Sackville councillors Matt Estabrooks and Sabine Dietz, who are both running for the single Tantramar council seat in Ward 4, came out on opposite sides Tuesday night as council voted to spend $72,567.89 to install an electric vehicle charger in the downtown parking lot beside the Post Office.
“I do appreciate and recognize the positive environmental optics of installing electric vehicle chargers generally, but it’s the struggle with the use of public money to fund this required infrastructure,” Estabrooks said as he explained why he would be voting against a motion to install the charger.
He also voted against the project in June when council first approved it subject to obtaining financial support from NB Power and New Brunswick’s Regional Development Corporation (RDC).
Acting CAO Michael Beal said that since June, costs had risen by more than $18,000 and that the local contractor, Tantramar Electric, had submitted a revised quote to cover the higher cost of materials.
“We all know what inflation has done,” Beal explained “and the contractor of course could not hold his price for the nearly six months it took [to obtain funding].”
He pointed out that even with the increased cost, the project is well below the $108,000 set aside for it in this year’s capital budget.
Subsidizing NB Power
In arguing against the EV charger, Estabrooks suggested that Sackville taxpayers were subsidizing NB Power.
“The end result of this project will be Flo, a division of NB Power, operating and selling electricity to users via a charger that the town of Sackville purchased from them,” he said, adding that the town will also pay the cost of the needed electrical infrastructure.
“Is that a proper use of taxpayers’ money?”
Estabrooks added there are only about 20 electric vehicles in Sackville and if business owners are hoping the fast charger will bring more visitors to town, they should present numbers to demonstrate that the benefits outweigh the costs.
“I believe that alternatives to power our vehicles beyond fossil fuels must be found and supported, but that technology is changing very, very quickly and any specific type of car charger installed this year could be obsolete in a short while,” he said.
Councillor Bruce Phinney said he would also vote against installing an EV charger because of its cost.
“Actually $72,000 to me is ridiculous to take taxpayers’ money for the benefit of approximately 20 people,” he said.
Need for leadership
Councillor Sabine Dietz said she hardly knew where to start in answering Estabrooks and Phinney’s “misconceptions about electric vehicles.”
“I’m a bit appalled,” she said and offered to sit down with them along with the town’s climate change co-ordinator to clarify things.
“It shows to me that Councillor Estabrooks and Councillor Phinney do not quite follow world events around climate change, around where electrification of our transportation system is actually going,” Dietz said, adding that the issue is not a long-term one, but much more immediate given federal policies and strategies.
(The federal government is pushing for half of all passenger cars sold in Canada to be zero emission vehicles by 2030 and is requiring a complete phase-out of fossil fuel burning cars by 2035. Meantime, the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association says Canada needs to be building millions of EV charging stations. For more details, click here.)
“Why should Sackville invest in something that currently is very expensive?” Dietz asked.
“As individuals, as communities and as governments, there have to be leaders and there have to be people out front to make it possible for others to follow suit,” she said.
“This is one of those cases.”
Dietz said that voting against the EV charger makes no sense.
“If council votes this down right now, this would be an absolute embarrassment,” she said, “after showing off that we’re such a climate-ready and climate-aware community in everything that we do.”
The vote to approve the EV charging station was 5-2 with Estabrooks and Phinney voting against it. (Councillor Ken Hicks was absent.)
To listen to the eight minute debate and vote, click on the media player below: