New Hawaii Law Could Help Boost EV Charging Access

The newly signed law establishes the Electric Vehicle Charging Station Incentive Program, which provides grants to add new charging infrastructure and upgrade existing stations.

(TNS) — Electric vehicle (EV) owners in Hawaii could soon see more publicly available stations to charge their vehicles thanks to a new law that just went into effect.

Act 142, signed by Gov. David Ige at the end of the 2019 legislative session and made effective on Jan. 1, established a rebate program for applicants looking to install new or upgrade existing EV charging stations.

Hawaii Energy, which is contracted by the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), will administer the program.

“There are not enough public electric vehicle charging systems readily available for Hawaii drivers to encourage higher use of EVs,” said Brian Kealoha, executive director of Hawaii Energy, in a news release. “Having more charging stations conveniently available for drivers is one way to help promote wider adoption of EV usage while also helping the state reduce carbon emissions and achieve its clean energy goal.”

The state-funded Electric Vehicle Charging Station Incentive Program will provide larger rebates for new installations, but sizable ones are available for upgrades to existing charging stations.

Applicants can receive $4,500 for the installation of a new charging station with an output of at least 3 kilowatts, and $3,000 for upgrading an existing one.

A much larger rebate is available for applicants who install or upgrade to charging stations with an output of at least 40 kilowatts. New installations are worth $35,000, while upgrades are worth $28,000.

The faster charger can fill an EV’s battery about 80% in under 30 minutes, although not all EVs are equipped to use them, according to the Hawaii State Energy Office (HSEO). The PUC said the slower chargers could take hours to fill up an EV.

Rep. Nicole Lowen (D, Holualoa-Kailua-Kona-Honokohau-Kalaoa) said the program could help lower income residents transition from vehicles with a combustion engine to EVs.

“It’s a big first step in getting a transition in light-duty vehicles that regular residents are using,” Lowen said. “Incentivizing more accessible charging stations is helping create an incentive to allow renters and low-income and moderate­-income individuals and people who live in condos to be able to participate.”

Lowen said owning an EV is more feasible for those who have a charging station at home. But it can be more challenging for renters.

Jay Griffin, chairman of the PUC, said in a written statement, “This program will help increase EV charging options for consumers, including residents living in apartment buildings and employees who can charge their vehicles during the work day.”

The rebate program prioritizes charging stations that will be publicly accessible.

As of December, there were just over 9,400 passenger EVs in Hawaii, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. The U.S. Department of Energy reported 279 public EV stations with 622 total outlets in Hawaii.

A major hurdle for Hawaii as it looks to generate 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2045 is figuring out how to wean its transportation sector from non-renewable sources of energy.

“Our transportation sector is a much larger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than the power generation sector, and we’re not just talking about ground transportation,” Lowen said.

The HSEO reported that in 2017, more than 60% of the petroleum Hawaii used was for transportation: 30% for air, 28% for ground and 4% for marine.

Less than 25% went toward electric power.

Electricity production appears to be further along the path to being completely renewable than transportation is. Hawaiian Electric, the electric utility on Oahu, Hawaii island and Maui County, reported that 27% of the energy produced in those counties in 2018 came from renewable sources.

The number of passenger EVs in Hawaii, on the other hand, represents about 1% of the nearly 1.1 million passenger vehicles in the state.

However, the growth of EVs is promising, as the number of EVs grew over fourfold since 2014, when there were just over 2,000 in Hawaii, according to HSEO.

There are also a variety of incentives for EV owners, including free parking at government parking lots and metered stalls, exclusive stalls in large parking lots and exemptions from High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane restrictions.

Lowen also noted the importance of Act 144, which passed the state Legislature as House Bill 401 HD1 SD2 CD1. It aims to make Hawaii’s transportation sector cleaner by allowing public agencies to procure EV fleets via agreements with private companies.

Incorporating renewable energy in transportation could be an important issue tackled during this year’s legislative session.

“This will definitely be a topic of conversation again at the Legislature, because there’s a lot more that we need to do going forward,” Lowen said.

©2020 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.