How To Ramp Up Hawaii’s Use Of Electric Cars - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Tam Hunt

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Hilo, Hawaii. He is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Noel Morin

Noel Morin is an environmental advocate. He is president of the Big Island EV Association and a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Nanette Vinton

Nanette Vinton is the founder and president of the Tesla Hawaii Club. She is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Sonja Kass

Sonja Kass is a founding member of Hawaii EV Association and KauaiEV. She is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Bill Bugbee

Bill Bugbee is executive director of BeyondKona.com. He is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.


With Hawaii’s relatively short driving distances, abundant green energy potential, and love of clean air and a sustainable environment, we are the perfect place for electric vehicles. We are, however, currently in the middle of the pack relative to our peers in terms of electric vehicle market share.

To date only about 1% of our vehicles in the islands are EVs. And we are still highly dependent on imported petroleum as our primary energy supply across all sectors.

What is Hawaii doing today, and what can we do to advance sustainable transportation, fueled by the state’s green energy resources?

The Hawaii EV Association was formed this year with a singular focus on promoting electric vehicles of all types in Hawaii. Our all-volunteer board is working to accelerate EV adoption through advocacy and education.

The Hawaii EV Association is a chapter of the Electric Auto Association, a national organization dedicated to increasing electric vehicle adoption since 1967.

Our recent National Drive Electric Week celebration included two webinars.

The first, “EV 101,” covers the basics about electric vehicles. We discuss features, costs, charging and other aspects of EV ownership.

The second, “The Future of EVs in Hawaii,” discusses various barriers to adoption and what’s being done to address them. Advocacy activities like proactive education through hawaiiev.org, social media and grassroots engagements are allowing us to increase public awareness of the benefits of EVs and encourage adoption.

The Hawaii EV Association works with various like-minded entities, such as Blue Planet Foundation, to collaborate on these kinds of education and advocacy efforts.

A recent gathering of the KauaiEV Association. Electric car owners across the state have formed clubs to support each other and promote the adoption of EV cars throughout Hawaii. S.KASS

Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ Plan

The election of Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States bodes well for the future of EVs. In particular, at the national level, President-elect Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan promises federal funding for Hawaii and other states and includes substantial support for EVs and the build-out of an EV-charging infrastructure.

The plan calls for investing $2 trillion dollars over four years in green energy and sustainability projects, including EVs.

Biden’s plan also calls for investing in 500,000 EV charging stations across the country. This goal makes good sense, but we also want to see a standard enacted as part of Biden’s plan, calling for a clean vehicle target, for example, that “80% of all new passenger car sales will be EVs or clean energy vehicles by 2030.”

This target is ambitious but achievable and market forces alone are on track to achieve much of this already, due to dozens of companies, including all of the large car manufacturers, planning to offer scores of new EV models in the coming years.

Biden’s plan surely will face an uphill battle. Congress controls funding, so Biden won’t be able to authorize anything like the $2 trillion he’s called for unless he gains either a Democrat-controlled Senate or bipartisan support in the Senate and House.

Fossil fuel interests are entrenched in Congress and if the Republicans retain control of the Senate, Biden may seek executive actions as the only option to move forward with an EV agenda.

States Can Step Up Even When Federal Policy Can’t

This is where state policy comes in. Hawaii has been a leader in many ways. Hawaii was the first state in the nation to adopt a 100% renewable energy by 2045 goal, in 2015, which led to a cascade of other states and cities adopting similarly ambitious goals.

Hawaii’s county mayors also adopted resolutions calling for 100% green energy county fleets by 2035 (with the exception of Hawaii County, which adopted a 2045 goal instead), and a 100% green transportation system for the whole state by 2045.

The resolutions aren’t mandates, however, and there’s very little detail behind them.

This map illustrates the current locations of Hawaii’s EV chargers; the inset lists the current number of EVs registered on each of the islands. Map source: plugshare.com. 

What Hawaii needs at this point, if we are truly to kickstart the EV revolution and be a national leader, is a state Clean Vehicle Standard law that would target a certain level of emissions-free vehicles to be sold by a given year. It would achieve these milestones through incentives rather than any punitive measures.

This approach has abundant precedents and California made big news this summer when Gov. Gavin Newsom committed the state, via executive order, to achieving 100% zero-emissions passenger cars and trucks being sold by 2035. This doesn’t mean all vehicles in California must be zero emissions by then, just new vehicle sales.

California’s Air Resources Board is now setting the guidelines to make this program work. Importantly, close to two dozen countries around the world have declared their intention to phase out the sale of new gas and diesel vehicles by certain dates.

