In late 2017, the mayors of Hawaii issued a bold and inspiring proclamation committing the state to transition its ground transportation from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources by 2045.

This ambitious goal was motivated by the recognition of the profound toll that the reliance on fossil fuels is having on our environment, public health and our pocketbooks.

The mayors’ call for a clean energy transition (to include transportation) builds upon Hawaii’s established goal to achieve a statewide 100% renewable portfolio standard implementation by 2045 — a commitment that places Hawaii at the forefront of climate action.

A key to this transition is the adoption of electric vehicles. EVs are certainly better for Hawaii’s environment — they are cleaner, many times more efficient, and cheaper to maintain and operate, compared to their ICE (internal combustion engine) counterparts.

EVs offer Hawaii’s residents the opportunity to contribute significantly to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Economies of scale, technology innovations, competition, and a growing pre-owned electric vehicle inventory have resulted in a wider array of EVs in just the past few years. With ever-increasing affordability and choice, these developments have helped to increase our state’s EV count to over 11,000, about 1% of the passenger vehicles in the state.

There are many EVs available to Hawaii residents today, with new car prices starting at around $30,000. Pre-owned EVs can be purchased for less than $10,000.

EVs are becoming democratized and within reach of households of all income levels. On the other hand, inadequate EV charging infrastructure represents an important barrier to adoption. Widespread and convenient access to EV charging is fundamental to enabling households to buy an EV.

While EVs have much to offer in terms of reduced fuel and maintenance costs and broader societal benefits, without convenient and dependable access to charging, they simply are not a viable option for many households.

Honolulu City Council Bill 25, originally introduced last year, represents one of the first local initiatives that seeks to make good on this promise by expanding access to public EV charging stations. It sought to do this through the establishment of modest requirements to enable “EV-ready” parking facilities in multi-unit residential buildings and workplaces.

The EV-ready requirements in Bill 25 require little more than the addition of basic wiring, conduit and electrical capacity to support EV charging.

These requirements would add only a minor expense to new construction, while enabling the structures to be future-proofed.

Missed Opportunity

Unfortunately, owing to the aggressive and often misleading advocacy of building development and property management interests, it is increasingly looking like Bill 25 will be a missed opportunity to include truly meaningful EV infrastructure requirements into the city’s building code.

In its latest form, Bill 25 relies on a point-based system under which developers constructing new parking facilities would be required to accumulate a certain number of compliance points, based on the number of spaces they are creating. To accumulate these points, they can deploy different types of charging infrastructure, each earning a different number of points.

For example, under this scheme, one DC fast charger (capable of charging a single vehicle to 80% in 40 minutes) is as valuable as 22 dedicated parking spaces that are Level 2 EV charger-ready.

(Level 2 chargers are capable of charging a vehicle to full overnight and are perfect for multi-unit residential properties.)

If this point-based system sounds unnecessarily complicated and unintuitive, it is.

The measure further allows developers to aggregate their compliance obligation across projects and across phases of a given project, creating significant opportunities for the requirement to be largely avoided.

For example, a project phase to which a developer has allocated their compliance obligation can be delayed indefinitely. As drafted, Bill 25 allows for the aggregation and redistribution of the compliance obligation, while the point system creates opportunity for intentional or unintentional avoidance of the obligation.

Lastly, the measure, as recently amended, completely exempts parking facilities serving affordable housing from any compliance obligation.

This is particularly disheartening as lower-income households have the most to gain from EV adoption, recognizing the relatively higher share of income that fuel and vehicle maintenance costs represent for them. This doesn’t help in the democratization of a public benefit — the ability to participate in the ownership of clean and affordable transportation.

Since Bill 25’s introduction, property management and development interests have made misleading claims about the costs that these requirements would impose, even though the costs of putting this infrastructure in at the time of facility construction would represent a tiny fraction of overall project construction costs.

Honolulu can and must do better, for its residents and for the entire state.

It is far cheaper to deploy this infrastructure during initial construction rather than trying to retrofit after the fact.

Rather than viewing the incremental addition as a burden, developers should consider it a desirable amenity for future homeowners and occupants.

Sadly, in the face of developer opposition, the bill has gone from what was initially a bold initiative to something far more tepid. The measure in its current form stands in stark contrast to the inspiring proclamation the mayors made over two years ago and is insufficient to the task in the face of our accelerating climate crisis.

Is it better than nothing?

Perhaps — at a minimum, it creates a precedent to do more. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to waste.

Honolulu can and must do better, for its residents and for the entire state.

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