No plan for the future of Montreal gas stations

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No plan for the future of Montreal gas stations

Montreal has more than 300 service stations, but no level of government has a clear strategy for them, with a view to electrifying transport.

The climate commitment is clear: both Quebec and Ottawa want to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. For its part, Montreal wants to be carbon neutral by 2050. However, no level of government is proposing to concrete blueprint for envisioning the future of a type of building that is as forgettable as it is ubiquitous: gas stations.

According to a portrait drawn in 2016 by the organization Retail Quebec, Montreal had 310 service stations, while there were 2,793 in all of Quebec.

These places could however become a thing of the past. After all, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa are all boasting about the electrification of transportation, a phenomenon that is already well under way.

The Electric Circuit already lists more than 3,500 charging stations […] in service, including 650 fast charging stations throughout Quebec. Of this number, about two-thirds are in the greater Montreal area.

This is one of the most dangerous aspects of the electrification of transport, in a way, for gas stations and the companies that operate them: the end of the model where you have to go to a specific place to replenish reserves. of his vehicle.

What will happen to the hundreds of service stations in Montreal? Is there a plan to prevent these locations from becoming so many abandoned lots?

In Ottawa, an interview request to various government departments resulted in the suggestion to contact associations related to the Canadian petroleum industry.

In Quebec, the situation is similar: a request addressed to the Ministry of Transport was referred to Natural Resources, where it is specified that the ministry has not taken a position on the future of service stations. It should also be noted that the Legault government has announced $50 million for the deployment of 250 fast charging stations, and that there is also a program, ClimatSol-Plus, which aims to give a second life to contaminated land.

The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MERN), however, did not provide further details regarding the gas stations, and declined a request for an interview.< /p>

In Montreal, the Plante administration boasts of its 2020-2030 Climate Plan, which evokes the carbon neutrality of the metropolis by 2050. To achieve this, we propose to tackle road transport, which is the largest source of GHG emissions, around 30% of total emissions.

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How? By transferring 25% of solo car trips to less energy-intensive and polluting modes, such as public transit, while promoting the electrification of transportation. Montreal also wants to facilitate the installation of charging stations, in addition to promoting car sharing, taxis and car pooling, we read in the document.

The administration is working also to review its urban plan, just to move away a little more from the car which still monopolizes part of its territory.

At the other end of the line, Robert Beaudry, responsible for the urban planning file on the executive committee of the City of Montreal, indicates that the Plante administration, with its next urban plan, is integrating mobility and urban planning into a perspective of ecological transition.

We want it to be easier to have eco-districts, zero-emission zones, the city of 15 minutes, where we can find ourselves at work quickly, he adds in an interview.

On the question of service stations, Mr. Beaudry indicates that the City has, during the last mandate, a super interesting tool that allows us to better plan our territory, which is called the right of transition.

This right of transition, specifies the head of town planning on the executive committee, applies in four areas: the acquisition of parks, the acquisition of land for the construction of social housing – and the similar approach to building affordable housing – as well as for urban planning.

“Gas stations, especially those located in strategic areas, are inevitably places where we can apply the right of transition. However, these places are privately owned. From the moment it is sold, we will have the opportunity to acquire it. However, we are not in a logic of expropriation. »

—Robert Beaudry

Mr. Beaudry also mentions a major problem: that of soil contamination. Because service stations, with their gigantic underground tanks, lead to significant contamination of the land where they are located.

We must always ensure, when we buy something, that we we have funds for decontamination, adds Robert Beaudry.

The latter also speaks of an evolution of the market, in the context of which service stations, deprived of gasoline consumers, would instead be equipped with charging stations. A necessary change, says Mr. Beaudry, since it will not be possible to install all the necessary charging stations directly on Montreal sidewalks.

This planning remains to be done.< /p>

For her part, the person in charge of transport within the executive committee, Sophie Mauzerolle, did not respond to several interview requests.

Just across the Rivière des Prairies in Laval, Mayor Stéphane Boyer's administration recently released its new urban planning code, under which it will no longer be permitted to build gas stations anywhere along highways.

