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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Electric car owners’ costs jump

UPDATED: Norwegian politicians have offered lots of electric car incentives over the years but they’re quickly disappearing, even as Norway urgently needs to cut carbon emissions. The latest electric car shock came just last week, when the City of Oslo nearly tripled the cost of recharging at city-owned charging posts, before being forced to shift into reverse.

A sharp rise in the cost of charging electric cars at city-operated posts in Oslo has sparked protests from Norway’s national electric car organization. PHOTO: PHOTO: Norsk elbilforening

So dramatic was the rate hike, from NOK 28 to NOK 49 (USD 2.80-4.90) an hour for “normal” recharging during the day and NOK 13 to NOK 39 at night, that the national el-car association Norsk elbilforening claimed it could no longer recommend that Oslo residents buy an electric car.

“In some cases, it can be twice as expensive to charge an electric car as to fill up with polluting (fossil) fuel,” Christina Bu, secretary general of the el-car organization, told newspaper Finansavisen. She went on to call the rate hike that was imposed literally overnight by the Oslo city government (ironically led by the Greens and Labour parties) as “idiotic.”

The Greens’ Sirin Hellvin Stav, in charge of transportation and environmental issues for the city, bristled at the harsh criticism and all but dismissed it. She chose, as usual, to respond via a written email to newspaper Dagsavisen instead of subjecting herself to a live interview.

“I think it’s stupid that Elbilforeninga (her name for the organization that’s championed the use of electric cars for years) is warning people against buying an electric car,” Stav wrote. She blamed the sudden rate jump on higher electricity costs and claimed the city “has in practice been subsidizing el-car owners.”

That’s true, but the subsidy has also been a political priority for years at both the state and local levels. As an oil- and gas-producing nation politicians have tried hard to cut emissions in other areas, and made a point of ensuring that the costs attached to el-cars were much lower than for gasoline-fueled vehicles. In the early days (before Tesla revolutionized the market and made el-cars bigger and more fashionable), el-car owners in Norway didn’t have to pay any road tolls, ferry fares or sales taxes on them, and could freely use lanes otherwise devoted to public transport and taxis. Parking and charging were also often free.

Sirin Stav of the Greens Party defended the huge increase in el-car charging. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

Not any more. Many el-car benefits have since been scaled down or disappeared, and major tax advantages have disappeared on expensive el-cars in next year’s state budget. Stav also stressed that the city doesn’t receive any state support to compensate for high electricity rates.

“Therefore a majority on the city council decided that charging prices would rise,” she said, and the decision last Wednesday took immediate effect on Thursday. “I understand that this came suddenly for some, but charging prices will be lowered again as quickly as possible when electricity rates decline.”

It was unclear when or even if that will happen as winter takes hold and electricity rates are widely expected to rise further. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was among those issuing several warnings last week, also that it will take a long time before the huge costs of Russia’s war on Ukraine (including energy prices) will decline, even after the war finally ends.

This week, several regretful city politicians tried reversing their votes that gave Stav and the rest of the Labour-led city government a majority. They didn’t entirely succeed, but they did win a compromise by temporarily returning to the old prices until the city can shift to charging the current kWh price for electricity instead of hourly prices fixed in advance. “When we make a mistake, it’s important that we correct it,” Andreas Hall of the Labour Party told newspaper Aftenposten.

Stav, meanwhile, had defended herself and her Greens Party by claiming that el-car ownership still has advantages: “It cuts carbon emissions and air pollution and that’s why we offer support for homeowners’ associations to install their own charging stations, why road tolls for el-cars are cut in half, why we’re trying to set up zero-emission zones in the city and build 350 new charging stations.”

New figures from state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway) confirm that electric cars remain popular nationwide. Novembers sales broke a new record, accounting for fully 81.6 percent of total car sales, according to news bureau NTB. Sales of electric cars also surpassed sales of fossil-fueled cars also among buyers with the lowest incomes, for the first time.

Three government ministers turned out to promote their effort to at least simplify el-car charging this week. From left: Transport Minister Jon-Ivar Nygård, Children and Families Minister Kjersti Toppe and Climate Minister Espen Barth Eide. PHOTO: Samferdselsdepartementet/Kristoffer Rød-Lindberg

The state, meanwhile, did come with some new relief for el-car owners facing a confusing array of different payment procedures when recharging. The Norwegian government is acting in line with the EU in forcing the operators of charging stations to accept payment via debit- or credit cards instead of a having to download a huge array of apps on their mobile phones.

All charging stations installed in Norway after January 1 must offer card payment, and the government will set a deadline for card payment on those already in service. That delighted both Christina Bu of the el-car organization and the state consumer council, which have claimed that el-car owners must be able to pay for charging by card just like fossil-fuel car owners use cards at the gas pump.

Transport Minister Jon-Ivar Nygård of the Labour Party also introduced new demands for clear pricing information at the charging stations, noting that the current situation is “much too complicated.” The EU is expected to demand options for card payment by the end of 2026.

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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