At the national level, however, EV sales in the first quarter of 2023 were down slightly compared to the end of 2022. An analysis from S&P Global found Tesla registrations — which previously accounted for up to 50 per cent of sales — dropped by 30 per cent in the first three months of 2023, representing a 10 per cent loss of market share in Canada.

The analysis said pressures from inflation are likely driving a temporary decline and signal “challenges ahead.” Long-term, however, S&P Global says the recent slump is “a bump in the road” and that the market share of EVs is on track to reach federal targets of 100 per cent zero-emissions light-duty vehicle sales by 2035.

Werner Antweiler, a professor and energy expert at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, says every few months, B.C. often beats its own EV sales record.

“For the first time this last quarter, the overall share of EVs and plug-in hybrids have crossed four per cent for the first time,” he said.

On average, Antweiler said it now costs four times more to drive a gasoline-powered car than an electric vehicle.

Affluent municipalities still leading EV adoption

Despite the cost savings of driving an EV over the life of the vehicle, the cars still tend to cost more compared to an equivalent internal-combustion engine model.

Consumer trends within B.C. show registrations remain the highest in affluent neighbourhoods like West Vancouver and some of the municipalities around Greater Victoria. 

Antweiler says there’s a constellation of factors that make a person decide to buy an EV, but the biggest deciding factor is convenience. If you have a parking space where you can plug in your car at home, you’re more likely to choose an EV, he said.

“Uptick is more muted in high-density multi-unit residential buildings,” says Antweiler. “It’s a question of convenience.”

Once a status symbol to show off wealth, more and more mid-level EVs are coming onto the market, said the energy expert. In 2024, 41 new battery electric vehicles are scheduled to be launched on the Canadian market. Those models include more affordable options, but also light-duty pickup trucks, as well as four Jeep models, an electric Hummer, GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado, according to S&P Global.

As the price of electric vehicles is already coming down, Antweiler says governments need to continue redirecting rebates away from helping people purchase electric cars and toward closing the gap in charging infrastructure.

“The infrastructure is still the missing piece. That’s where subsidies should go,” he said.

EV charging not likely to see price fluctuations like gas

B.C. residents have several advantages when it comes to the shift toward electric vehicles — hydro power ensures a low-carbon base supply of electricity that is both relatively cheap and sustainable in a changing climate.

“We have very little variation during the day or during the seasons,” said Antweiler.

There are still big challenges to overcome. New EVs are expected to put pressure on B.C.'s electric grid, especially during peak hours. To meet that demand, some say the province needs to ramp up the construction of wind and solar infrastructure, which is cheaper and takes less time to build than hydro. Almost all sides agree residents and BC Hydro can balance out electricity demand during winter afternoon hours when demand is often greatest.

To that end, the BC Utilities Commission is currently reviewing an application from BC Hydro to charge customers less during off-peak hours, when fewer people are putting demand on the grid.

If approved, BC Hydro would offer a five cents per kilowatt hour savings for anyone using electricity between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and an extra fee of five cents per kilowatt hour between 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. The pricing regime would allow an EV owner to charge their vehicle overnight for less all year long. 

“People need to think long-term,” Antweiler said.

“The gap between gasoline and electricity prices will only get bigger.”