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EVohana vehicle charger transfer is conditionally approved by PUC

Hawaiian Electric to take over, upgrade 4 sites

The state Public Utilities Commission has approved Hawaiian Electric’s plan to own and potentially operate four EVohana sites on Maui that uses pricing to entice electric vehicle drivers to plug in during the day when solar power is plentiful.

Pending site agreements with the respective property owners, the fast chargers are at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, Pi’ilani Village Shopping Center, the county Lahaina Aquatic Center and Pukalani Terrace Center. They cover Central, South, West and Upcountry Maui areas, the utility said Wednesday.

The approved EV-MAUI charging rate is 28 cents per kilowatt-hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.; 40 cents per kWh between 5 and 10 p.m.; and 38 cents per kWh between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m.

The four identified sites are currently part of the existing EVohana network, which during a transition period has been temporarily owned and operated by the nonprofit Maui Economic Development Board. The current EVohana network is a member-only program serving about 320 EV drivers at eight existing sites on the island.

In a request conditionally approved by the PUC last March, the utility also had planned to take over the EVohana fast chargers at the county building in Wailuku, Haiku Community Center, Maui Tropical Plantation and Kulamalu Town Center.

Those stations were not included in the new proposal. When the PUC agreed to the takeover last March, it rejected Hawaiian Electric’s proposed rate schedule for EV charging, which would have left ratepayers picking up the cost of capital improvements.

The utility said Wednesday that the four sites were selected based on feedback collected from EVohana members and the community, historic and forecasted usage, the cost to upgrade the aging charging infrastructure, and the annual operating and maintenance expenses.

The eight existing EVohana charging stations will remain in place — as long as the aging equipment is operable and funding is available — until the new charging infrastructure construction is scheduled to begin at the four sites, the utility said.

Once the site agreements are secured and other required documentation and construction preparations are finalized, Hawaiian Electric plans to replace the aging charging stations at the four EVohana sites and install new charging equipment, allowing more EV types to charge. EV drivers also will be able to “pay-as-you-go” with multiple ways to initiate charging sessions, from smartphone apps to credit cards, the utility said.

The EVohana charging sites initially were established as part of the JUMPSmartMaui demonstration project, a cooperative venture between Japan, the state, county, MEDB, Hitachi and Maui Electric (now doing business as Hawaiian Electric). The pilot project operated from 2011 to 2017 to exhibit smart grid technologies that could enable the efficient use of renewable energy on an island grid.

At the conclusion of the JUMPSmartMaui project, ownership of the charging assets was transferred to MEDB until a permanent owner and operator of the sites could be confirmed. MEDB partnered with Hitachi to create a new, temporary program called EVohana, with Hitachi ending its participation on March 31.

In 2018, a consortium of community and advocacy groups, including MEDB, Hawaiian Electric, Ulupono Initiative and the county, agreed that having the electric utility sustain the EVohana charging network would be most beneficial to current and future EV users and play an important role in integrating more renewable energy on Maui, the utility said.

As part of this updated plan, the consortium worked on a transition to expedite the transfer of ownership and operation of the selected EVohana sites to Hawaiian Electric, the utility said.

“We appreciate our partnership with Hawaiian Electric, Ulupono and the County of Maui for stepping up to support this transition to ensure our island continues to have access to reliable public fast-charging options for EV drivers,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB president and chief executive officer. “MEDB took temporary ownership and operation to keep the EVohana charging network in place and without Hawaiian Electric the entire charging network would have been retired in 2019.”

To date, there are about 1,000 total EVs registered on Maui, the utility news release said.

“We are excited to provide new electric vehicle charging options on Maui with lower charging rates that encourage plugging in when we typically have a lot of solar energy on the electrical system,” said Sharon Suzuki, president of Hawaiian Electric’s Maui County and Hawaii island utilities. “As we work to add even more renewable energy to power our islands, EVs can further our efforts to get off fossil fuels and protect our environment.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

**This story includes a correction from the original published on Monday, January, 20, 2020.