More EVs, charging stations urged

KAHULUI – The Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance, a federally funded two-year grant, issued its final report for encouraging the growth of EVs on Maui, calling for large EV fleet purchases to increase the numbers and for improving the charging infrastructure.

“We encourage people to really test-drive one for a week or two, including charging it,” said Anne Ku, director of the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Maui Electric Vehicle Alliance, on Friday. “I had the opportunity to drive one, and it took me about a month or two to get used to it.

“If you’re brand new to this, you might not be comfortable at the beginning.”

Standing in front of a crowd of state energy and industry professionals at the ‘Ike Le’a science building, Ku explained that there were four barriers to growth of EV use on the island: insufficient charging stations and infrastructure, limited supply, high upfront costs of cars and charging, and lack of diverse car models.

As of October, there were 304 fully electric vehicles – more than double last year’s 128 – registered in Maui County and an additional 1,965 hybrids – or cars that run on electricity and gas, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

On the downside, there are only 22 charging locations on the island and none in Hana; Oahu has 102, according to the state Department of Transportation. There are no charging stations on Molokai and Lanai.

Todd Ritter, president of Ev Structure Co., said the seven charging Maui locations previously owned by the now-bankrupt Better Place will be replaced within the next 90 days by OpConnect units. The Ev Structure Co. website lists OpConnect as a partner/affiliate.

UH-Maui College is attempting to do its part, installing eight charging stations in the college’s photo-voltaic carport currently under construction, with plans to build another 36.

“What we see at Maui college is that our staff really accommodates and encourages electric vehicles,” she said.

There are impediments to putting in stations on Maui – the high costs of shipping and installation. Another detracting factor is the small number of EVs compared to gasoline-powered vehicles on Maui. While EVs on Maui are in the hundreds, there are more than 165,000 gasoline-powered vehicles registered in the county.

EV’s also cost more than similar gas-powered models. The 2013 Nissan LEAF – with 220 sold in the county through August – goes for $28,800 while the automaker’s best-selling 2014 Altima goes for $21,860.

A mitigating factor is the $7,500 federal tax credit that applies to all electric vehicle purchases.

The high cost of electrical power in Hawaii reduces the economic benefit of EVs. According to the Department of Energy, EVs save only between 20 and 60 cents a gallon, when compared to gas-powered vehicles in Hawaii. In California, the savings is $2.14 a gallon, according to the website Friday.

Another concern is the battery, which costs nearly $18,000 to replace. Jim Burness, chief executive officer of National Car Charging, said that a battery generally lasts eight to 10 years. The Nissan LEAF battery warranty is five years or 60,000 miles.

Burness, whose company has hundreds of charge plug-ins installed at stations across the nation, added that many people lease electric cars and will not need to worry about battery replacements.

“The market is becoming commercially viable,” he said. “There are very attractive lease incentives and tax credits.”

Burness said that many of the early electric cars are still running on their original batteries.

In concluding the conference, Ku said she and the alliance worked hard to make the 105-page report user-friendly and encouraged the attendees to read it online. The plan was the culmination of a $300,000 grant from the Department of Energy and examined some of the problems and solutions for growing EV on the island.

“We talked a lot about training and education, and nobody is an expert in this field,” she said. “We’re still learning. I learned a lot of things, and I learned that it’s possible to educate the whole community, while educating myself.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at