Unsafe chargers being installed across Toronto as electric vehicle boom continues

Electric cars are on the rise but are customers giving them a positive charge? Cynthia Mulligan discusses how some EV customers might need to rewire their thought process and will there be enough to meet the need?

By Cynthia Mulligan and Meredith Bond

With the federal government targeting to have 50 per cent of new cars on the road be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2030, concerns are being raised about a vast increase of unsafe and unlicensed chargers being installed.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadians registered 86,000 new battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2021 — accounting for about one in 20 new registrations, compared with about one in 30 new registrations in 2020 — and sales grew by almost 60 per cent last year.

The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), which is tasked with inspecting any electrical installation in the province, is concerned about the trend of residents installing their own unlicensed, potentially unsafe, EV chargers.

James Fraser, manager of the central region for ESA, said they have seen thousands of EV charger installations over the last few years and anticipate many more.

“The federal government is funding the installation of thousands more. There was an article recently indicating that they’re going to be putting in something in the range of $700 million toward the installation of 50,000 more EV stations across Canada, and of course a large proportion of those would be within high demand areas, like in the city.”

However, a recent inspection blitz found several hundred instances of unsafe chargers being installed. Fraser said the blitz was started after realizing how few permits had been issued compared to the thousands of vehicles being registered.

In just one area of Toronto, they found over 400 unsafe working chargers without a permit in a 10-month period.

“A lot of the work done by what I call handyman and do-it-yourself-ers but they didn’t know what they were doing. That was the problem. And they were leaving what we call life and/or property hazards,” said Fraser.

“It’s unbelievable what people will do. So they’ll spend a lot of money on their car. But when it comes to putting in the charger to charge the car, they seem to want to take shortcuts,” said Fraser.

“We’ve seen people plugging an extension cord into a stove outlet in their kitchen, dangling it through the window and hanging it through the tree in order to charge their car.”

An electric vehicle charger can be seen hanging in a tree as an example of an unsafe electric vehicle charger.

An electric vehicle charger can be seen hanging in a tree as an example of an unsafe electric vehicle charger. Photo credit: Electrical Safety Authority.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me why people would take that risk and do these dangerous things both to their family and their house,” shared Fraser. “People don’t understand the hazard. They think that the importance of charging their battery supersedes the safety of everybody else in the province.”

Fraser added they do lay charges and investigate if they find an EV charger has been installed improperly and without a permit, but he said this is usually aimed at contractors and handymen who are doing the installation.

“Typically homeowners are not usually the issue. It’s usually the contractor or the unlicensed contractors or handyman that we’re finding are where the problem is. That’s where we’re focusing our energy,” explained Fraser. “Some of them are more serious in which we will actually prosecute. And the fines are up to $50,000 or a year in jail. We take things very seriously.”

The ESA has also noticed an uptick in uncertified chargers bought online.

“We’ve noticed that sometimes these EV chargers are available online and they are not certified products. We’ve even seen ones where they went on a YouTube channel and built their own and took parts from various other electronics stores or wherever and put them all together,” Fraser explained.

Fraser said they have a website that allows you to check whether a certified electrical product has approval and “meets a standard of safety.” He encourages people to use it when purchasing chargers.

Toronto planning for electric vehicle boom

Currently, the City of Toronto is working on deploying publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations as they start to see an uptick in these vehicles.

The City’s corporate charging network is expected to have 650 charge ports by the end of 2024, with 1,200 available by 2025 at 100 city locations, both at on-street parking spaces and in Green P parking lots.

But an even more complex plan is expected to be released at the end of the second quarter of 2023, which is expected to guide the “long-term deployment” publicly accessible charging infrastructure between 2023 and 2040.

Charles Hatt, a program manager with the Environment and Energy Division in Toronto, said he can’t predict whether they will be meet the demand for electric charging stations.

“This is a dynamic area. EV uptake in Toronto, across the country, globally, is increasing for sure. People want these vehicles and that’s a good thing,” said Hatt. “The City is committed to a future where the landscape of not just new vehicles but registered vehicles is increasingly dominated by EVs.”

He said the target for Toronto is having 30 per cent of vehicles registered as EVs by 2030.

“That’s very aggressive and the city understands this and is putting capital funding to ensure that charging infrastructure will be there.”

The cost of using the machines will be $2 per hour during the day with a $3 flat rate overnight.

The City and Toronto Parking Authority is expected to pay for the infrastructure from capital budgets but will also seek external funding from Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program.

When asked whether particular neighbourhoods, where driveways and garages are scarce and many people park on the street, would see more public charging stations, Hatt said he couldn’t speak to any particular area.

“The public EV charging infrastructure plan is underway but it’s not yet completed. And that plan is going to guide us as to where the need is where the specific locations are that chargers should go. And what’s the best model for investing and operating those stations.”

Hatt said the city isn’t aware of improperly installed EV chargers at this point but reiterated that it is illegal to do so.

“It is illegal to run a cord across the sidewalk, for instance, to charge your vehicle and the City’s recommendation is that everyone installing a charging station at their home or anywhere should hire a licensed electrician, that electrician should be insured. And this can ensure that the installation happens properly and doesn’t pose a safety risk to that person or any of their neighbours.”

Ontario currently has more than 1,860 public charging station locations with over 5,200 EV charging ports.

The province also plans to spend $91 million to add EV chargers at more highway rest stops, carpool parking lots, Ontario Parks, and in community hubs.

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