This new version of the urban planning by-law should come into force next fall, after being sanctioned by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

In Petaluma, as elsewhere in California, the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt.

Elsewhere in the world, cities have already taken the lead in transforming the urban landscape and the gradually disassociate it from service stations. This is the case of Petaluma, a small town located northwest of San Francisco, California.

This state, it should be remembered, is regularly plagued by huge forest fires that sometimes go so far as to ravage entire cities. Droughts are also commonplace. And global warming in the south of the territory has already reached 1.7 degrees Celsius, according to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is beyond the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Paris Agreement.

It is in this context that a few years ago, city councilor D'Lynda Fischer succeeded in passing a ban on the construction of new gas stations in this municipality of approximately 60,000 inhabitants, which already has 16 locations. where it is possible to refuel.

When I was first elected it was when a large corporation owning the grocer Safeway offered to build a complex of 14 gas pumps on their land, where they already have a branch. It was directly across from a school for disadvantaged students, a sports field, and a daycare. The laws in California changed during the approval process, which meant that we could not claim further environmental review of this proposal, she mentions in an interview.

Basically, we had no wiggle room, and there was no way to ask about the impact of this gas station on adjacent buildings. For this reason, we voted, in majority, in favor of this project. After all, the project met all the requirements at the time, and we might have been sued.

D'Lynda Fischer said she felt angry at the time . This is how it proposed a moratorium on the construction of new service stations on municipal territory. Moratorium which was passed by the city council.

It went on for a while, and since you can't maintain a moratorium forever, we ended up declaring a climate emergency , Ms Fischer added.

Ultimately, and since the city had already set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, the administration of Petaluma effectively prohibited the construction of new gas stations on its territory. You can already refuel provided you drive for no more than five minutes. You don't need [to have more gas stations], argues Ms. Fischer.

The councilwoman also explains that the proposal did not arouse opposition because the supporters of the oil industry, and the oil companies themselves, did not pay attention to us.

We didn't even know that we were the first in the United States to ban the construction of new gas stations; I learned that from a nationwide body trying to ban gas stations across the country, Fischer added.

This ban ensures that existing stations will not be forcibly closed, but they will also not be able to expand. Only biofuels will be authorized in such a context, depending on a permit, or an expansion to install charging stations, this time without the need for a permit.

The Councilwoman also rejects a future where all gas stations in Petaluma are converted to alternative fuels and electric charging.

I don't think EV drivers will want to go to a converted gas station to charge their car's batteries. I believe they will do it at the mall, at Taco Bell, in other restaurants, downtown, at home, or at work… I believe that gas stations will eventually be converted for other uses , she said.

These are locations that are often strategically located, especially near highway access roads. Obviously, it will have to be cleaned up, because the installations pollute the soil by their very nature.

D'Lynda Fischer does not advance on the possibility of the city of Petaluma buying up the service station grounds. These places don't usually close, she says.

We're going to have to look into that. We are currently revising our urban plan to plan for the next 20 years. […] We have to wonder who is responsible for these lands, and especially who is responsible for their decontamination.

Back home, Carol Montreuil, vice-president for the Eastern Canada of the Canadian Fuels Association, rejects the idea of ​​a sudden end to the use of gasoline to power the millions of vehicles on our roads.

Yes, we work with governments that put regulations in place [in transportation], or talk about aspirations to do so, but what we forget is that almost nothing affects vehicles. heavy, that is to say a significant part of [gasoline] consumption, he mentions in an interview.

“What is targeted by 2030, 2035, depending on the province, is about half [of emissions]; many people make the adjustment too quickly that from that date, there will be no more gasoline on the markets. While if all goes well, for now, it's [a decrease] of 50% [in consumption].

—Carol Montreuil

Added to that, says Montreuil, is the fact that drivers who own a gas-powered car are likely to keep their cars for several more years, beyond the presumed end-of-sale date of new gas-powered vehicles. Which means, of course, that we will have to keep filling the tank to move, which means keeping gas stations in operation.

We, in our analyses, we let's see the end of our products, in gas stations, around 2050, rather than around 2030, adds Mr. Montreuil. The latter also points out that Canadian oil companies have already begun to install charging stations on the grounds of their service stations.

