News / Transport

Free ride comes to an end for EV owners

New electric vehicle fee to boost charging infrastructure

“Rev head turned EV head” Michael Morrell, who was visiting from Sydney, using the fast charger in Edward Street.

Mark Phillips

ELECTRIC vehicle owners will soon have to pay a fee to use some public battery charging stations in Brunswick as Merri-bek Council grapples with how to deal with an anticipated boom in EV use.

The council will introduce a fee of 25c per kWh for the 50 kW fast charging station at the Edward Street car park this financial year.

A slower charging station at the David Street car park behind the Brunswick Mechanics Institute will remain free for now, as will the slower charger at Edward Street. But as more fast chargers are rolled out, these will also come with a fee.

The new fee is one of a range of options being examined by the council to boost infrastructure for the growing number of EV users in the city.

Also under investigation is the potential to turn public power poles into on-street charging stations for residents who do not have their own driveway or garage.

The 25c per kWh fee to be charged by Merri-bek Council is at the lower end of the scale for charging stations, which on average cost 40c per kWh across Melbourne.

It would mean that charging a typical EV battery from 0% to 100% would cost about $12.50. Until now, all of the council’s network of EV chargers have been free to use.

All revenue raised from the fee will be re-invested in maintenance of the existing chargers and expanding the network by installing new chargers.

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Merri-bek has been at the forefront of the EV revolution at a local government level. It owns 27 EVs, the largest fleet of any council in Victoria, and beginning in 2012 now provides 16 chargers to the public, which all use renewable energy generated by a wind farm in western Victoria.

Four of these are fast 50 kW chargers, while the others vary from 7 kW to 25 kW. In total, the council’s charging network provides more than 1700 charging sessions a month and costs it about $75,000 a year to maintain and to purchase energy.

The Edward Street station can charge up to four EVs at a time, two of them using the ultra-fast 50 kW charger, while David Street has two 22 kW chargers. The fast chargers are in high demand, accounting for 55% of all charging sessions in Merri-bek over the past 12 months, but they also have reliability issues.

In addition to the council chargers, EV owners can also charge their cars at East Brunswick Village in Nicholson Street at a cost of 30c per kWh.

This year, two more public EV chargers will be commissioned by the council at Fleming Park in Brunswick East.

Electric vehicle use is booming across Australia as drivers opt for low-emissions vehicles. In 2022, EVs accounted for just 3.8% of new vehicle sales in Australia, but they are rapidly increasing and Tesla’s Model 3 was the third highest-selling car in the nation in January this year.

Council modelling predicts that Merri-bek will require 70 to 150 additional fast chargers between now and 2030, an investment of up to $14 million, both to meet demand and to comply with its zero emissions targets.

This will require significant extra council investment or the attraction of private sector capital.

The continuation of free fast chargers is acting as a disincentive for private sector investment to more rapidly expand the EV charging network within Merri-bek, according to a report to the June 20 council meeting by its Director of Place and Environment, Joseph Tabacco.

“There is a pressing need to expand the charging infrastructure in Merri-bek, to support those without access to on-street charging … to support the growing number of electric vehicles, a broader shift to alternative transport modes and to meet council’s community carbon targets,” the report said.

It noted that while the free chargers had helped encourage uptake of EV usage and drawn economic activity to the city, only about one-third of EVs using the council chargers are registered in Merri-bek.

Jeanette Acland says she would be prepared to pay a fee to charge her EV in Brunswick.

South Ward Councillor Mark Riley said Merri-bek had the largest number of chargers of any municipality in Victoria but faced a conundrum as EV usage grew because the lack of off-street parking in Brunswick in particular left EV owners relying on publicly available chargers.

He said a small fee for fast chargers would act as a lever to encourage private operators to set up in Brunswick. Set at 25c per kWh, it would generate an additional $70,000 that could be used to maintain and replace existing chargers and install new chargers.

“We’ve been doing this for free for many years in Merri-bek and we’re now starting to contemplate to actually utilise that income and revenue from that charging we provide to reinvest in the maintenance of our public chargers and then also to give some incentive to the private market to actually come in and do their side of the job which at the moment they’re not really stepping up for,” he said.

A small sample of EV users interviewed by Brunswick Voice at the Edward Street charging station were broadly supportive of a fee.

“I don’t have any objection to payment,” said Jeanette Acland of Carlton North, who has no off-street parking at home and regularly charges her Chinese-made BYD electric van at Edward Street.

“I think it’s completely logical that they have to pay for the infrastructure and the more they charge, they can put more of them in place. I’ve paid 40c per kWh and that costs about $12.50 from virtually empty to completely full and that’s not unreasonable.”

She said the public charging stations had the added convenience of being close to Sydney Road, so she could do shopping while her car was charging.

Michael Morrell, a self-described “rev head turned EV head” who was visiting from Sydney, also had no objections to paying to charge his Tesla Model 3, pointing out it would still be cheaper to run than paying for petrol.

Read more:

Electric vehicle use soars in Brunswick

Merri-bek council is also considering leasing parking bays to private operators who would be able to set a fee for the chargers they installed, and establishing a permit scheme for on-street charging.

The latter option would allow residents without access to off-street parking to legally run a power cable from their house to charge their vehicle in their own street. An estimated 5000 homes south of Moreland Road do not have access to off-street parking. But there may be safety risks and other problems associated with this solution.

The council is also in discussions with private electricity distributors Citipower and Jemena about converting some power poles into on-street charging stations. Pole-mounted chargers are becoming common in London and some other European cities and are being trialed in Sydney at a price of 50c per kWh.

The City of Port Phillip, which includes the suburbs of St Kilda and South Melbourne, is also trialling dedicated kerbside chargers, but these are a more expensive option.

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