Bankruptcy leads to minor jolt for island’s EV drivers

Apparently the departure of an Israel-based company that installed various electric vehicle charging stations on Maui has not created a “major problem” in Maui County, where at least 235 electric vehicles are registered, said the head of the Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance.

In March, OpConnect, based in Oregon, announced an agreement to buy and operate the Better Place network electrical vehicle charging stations. Better Place later filed for bankruptcy.

Better Place had seven charging locations on Maui, according to information from OpConnect’s website.

Although the old charging stations remain, a problem exists because key fobs needed to access the old chargers have run out, leaving new customers without a way to use the charging stations.

“Unfortunately, due to higher-than-expected demand, OpConnect ran out of key fobs to send to new (electric vehicle) buyers, and we have been unable to secure additional key fobs from Better Place,” said Nathan Isaacs, a sales and marketing manager for OpConnect in an email interview.

About 800 electric vehicle drivers in the state were issued a key fob prior to the takeover, Isaacs added.

But even as new customers may not be able to access less than half of Maui’s 20 charging station locations, Anne Ku, the director of the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance, said electric vehicle owners need not fret because there are many other options.

“I don’t think it’s a major problem. There are so many other charging stations,” Ku said last week.

An option is charging a vehicle in one’s home or even at a friend’s home while visiting or seeking out the other charging stations, she said.

In July, the state launched a new mobile application designed to help drivers locate publicly available electric vehicle charging stations statewide. The free “EV Stations Hawaii” app is available for Apple and Android smartphones and mobile devices, the state said in an announcement.

Ku said that although Better Place had seven locations, two were being used privately at Alamo for its rental cars. So, technically there were only five public locations.

In addition to the five Better Place charging locations, OpConnect has added two more sites since its arrival on Maui, according to its website. To view a full list of OpConnect stations, go to Locations/Map.

Ku said those two new OpConnect stations at The Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas and Kahekili Beach, do not require a special fob.

The alliance is hoping to talk to the former Better Place charging station property owners to see if they have any fobs and if those fobs could be handed out to customers as they show up to charge their vehicles and then return the fobs to the property owners when done, she said.

Isaacs said OpConnect will replace the Better Place charging stations with OpConnect units, and he expects the work to be complete by late fall. The new units will not require key fobs, but instead give users a variety of ways to initiate charging, he said.

In the meantime, Isaacs said the company will continue to try and obtain key fobs for electric vehicle drivers who need them.

Currently, there is no fee to charge a car at OpConnect’s stations. But when OpConnect’s network is in place, the average price for pay stations is expected to be $2 per hour, Isaacs said. Some pay stations will cost less and others more.

In some cases, the site owner will decide the payment method, and in other cases OpConnect will determine payment, he added. There also will be free OpConnect stations.

Overall, Ku said some people may be bugged by not being able to have access to the former Better Place stations because that company received government funds to install charging stations.

The state energy office through its Hawaii’s EV Ready Program allocated $854,000 to Better Place to set up charging stations across the state as well as introduce electric vehicles to a rental car fleet.

Electric vehicle owners may wonder why only the early birds that signed up for a key fob have access to the stations built with federal public funding, while others don’t, Ku said.

“That’s what bugs people.”

But Ku said she is excited about Maui County’s progress in installing new charging stations.

In June, the county along with officials from Japan and the state announced JUMPSmartMaui, a demonstration project involving electric vehicles and homes in Kihei that could aid in the development of a more efficient power grid to handle renewable energy and to support electric vehicles.

With the program, Maui will see five new charging stations set up. Officials expect all the stations and chargers to be running in the fall.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at