This is particularly the case of Petro-Canada, a subsidiary of Suncor, which has a cross-Canada network of fast charging stations for electric vehicles.

According to the website of company, it is possible to drive from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia using these charging sites located within 250 kilometers of each other.

A review of the station map, available online, however, reveals that these charging sites are usually located outside major cities, or in their outlying neighborhoods. In the Montreal area, for example, the closest site is between Boisbriand and Sainte-Thérèse, on the north shore.

Suncor did not respond to several requests for interview.

The future, Mr. Montreuil also sees in new types of fuels with low polluting emissions.

For example, we think of a major breakthrough, to come, of hydrogen […] around 2040, 2045, he mentions.

The future of liquid fuels is set to evolve, mainly with the hydrogen sector and that of biofuels. And that, we think, will give a second life to many service stations in operation today.

The issue of cash inflows, for retailers, but also for governments, is at the heart of discussions on the future of service stations. Because if it is true that it costs less to recharge a battery than to refuel it, governments could lose out, and have to fall back on another form of taxation which would cancel out part of the advantage electric vehicles, judge Carol Montreuil.

Across the country, governments take in more than $20 billion each year in [gasoline] tax revenue. So the question arises: from the moment that there is less and less gasoline, and since these amounts are devoted to the maintenance of the [road] network and infrastructure, a network that is also used by electric vehicles, at some point, how are we going to [find this money]?, he wonders.

In Quebec, this amount reached 2.8 billion dollars in 2019.

The Vice President for Eastern Canada of the Canadian Fuels Association also rejects the idea that heavy trucks, on which the transportation industry in North America relies, will be replaced by electric models.

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The problem with heavy trucks and long distances is that the objective is to transport goods, not to transport batteries. And so the [electric] trucks just haul a bunch of pounds of batteries and become extremely inefficient. This is the challenge, at the moment, says Carol Montreuil, referring to a much longer horizon for the replacement of gasoline engines in trucks intended for transport.

For now, he says, the future in this field is in alternative fuels, biofuels and hydrogen. At the moment, there are no easy solutions, unless there is an incredible breakthrough in 5 or 10 years.

Simply replacing gasoline vehicles with electric ones won't fix the problem of congestion, says Normand Mousseau.

Normand Mousseau, professor of physics and scientific director of the Trottier Energy Institute at Polytechnique Montréal, calls for a complete change paradigm in transportation.

If we continue to manage by saying that we have to buy electric cars and everything is settled, we will end up with a car fleet that continues to grow, he says on the phone.

In Quebec, the automobile fleet has been growing by 100,000 vehicles per year for a long time; does that mean that we will find ourselves, in 2035, with 1.4 million more vehicles on the roads of the province? Traffic jams will be worse, we will have competitions, especially in winter, to find out how to charge electric cars in city centers.

On the question of the future of stations- service, Mr. Mousseau likes to imagine a breakthrough in the efficiency of electric charging systems, which would allow these locations to no longer offer a full tank of gas, but rather to regain 80% of their autonomy in 5 minutes.

Gas stations, in an urban context, have access to a population pool that is not only made up of motorists. Could these companies be transformed to offer other local services?, asks the researcher.

For Normand Mousseau, simply replacing a vehicle with an [other] vehicle will [moreover] not make the transition to a green economy.

“We are not solving any problem, since we will end up with traffic problems. We cannot just hope that people will take more bikes or buses; you have to deploy resources to get people to do it. »

— Normand Mousseau

Still according to the researcher, it is impossible to imagine a city that is the same, in 15 years, with 20% more cars on the road in the streets, but which are electric.

Are we at the point where we have to force city dwellers to abandon their vehicles and turn to public transport, just to reduce the air pollution, but also to relieve the pressure on transport infrastructure?

Normand Mousseau does not go that far: I think that we must first develop the supply of transport, which is greatly insufficient. If we increase it, with reserved lanes, for example, that takes lanes away from cars. These are ways to facilitate organized, or public, transportation by discouraging individual transportation.

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