Hawaii could adopt a similar approach, building on the commitment by the county mayors, and pass into law a target that 100% of passenger vehicle sales be emissions-free by 2035. This target date would be a floor, not a ceiling and it should rely mostly on incentives.

For example, counties can accelerate this goal in their own legislation, but they won’t be able to exempt themselves from it. Hawaii EV Association is working with Hawaii County on a bill that would commit the county to 100% renewable energy for its buildings and fleets by 2030 — an ambitious but achievable target that will inspire the private sector to achieve similar goals.

This kind of approach allows for local leadership to play a role and for jurisdictions that are blessed with abundant renewable energy resources, like the Big Island, to lead the way in terms of what is possible.

While parts of the islands feel powerfully remote, Hawaii’s driving distances are relatively short compared to many other places in the world, making the islands ideal for EVs. 

The incentives-based approach to achieving this ambitious statewide target should include things like:

  • A focus on new EV charging infrastructure, both at public locations and private businesses, including fast-charging stations
  • Robust education and outreach efforts on the benefits and features of EVs
  • Tax credits for zero-emissions vehicle purchases and charger installations and/or a state rebate for vehicle purchases and charger installations
  • Renewed benefits like free municipal parking and continued HOV lane access (applicable only to Oahu)
  • Future-proof new homes, including multi-unit dwellings, for EVs by requiring new homes to include EV charging infrastructure (wiring to facilitate future charger installation)
  • Improve home EV charging utility rates to keep charging costs low

Importantly, the above strategies must take into account low- and middle-income families. Incentives should be structured to enable the democratization of sustainable electric transportation of all kinds. For example, rebates and tax credits may be limited by income and by EV purchase prices.

Share Your Ideas

We feel that a new Clean Vehicle Standard that includes this list of incentives will achieve the 100% target by 2035.

Is Hawaii ready for the EV revolution?


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About the Authors

Tam Hunt

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Hilo, Hawaii. He is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Noel Morin

Noel Morin is an environmental advocate. He is president of the Big Island EV Association and a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Nanette Vinton

Nanette Vinton is the founder and president of the Tesla Hawaii Club. She is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Sonja Kass

Sonja Kass is a founding member of Hawaii EV Association and KauaiEV. She is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.

Bill Bugbee

Bill Bugbee is executive director of BeyondKona.com. He is a board member of the Hawaii EV Association.


Latest Comments (0)

The writers here seem to be living in another state, one that is doing well financially.  Consider the following.The commentary suggests the state gives tax credits for auto purchases and charging installations. Another article in CivilBeat today mentions that the state will have to look at tax increases and eliminating other tax credits, just to keep afloat.Ditto for free municipal parking.  That'll reduce revenues for a county also looking at reduced tax revenues, that continues to throw billions at a white elephant rail system, and that hasn't explained how it plans to cover operational costs if and when the rail system actually starts running.It also suggests requiring new home and apartment construction to add in additional wiring and charging.  Affordable housing is a major problem in Hawaii, and every extra mandate like this makes homes and apartments less affordable.

BigIslandMan · 9 months ago

Not sure about Hawai'i, but there is a battery recycling program here in BC.  Around 10% of new car sales were EVs in 2019, due to upfront incentives and relatively cheaper power.  Cars in general are MUCH more expensive here, for a variety of reasons.The battery tech is getting better, and cheaper.  Tesla for example figures the Model 3 will be around 25K US$ in a few years.The savings on fuel costs and maintenance make up for much of the cost of a potential battery replacement, which should also decline greatly in cost over the next 10 years.Many of the electric vehicles here are all-electric EVs, but there are also many Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs).  These typically get  40 miles+ to a full charge, and then kick into gas or hybrid mode when the power runs low.  They will fully charge in about 8 hours on a standard plug, and much less time on DC rapid charge or level 2 (220V dryer/stove plug).  The range for these is getting better and better.  This is a great option for those shy about going all electric.  It's not unusual for people with reasonable commutes to gas these up once every 2 - 3 months.  As these get cheaper/better range, they will be a no-brainer.

SleepyandDopey · 9 months ago

Another thought is that perhaps we should all convert to Uber, etc.  How much does a person need to drive to justify the costs (purchase price, insurance, gasoline, car repairs, parking, carbon).  For many people it’s probably wiser to preload a debit card on an annual basis and use it exclusively for transit.  But most of us place a high premium on independence, which is at the root of the conundrum.  Maybe we should pay households for not owning a car...or give a huge tax break for same.  We need to start thinking out of the box.

be_data_driven · 9 months ago

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