Activists say that’s a big blunder. And lawmakers are moving to require all new state buildings be designed with EV charging stations.

In announcing the opening of a new, $377 million rental car facility at Honolulu’s airport in December 2021, the state Transportation Department heralded the convenience it would offer air passengers and its “environmentally friendly construction practices” and “energy efficient fixtures.”

But one modern green transportation convenience was conspicuously absent from the five-story structure, which is massive enough to house 10 rental car company offices and their fleets. The department didn’t include a single charging station for electric vehicles in the finished product, or even a single charger-ready parking stall.

To sustainability advocates, it was an enormous oversight and missed opportunity.

“How could we shoot ourselves in both feet?” asked Jeff Mikulina, a longtime sustainability expert considered an architect of Hawaii’s renewable energy policy.

Daniel K. Inouye Airport’s new Consolidated Rental Car facility houses a growing fleet of electric vehicles but still has no charging stations. A new bill would require all state facilities to include EV infrastructure. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Rep. Nicole Lowen, who chairs the Hawaii House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, called the failure to include charging stations or EV-ready stalls in the facility “a travesty.”

But at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport’s rental car facility, the arrival of sleek Tesla EVs has preceded the installation of charging stations, at least the Tesla “Superchargers” that can charge cars quickly. In fact, on a recent morning, there was a row of gleaming Teslas at Avis’ rental center but no charging stations in sight.

In a statement, Kelly Kunishige, communications manager with the Department of Transportation, said the rental car company Sixt has one EV charger on Level 4 of the rental car building, although she said the department didn’t know whether it was a basic Level 1 charger or a faster Level 2 charger. In addition, she said, Hertz has submitted plans to install 12 Level 2 chargers.

Avis workers at the facility told Civil Beat that the only chargers were slow-charging “plug-in” devices.

“Avis has plans to implement EV charging stations across all airports in Hawaii,” the company said in a statement. “We have most recently installed charging units at Kahului airport and have installation plans at Honolulu International Airport as well.”

Ed Sniffen, the acting director of the Department of Transportation, said the department planned for EVs by making sure the building has the electrical load capacity to add charging stations later.

“We were EV ready in that we had the load in those areas,” said Sniffen, a former deputy director who was appointed to the top job by Gov. Josh Green in December. Sniffen said doing that, rather than installing chargers or charger-ready stalls, was “a good decision.”

Acting director of transportation Ed Sniffen, right, testified about his agency’s budget at a recent Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing. Seated behind him is James Tokioka, now the deputy director for the airports division. (Screenshot/2023)

James Tokioka, a former state representative recently appointed as deputy director for the Transportation Department’s airports division, said that given the way technology advances, it was a better idea to install the most recent generation of chargers as needed rather than ahead of time. 

Mikulina called such arguments “weak sauce.”

He said it was “a colossal blunder not to put in charging capacity when the facilities were being built. Now it will be far more expensive to retrofit.”

Kunishige said the department has ordered 32 charging stations that comply with a national program that provides federal money to states to deploy electric vehicle charging infrastructure. But none of those is planned for the Honolulu airport. The two initial planned sites are at Honolulu’s Aloha Tower and a park and ride lot in Kahului, Maui.

During a recent briefing before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, DOT officials said their 2024 budget request included $95 million for capital improvements to the Honolulu airport, including improvements to the ticket lobby, TSA operations and a fire alarm system, as well as EV charging stations.

Legislation May Mandate Charging Stations At State Buildings

Now, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would require all new state buildings to be designed with electric vehicles in mind. 

Introduced by Lowen, the measure is aimed at parking lots used by state workers so they can charge their cars while they’re at work. But she said the bill’s language means it would also apply to facilities like the airport rental car structure. 

Specifically, the bill would “require that the design of new State facilities are electric vehicle charger ready” and “evaluate the cost for retrofitting existing state parking facilities to make them electric vehicle charger-ready.”

The bill has the support of the Hawaii Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission and the state’s energy chief, Mark Glick. 

Rep Nicole Lowen in joint senate/house finance final budget announcement.
Rep. Nicole Lowen, who chairs the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee. called it “a travesty” not to include EV chargers or EV-ready stalls at a new airport rental car facility. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018)

The bill is one of several measures that fall into a broad category of planning for a green energy future, including a time when electric cars overtake gas-powered cars in popularity. EVs now represent a small fraction of the 1.07 million registered taxable vehicles in the state as of January, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

But DBEDT’s data shows people are adopting EVs at an accelerating rate. In January, the number of passenger electric vehicles in the state was 22,806, an increase of 4,730 vehicles or 26% from the same month last year, and an increase of 557 vehicles or 2.5% from December. 

Another bill would require solar conduit and electrical panel readiness for new residential construction and electric vehicle readiness when an electrical panel and parking area are installed. Another would help set up a loan program for individuals installing EV charging systems.

Sen. Chris Lee, a longtime sustainable energy advocate who sponsored one of the EV bills, said it is generally far more expensive to retrofit a building to allow for an EV charger than to install one at the outset.

“It is significantly cheaper to do that when you’re building a brand new facility,” he said.

In fact, he said, it can be as much as “nine times (more) expensive to go back in and retrofit after the fact.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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