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April 15, 2019

Hawaii legislators pushing for electric vehicle chargers

Categories: Energy | Featured | Transportation

Published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on April 15, 2019

Greg Gaug makes a 28-mile round-trip commute from the Windward side to town with two young children in tow in his 2016 Nissan Leaf.

His family usually plugs the shared electric vehicle into a regular socket because they don’t have a dedicated EV charger, but they are fortunate because he and his wife have charging stations at their workplaces. Gaug, vice president of investments for the Ulupono Initiative, an investment firm that advocates for renewable energy, works at the First Hawaiian Center; his wife works at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

Many electric vehicle owners don’t have that option and can’t charge up at home because they rent or live in a condo complex. To address this, Ulupono launched a limited-time rebate pilot program earlier this year in partnership with Hawaii Energy to encourage developers to install EV chargers.

Lawmakers too are pushing for more EV charging stations. An undersupply of charging stations is considered the largest barrier to widespread EV adoption. Bills that mandate that EV charging capacity be part of new construction projects or provide developers with incentives for installing more charging stations are under consideration at the Legislature.

Another bill seeks to impose on EV owners an annual surcharge that would go to the state highway fund.

The bills are making their way toward the final hurdles at the state Legislature, where details have yet to be ironed out.

Senate Bill 1000 would prohibit counties from issuing building permits after 2020 for multifamily or commercial buildings with 10 to 20 stalls unless a certain percentage are EV charger- ready, subject to superseding county ordinances.

In the latest amended version of the bill, which is headed to conference committee, the actual percentage — originally set at 20% — has yet to be determined.

The availability of charging stations is key to encouraging more Hawaii residents to purchase electric vehicles, but the majority of parking facilities are not being built to accommodate them, said state Sen. Glenn Wakai, who introduced SB 1000.

“I’m fully behind the state’s aspiration for 100 percent clean energy by 2045, but the glaring puka in that aspiration is the transportation side,” Wakai told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “It only makes sense we start addressing and look at this glaring puka.”

The bill goes after the big players, such as the developers of condos and commercial buildings, and requires that they have sufficient wires, conduits, electrical panel service capacity and other equipment needed to connect to an EV charger, he said.

Having the proper infrastructure from the beginning, even at a higher upfront cost, is going to be more cost-effective in the long run, he said.

“It makes sense at this point to put in this mandate for future commercial and multifamily dwellings,” he said.

The bill is supported by Ulupono, the Blue Planet Foundation and the Hawaiian Electric Cos. but opposed by trade groups including the Building Industry Association of Hawaii and Retail Merchants of Hawaii.

Melissa Miyashiro, chief of staff at Blue Planet Foundation, said multifamily dwellings and work buildings are the two places where EV drivers would like to see more charging stations, and other municipalities have passed similar legislation.

BIA had issues with the logistics of providing EV charger-ready stalls for a multifamily development, saying that many are assigned and that the requirement would be challenging in a paved parking lot.

The Retail Merchants of Hawaii said it was strongly opposed to the bill because of the financial burden it could put on those already going through a long permitting process.

“We also do not agree on mandating the number of EV-ready stalls that businesses must have,” said RMH president Tina Yamaki. “We would like to see an exemption for commercial buildings and have EV owners charge their cars at home like they would their cellphones.”

Many members now see EV drivers plugging into retailer charging stations so they can avoid increasing their electrical bill at home, she said in testimony. This takes stalls away from other customers.

“We are finding many residents are feeling entitled to be able to charge their EVs when the malls and centers are closed — in the middle of the night or early morning hours — hours before the mall and centers opens for business,” said Yamaki. “Or these residents leave their cars charging when the mall/centers are open and are not shopping in the stores while their batteries are being recharged.”

Although the numbers are growing, EVs still make up only 0.8% of the 1 million registered passenger vehicles in the state.

In March there were 8,951 passenger EVs in Hawaii, according to the State Energy Office, up 29% from the same month last year, and 266 more, or 3.1% higher, than in February.

The numbers are expected to grow as more EVs come into the market. At the recent First Hawaiian International Auto Show in March, several EVs were available for test drives, including the Leaf, the Chevy Bolt, the Jaguar I-Pace and plug-in hybrids such as the Prius Prime, the Mercedes- Benz GLC 350e and the Honda Clarity.

There are currently about 260 publicly accessible charging stations, and about 515 outlets statewide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Paul Gauci, 40, a wealth adviser at First Hawaiian Bank, drives a 2018 Nissan Leaf from Kapolei to downtown Honolulu.

His main motivation for getting an EV was to use the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane on the H-1 freeway, but free parking and a charging station at the municipal parking garage in Chinatown turned out to be great perks, too.

Some downsides are the extra planning needed for longer trips.

“To be fully honest, my initial motivation was for the benefits, but it’s nice to drive it and to have that kind of environmental benefit as well,” he said.

Delphine Homerowski, 25, a sustainable development planner who lives in Kailua, got a 2015 Nissan Leaf two years ago. It was a conscious decision to lower her overall carbon footprint, but free parking at municipal garages and savings on gas are great, as well, she said.

As a renter, however, she relies on public charging stations and finds herself constantly planning where to charge and what to do while the car is charging, particularly for longer trips. She said she has had a few close calls where she barely had enough power to make it home.

She would like to see more EV chargers around the island, particularly in pockets like Haleiwa that have none.

“There are also more EVs on the road, and the overall number of chargers on islands is not nearly enough,” she said in an email. “I’ve had days where I had to drive around Kailua for hours, waiting for an available charger. We need more chargers, and more of them in locations that don’t have any.”

Legislation encouraging the installation of more EV chargers would be great, she said, but so would better enforcement of laws that already exist, which include requiring parking lots with more than 100 stalls to have at least one EV charger.

Overall, people are seeking convenience, said Gaug.

Ulupono recently published “The Extra Mile,” which concludes that the limited charging infrastructure here is hampering progress toward the state’s renewable-energy goals.

Demand for EV chargers is outpacing supply, Ulupono’s surveys found, and many EV drivers are dissatisfied with the existing charging network in the isles. However, 68% are willing to pay a charger usage fee, and 92% would charge at work, if possible. Also, 56% of Hawaii visitors would rent an EV if available.

“We’re excited (at) where the state is going,” said Gaug. “We feel EVs provide great benefits across health, the environment, energy and economy, so we’re excited to get further state support to move the needle.”

LEGISLATIVE BILLS AFFECTING EV DRIVERS

>> SB 1000: Prohibits issuing building permits after 2020 for all new residential multifamily buildings with 10 stalls and commercial buildings with 20 stalls, unless a certain percentage are EV charger-ready, subject to superseding county ordinances.

>> HB 1585: Requires the state Public Utilities Commission to provide rebates to those who install a new EV charging system or upgrade one through a newly appropriated EV charging system rebate program special fund.

>> SB 409: Establishes an annual vehicle registration surcharge fee for EVs and alternative-fuel vehicles to be deposited into the state highway fund.

BY THE NUMBERS

>> 8,951 passenger EVs in Hawaii (as of March)

>> 262 charging stations statewide

>> 513 charging outlets

>> 92% of EV owners would charge at work

>> 68% of EV owners are willing to pay charger usage fees

>> 56% of 600 visitors surveyed at Honolulu airport would rent an EV

Source: DBEDT; U.S. Department of Energy; Ulupono Initiative