Businesses that operate electric vehicle fast-charging stations and others seeking to build stations will be better able to assess what their electric bills will be following the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission's recent approval of electric vehicle charging facility rates.
Previously, charging station owners had to pay "demand charges," or an additional fee to the utility, for power used during peak demand periods.
With the new rates - which include separate metering - there are no demand charges to tack on, making costs more predictable, and will likely lower the electricity bills for the charging station owners, said Peter Rosegg, a spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Co.
The new Commercial Public Electric Vehicle Charging Facility Service rate for direct current fast-charging stations will make it financially attractive for business customers to open new public EV charging facilities and reduce "range anxiety" of EV drivers, according to a news release Wednesday from the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism and HECO.
The PUC also approved a rate schedule that allows HECO to operate up to 25 public direct current fast charging stations. This would allow HECO and its subsidiaries, including Maui Electric, to open up their own charging stations and set fees, Rosegg said.
Currently, there are no large public HECO-owned charging stations, Rosegg said. He added that the company has no specific plans to open any stations.
"Specific plans will be developed in the future as we see other businesses step up," he said.
MECO has chargers at its Kahului offices, but they are the slower-charging Level II devices. The chargers installed a couple of years ago take about four to five hours to fully charge an EV; a DC fast-charging station will charge an EV battery to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes.
MECO's charger, which is not for public use, would not be eligible for the new rates.
"We recognize that greening transportation is an important step in reaching our clean energy goals, and we are working to make these chargers available to Maui EV owners as quickly as possible," said MECO spokeswoman Kau'i Awai-Dickson.
Currently, there are 1,437 plug-in electric vehicles registered in the state - with 210 on Maui, the news release said.
"The Hawaii State Energy Office supports widespread deployment of EV DC fast-charging infrastructure, which will help promote EV adoption and ease range anxiety," said state Energy Administrator Mark Glick. "These new EV rates are a novel approach in dealing with demand charges and a positive step in meeting the state's clean energy objectives and in proving Hawaii as a leader of EV deployment in the Asia-Pacific region."
HECO worked with the State Energy Office, Hawaii Consumer Advocate and OpConnect LLC to develop the new rate structure.
Although EVs in Hawaii use electricity that is still mainly produced from fossil fuels, Rosegg said that EVs are cleaner for the environment and cost less to fuel in comparison to a gasoline-powered vehicle.
It costs one-third less per mile to drive an EV versus a regular car on gas, Rosegg said.
Still, the high cost of producing power in Hawaii due to its reliance on fossil fuels takes a big bite out of the potential EV savings. The U.S. Department of Energy has developed a website (energy.gov) that compares the cost of a gallon of gas versus the cost of charging an EV. The national "egallon" price is $1.14, with average gasoline prices of $3.65 a gallon.
The egallon price for EVs in Hawaii is $3.69, compared to the average price of gasoline of $3.74 a gallon, the website said.
According to documents from the PUC, commercial public electric vehicle charging stations will see varying charges depending on usage times during the day determined by three categories:
* Priority-peak period, from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday.
* Midpeak period, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday to Sunday.
* Off-peak period, from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.
On Maui, commercial EV charging stations will see charges of 33.92 cents per priority-peak kilowatt hour; 31.92 cents per mid-peak kwh and 28.92 cents per off-peak kwh.
On Lanai, commercial EV charging stations will see higher costs - 44 cents per priority-peak kwh, 42 cents per mid-peak kwh and 39 cents for off-peak kwh.
Molokai commercial EV stations will see costs of 38.75 cents per priority-peak kwh; 36.75 cents per mid-peak kwh and 33.75 cents per off-peak kwh.
Rosegg said that it will be up to the commercial charging stations to set prices for its customers. The rates approved by the PUC are what the charging stations will pay HECO.
The rate structure does not affect residential single-family customers who use their own electricity to power their vehicles, Rosegg said.
He added that the new commercial EV station rate structures are available but current higher electric rates will remain in effect until a commercial customer puts in a fast charger and separate meter and requests to be put on the vehicle EV charging rate, Rosegg said in email.
He added that if more people charge their vehicles at night during off-peak hours it can lessen the "curtailment" or dumping of wind energy from the grid, Rosegg said, noting that electricity use is at its lowest during the overnight hours.
In the first five months of this year, more than a quarter of collected wind energy from three wind farms that deliver electricity to MECO was dumped from the grid.
If MECO does go ahead with its own public charging stations, the PUC has set the following rates - $7.50 per kwh during priority peak sessions; $7 per kwh for a mid-peak session and $6.50 per kwh for an off-peak usage.
On Lanai and Molokai, rates will be $9 per kwh for priority peak; $8.50 per kwh for mid-peak and $8 per kwh for off-peak.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.