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Do heat pumps, electric vehicles make sense in northern B.C.?

B.C. Liberals question latest tax breaks for going electric
A heat pump installed at a Victoria supportive housing facility, converted from a seniors home. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press Media)

The NDP government’s latest incentive for replacing natural gas heat and gasoline vehicles with electric alternatives isn’t practical outside the mild climate of the southwest, B.C. Liberals say.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s Feb. 22 budget provided additional incentives for electric vehicles and heat pumps, removing the seven-per-cent provincial sales tax from their sales. That’s on top of rebates already offered through B.C. Hydro and the province’s CleanBC program.

B.C. Liberal leader Kevin Falcon criticized the budget for a lack of affordability measures for the rising cost of housing and fuel, while giving more tax breaks for going electric.

“It’s very much an urban government, entirely focused on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland,” Falcon said Feb. 24. “But there’s a big province beyond Hope, and that big province often has very, very cold temperatures. And that means that electric vehicles are going to be, in most cases, not suitable for most of the north. And it also means heat pumps aren’t going to provide the same value proposition that they may in the Lower Mainland.”

The CleanBC program offers a $3,000 rebate for switching heating to an electric heat pump, and B.C. Hydro has matched that with its own $3,000 incentive, plus available federal clean energy rebates. In a promotion page called “heat pump mythbusters,” it notes that installing a heat pump can cost up to $14,000, but with rebates and efficiencies it can save money on alternatives, including conventional electric heat.

In debate on the budget this week, B.C. Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar noted that even the most expensive, cold-rated heat pumps don’t work in temperatures of -25 or colder. Homeowners dealing with temperatures below that would need a natural gas furnace as backup to get through the winter, and the operating cost for a heat pump is $75 to $100 a month, he said.

“There’s not a discernible operational savings, from your natural gas appliance in your home,” Milobar said.

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Energy Minister Bruce Ralston noted in the budget debate Thursday that the government is investing heavily in low-carbon transition, including $79 million more to continue expanding B.C.’s electric vehicle charging network, incentives to retrofit buildings and other efforts to stem B.C.’s still-rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“Budget 2022 builds on the $2.3 billion allocated to date for CleanBC and provides more than a billion dollars in new funding to continue existing CleanBC measures and implement new initiatives identified in the road map,” Ralston told the legislature Feb. 24. “It includes money for new operating funding to support clean transportation, energy efficient buildings and to support industry and communities to manage the transition to a low-carbon economy. This will mean substantial new investments in electric vehicles, clean tech and innovation, clean industry, local government climate action and clean buildings and retrofits.”


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