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Petrol Forever
Sharing and waiting. Photo courtesy of Matthew Blair.

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“Petrol Forever!” In New Zealand!

Electric vehicle owners in New Plymouth, New Zealand, are out of luck if they want to charge their cars in the city’s town centre. The New Plymouth District Council voted against the report of its own staff to support the installation of a Tesla Supercharger station in town, with one councillor interjecting “Petrol forever” and fellow councillors laughing. They opted instead for a 12-month review.

New Plymouth (Māori: Ngāmotu) is the major city of the Taranaki region on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. It is named after the English city of Plymouth, Devon, from where the first English settlers to New Plymouth migrated. The New Plymouth District, which includes New Plymouth City and several smaller towns, is the 10th largest district (out of 67) in New Zealand. It has a population of 87,700.

Watch the NPDC strategy and operations meeting where the decision was made, and skip to 1:15 to hear one of the councillors yelling “petrol forever!”

Tesla had been seeking a license that would give it four consecutive parking spaces in the middle of town, with three stations for Tesla drivers and one with a universal charger for other brands.

The report stated “it is recommended that Council approves in principle the licence to occupy with Tesla in order to install a Supercharger Station at one of the locations.”

Molesworth, Powderham, and Gill Streets had been earmarked as possible sites, and the best option of the three would be chosen.

“Taking this approach will allow Tesla to conduct technical and safety feasibility checks at their expense and engage contractors to seek quotes for installation or upgrades to existing network infrastructure on the site options,” it continues.

“The site which is found most technically favourable will then be identified by Tesla to Council.”

The councillors voted against the idea, and instead told council officers to investigate all options for an EV charging station and report back within 12 months.

The decision has been criticised by the Tesla Owners Club of New Zealand, which says New Plymouth has long been a challenging city for EV owners to visit because there’s only a single 50kW fast charger there.

The club says “to see Tesla NZ’s offer to support the thousands of Tesla owners and tens of thousands of EV owners across New Zealand free of charge turned down is a slap in the face.”

It called on the Council to “do the right thing by their ratepayers and by New Zealand as a whole by supporting this initiative and enabling a faster transition to an environmentally sustainable, electric future.”

The report supporting the Supercharger station states a decision rejecting it wouldn’t be consistent with the Council’s own “Sustainable Lifestyle Capital” vision or its city centre strategy.

“In alignment with Council’s actions on mitigation emissions, this proposal offers visitors to the CBD increased charging infrastructure. The provision of charging infrastructure allows visitors to New Plymouth who have elected to drive an electric vehicle to access charging infrastructure even when travelling long distances,” it says.

“This option also affords Council the opportunity to augment the city’s charging infrastructure at no capital cost, however at a cost to Council relevant to the revenue generated by these spaces operationally.”

The Molesworth St. car parking spaces are leased, bringing the council about $5,400 a year, while the Powderham site brings in $15,000, and Gill St., which has a 90% occupancy rate, collects $20,000. This seems to have been the sticking point.

Under the proposal, Tesla would have been making money from the charging stations at the expense of New Plymouth ratepayers, as the council would have been providing the parking spaces for free.

Councillor Stacey Hitchcock, Chair of the NPDC Strategy and Operations Committee, said many of Tesla’s charging stations around the country were on private land.

And with city centre parking at a premium following the closure of the multi-story downtown car park a year ago because of earthquake risk, the council wanted a joined-up strategy for parking and electric vehicles instead of one-off decisions.

“We are definitely keen to keep discussing it with Tesla,” she said. “We want to make sure our ratepayers are not at a loss.”

Petrol Forever

EVs queue at the only fast charger in New Plymouth, NZ. Photo courtesy Matthew Blair.

The Tesla Owners Club of New Zealand believes the decision will have an immediate impact on EV owners who had been planning a trip to the city (including members of the club itself) to attend “Americarna,” an American car culture celebration set to be held in February 2022. The Taranaki District’s iconic celebration of American muscle cars — Classic Cover Americarna — first rumbled its way around New Zealand regional highways in 2007, and the event has continued to grow ever since. It attracts hundreds of showroom-quality classic American cars and thousands of tourists to Taranaki every February and is a big hit with locals. It begins and ends in New Plymouth.

Scott Brown, the US Ambassador to New Zealand in 2019, said he and his wife Gail felt immediately at home when they saw the “Stars and Stripes” flying in Taranaki.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty cool,” he said at the event on Friday.

Brown, who lives in Lower Hutt, braved the wet weather in New Plymouth to visit Americarna for the first time and said it was the biggest car show he had ever seen.

“This decision by the council will certainly put a number of owners off attending this event, or visiting New Plymouth in general until the EV charging facilities within the city are improved.”

Petrol Forever

Gone shopping while waiting for the only high-speed charger. Photo courtesy Matthew Blair.

There have been some scathing reactions on the New Zealand EV owners Facebook page. Many note that there are destination chargers available at hotels, motels, and other holiday venues. However, the difficulties of a group of EV owners “travelling through” brought the issue into sharp focus: New Plymouth, the city with a single fast charger. Just ridiculous. Just pulled up to a blue Tesla finishing charging and a white LEAF waiting. We plugged in after LEAF just to get a 20 minute top-up, not wanting to be any longer while feeling sorry for the white Ioniq, red EV6, red LEAF, and then another white LEAF that all pulled up while I was chatting to the owner of the Ioniq.

It’s disappointing because they chose not to accept the recommendation made by the council staff over a year ago, which would have seen this issue resolved already.

12 months for a report…. Absolutely mental.

Tesla was going to put one “general” charger in for the initial plan, I thought, and they are gradually opening up Superchargers for all vehicles around the world, albeit slowly.

As people have mentioned, the installation of Superchargers would remove all of the Teslas wanting to queue for the single ChargeNet charger, more than doubling the availability of that charger given that Teslas are in high volume.

Petrol Forever

Sharing and waiting. Photo courtesy of Matthew Blair.

In the meantime, EVs are playing musical chairs as each person has their turn in their necessary parking position per plug location on their car. The red LEAF decided to go shopping and the white one left to come back later. All this in a country with such a great reputation for EV adoption. Still some bumps on the road, I guess.

 
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Written By

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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