Hawaii County Leads The Way On EV Charging Policy - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Authors

Tam Hunt

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and activist based on the Big Island. He is co-founder of Think B.I.G. and a board member for the Hawaii Electric Vehicle association.

Noel Morin

Noel Morin is a civic leader and environmental activist. He is a board member of both the Hawaii Electric Vehicle Association and Think B.I.G.

Heather Kimball

Heather Kimball owns a consulting firm supporting communication for science-based policy and decision-making on the issues of climate change. She is also with Think B.I.G.

As the EV revolution (rEVolution) ramps up in Hawaii and around the world, a common problem facing EV drivers is broken chargers, or simply not enough chargers.

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Hawaii has had a law for many years that requires all commercial parking lot owners with 100 stalls or more to install at least one EV charger and dedicated parking stall. We do, however, see a lot of chargers around the state not kept in working order.

This leads to frustration and an underserved bad reputation for EVs, and will deter people who may need to charge at public chargers, rather than at home, from making the leap to an EV.

While most EV owners in Hawaii today still charge primarily at home, as EV penetration increases we will see more renters and others who can’t charge at home buy or lease EVs.

To accelerate that trend and enable an equitable transition to clean transportation state-wide, we must have ubiquitous, reliable, and easily accessible public EV chargers. This will also be critical for the visitor industry to support an electric rental car fleet.

Access to reliable EV charging is a major equity issue as well as an environmental issue. As the EV revolution continues we don’t want to see low and moderate-income residents unable or uninterested in buying or leasing electric vehicles. Making charging easy and widespread is key to avoid creating new inequities and to allow everyone to share in the major benefits of electric cars.

Our organizations, the Hawaii EV Association (Hawaiiev.org) and Think B.I.G. (thinkbighawaii.org), both nonprofits based in Hawaii, worked with Heather Kimball, County Councilmember for District 1 in Hawaii County (also a board member of Think BIG and one of the authors of this essay), to introduce a new bill that would implement state law Act 75 and also fix some of the gaps in the state law as it applied to Hawaii County.

A Tesla electric car on the freeway.
Electric vehicles like Teslas are growing in popularity. But the state lacks sufficient EV charger stations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

After a two-year journey, we are happy to announce that Bill 120 has become law, having passed its final hearing where it was approved unanimously by the Hawaii County Council on September 9 and is now law.

The bill requires any new commercial parking lot of 50 or more stalls to include at least one dual-port EV charger and two dedicated parking stalls. These requirements increase over time at a reasonable pace. It also requires that these chargers be maintained in working order, at the risk of fines if these requirements are not met.

Maui County is also working on a bill with similar requirements, as part of its broader approach to increase EV adoption, and dialogues are underway with Kauai County and Honolulu County about similar bills – showing well how one county taking the lead can lead to larger impacts beyond that county.

Much More Work Needed

While this new bill is a good first step to accelerate the EV revolution here in Hawaii we need to do much more. The federal Inflation Reduction Act renewed EV tax credits up to $7,500 for new cars and added a new tax credit of up to $4,000 for used EVs. However, the “made in America” provisions for these tax credits are now more stringent and some EV makers won’t qualify.

In order to help defray the upfront cost of EVs, particularly for low and moderate-income households, we are recommending in our work on state policy, through the Hawaii EV Association, that the state bring back EV rebates that expired many years ago.

We will need thousands of new chargers in our county and around the state before 2030.

We also should (again with the help of the IRA and the previous Infrastructure Bill passed earlier in 2022, which provided $7.5 billion for EV charging infrastructure) continue to invest big in public mass transit in the form of more and better buses, and in particular electric buses that have zero emissions.

It should be easy to catch a bus and get to where you need to go. The easier it is the less people will feel the need to drive in individual cars, adding pollution and traffic to our communities (even EVs have some pollution from rubber tire friction leading to micro particles in our environment).

Last, it’s important to work with Hawaiian Electric and other private companies to invest heavily in EV charging infrastructure. The new Bill 120 will be a part of the solution for more chargers in our communities, but not the full solution. As of July 1, there were 368 electric vehicle charging locations and 805 electric vehicle supply equipment ports that provide DC fast charging or Level 2 charging across the state, according to the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure state plan.

We will need thousands of new chargers in our county and around the state before 2030 in order to meet ambitious state and federal EV adoption goals. The state Public Utilities Commission is considering an application from HECO that would allow HECO to invest (using ratepayer funds) heavily in new EV chargers. We support this approach but only if the EV charging market is not otherwise prepared to step up and make such investments on their own.

The rEVolution is rolling but much more work needs to be done if it is to keep on rolling and lead us to a sustainable, resilient and equitable future.

Editor’s note: Nanette Vinton and Bill Bugbee with the Hawaii EV Association, and Jeannette Gurung of Think B.I.G., also co-authored this Community Voice.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Authors

Tam Hunt

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and activist based on the Big Island. He is co-founder of Think B.I.G. and a board member for the Hawaii Electric Vehicle association.

Noel Morin

Noel Morin is a civic leader and environmental activist. He is a board member of both the Hawaii Electric Vehicle Association and Think B.I.G.

Heather Kimball

Heather Kimball owns a consulting firm supporting communication for science-based policy and decision-making on the issues of climate change. She is also with Think B.I.G.


Latest Comments (0)

As with seemingly many other topics or issues, those "In Charge" are often urbanites dwelling in cities. The Island of Hawaiʻi has many tens of thousands of houselots, the majority of which are off-grid. And many many residents are low to moderate income. And many many residents commute far more than 30-50 miles daily.Note that none of this is "free". Solar panels cost money, electricity costs money, mining lithium etc. is environmentally destructive, even though we canʻt physically see the damage in third world countries from our shores. The to-and-fro of parts, metals, batteries, all add to massive carbon footprints. There is no panacea. No easy "wishful thinking" fix. Weʻve exceeded carrying capacity on our planet, and we continually skirt around issues.And yes, the Good Old Days, pre-high tech, pre Internet and social media...they really were good.We need smart, expansive thinking, recognizing that WE are the ecosystem, if we are to move forward without destroying ourselves.

Patutoru · 1 month ago

I've been a frequent visitor to the Hawaii Island over the past couple of years and noticed that electric cars are virtually nonexistent there in comparison with Oahu. Part of the reason is the island's size: the Kona to Hilo drive is 75 miles via the Saddle Road, with an 8,000 ft elevation gain/loss and no services whatsoever along the way. Taking a day trip from one side of the island to the other and back is a risky proposition if you drive an electric car: if your battery runs out, you can't just call AAA and have a few gallons of gas delivered to your location - you need a tow. To make electric cars viable in the Big Island, charging stations would need to be made available in areas where no gas stations current exist.And then, there is the cost of electricity. The unsubsidized, flat-rate cost of fully charging a Tesla from Hawaii Island's electric grid currently stands at about $45, which is only slightly less than the price of a full tank of gasoline for a similarly sized ICE car. Bottom line: unlike places like the western United States, Hawaii just isn't the right place at this time for electric cars to go mainstream.

Chiquita · 1 month ago

We need more sidewalks and bike paths as well.

Richard_Bidleman · 1 month ago

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