MECO seeks takeover of EV charging stations

Maui Electric Co. wants to take over eight electric vehicle charging stations once the Maui Economic Development Board’s contract with Hitachi expires in March.

MECO filed a request with the Public Utilities Commission in December to transfer ownership of the stations from MEDB, which currently owns 13 of the 15 charging sites on Maui and contracts with Hitachi to operate and maintain them. MECO and Greenlots own the remaining two sites.

The network supports about 300 of the 1,500 electric vehicle owners on Maui and provides options for drivers who can’t install their own charging stations at home.

On March 31, Hitachi’s agreement with MEDB will expire and will not be extended. Without Hitachi, MEDB may not be able to continue offering charging stations on Maui and would either have to take them offline for an extended period or possibly shut down the program altogether.

“As the EV community relies on the existing chargers to meet their transportation needs, removing the chargers would undermine EV adoption efforts and cause existing EV owners on Maui uncertainty,” MECO said in its filing with the commission.

Maui County has led the state in electric vehicle adoption nearly every year since 2010, according to the filing. A pilot program funded by Japan’s largest public research firm has helped spur electric vehicle use on Maui. New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization provided more than $30 million to demonstrate smart grid technologies and install electric vehicle charging stations on island. The JUMPSmart program led to the adoption of about 150 light duty electric vehicles on Maui per year since 2012.

When the program ended in 2017, the research firm allowed Hitachi to transfer the charging stations to MEDB at no charge. The program was rebranded as “Evohana,” and Hitachi agreed to operate and maintain the network for MEDB.

With the contract soon to expire, MEDB has been searching for other operators. But while some companies have expressed interest, replacing Hitachi would create “additional constraints that would not create a sustainable network on a long-term basis,” the filing said. On Oct. 15, MEDB offered to transfer ownership of the stations to MECO at no cost.

The sites that MECO wants to take over are located at the Lahaina Aquatic Center, Maui Tropical Plantation, the county building on High Street, Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, Piilani Village Shopping Center, Haiku Community Center, Pukalani Terrace Center and Kulamalu Town Center.

MECO chose the sites because they are used often and are located in places that will “provide the largest number of EV owners with the widest driving range and public access to fast chargers.” The utility also plans to replace the existing systems with “dual port” chargers that can serve both domestic and international vehicles.

The current chargers also don’t support time-of-use billing. Under MECO’s proposal, customers would pay lower rates during midday hours, when solar energy from rooftops and independent power producers is plentiful.

At the five remaining sites that MECO will not take over, MEDB plans to offer site owners the option to operate the chargers independently or to remove the chargers and restore the sites to their original condition.

MECO is asking the commission to make a decision on its request by Feb. 28. It is also asking to defer operating and maintenance costs until a final decision has been made in its 2021 general rate case. Project costs are expected to be $50,000 in 2020 and $90,000 in 2021. MECO said it will not spend any funds unless it gets approval to defer the costs until new rates take effect.

Keeping the charging stations running would not only give electric vehicle owners options but also help Maui County move closer toward its goal of renewable transportation. The county hopes to run its entire fleet of vehicles on renewable power by 2035, and all four counties have pledged to eliminate fossil fuels from ground transportation by 2045. MECO said it expects about a $6,000 net benefit for every personal light duty electric vehicle added to the roadways.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS