Electric vehicle charging station law lacks enforcement

Hawaii News Now - August 9, 2013
Mileka Lincoln

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
A law designed to provide incentives and ease the minds of electric vehicle owners isn't meeting its expectations because there's no enforcement to ensure it works. Act 89 was signed into law last April and went into effect immediately. It requires all parking lots with more than a hundred spaces to provide an electric vehicle charging station and a designated stall.

"We are spending $4 to 6 billion dollars every year importing over 40 million barrels of oil. The law is designed to decrease that amount of oil that we're importing and to help those that purchase electric vehicles," explained State Senator Mike Gabbard, Chair of the Senate's Energy and Environment Committee.

When Act 89 was passed in 2012, there were only 600 electric vehicles on the road, now there's close to 2,000.

"We really need to look statewide and give a fairly high degree of certainty that no matter where you drive you're going to be able to charge up and that you're really going to be able to use these cars comfortably in Hawai'i," said Robert Harris, Director of the Sierra Club of Hawai'i.

Harris, who drives an electric vehicle himself, considers it the future of transportation in Hawai'i, but admits there are concerns for potential buyers.

"There's this chicken or the egg problem in that โ€“ if you don't have the electric charging stations then people are uncomfortable about purchasing electric vehicles, so really it's the sort of thing we really need to have both going on," explained Harris.

Harris says in order for the state to promote it's clean, renewable energy goals it needs to build its EV charging station infrastructure.

"There are some clear areas on Oahu and even worse on the neighbor islands where there really is going to be places where you just cannot charge โ€“ and as long as those gaps form then electric vehicles aren't as strong of an alternative as they could be," Harris said.

Act 89 was supposed to address that. Hawaii News Now called the State Energy Office for clarification on the law, but got no answers. Instead, we were directed to Senator Gabbard.

"We are number one in the country per capita for charging stations. We have currently 350 charging stations all across the state," said Senator Gabbard, who drives an electric vehicle.

Senator Gabbard admits there aren't as many EV charging stations as there should be, because there are no penalties for companies that don't comply.

'When we start back in January, I'm on the transportation committee, I'm going to talk with my colleagues about putting some teeth into the law," Senator Gabbard said.

Senator Gabbard says he plans to suggest using Volunteer Special Enforcement Officers, who already work with the City and County of Honolulu to ticket people who violate the handicap parking laws, to help keep track of and cite businesses that fail to comply with Act 89.

While there may be no current enforcement, local company Volta says that's still no excuse.

"We actually provide our charging stations to the property for free. We also pay for the full installation of the project and we give away the free service to the drivers," said Arden Penton, the Director of Media and Operations for Volta, a local company founded in Hawai'i that provides free charging for all electric vehicles island wide.

Volta's business model is possible through sponsors who are able to use the EV charging stations as advertising space. There are 20 different locations island wide, and Penton says they're adding 10 more by the end of the month. She says business owners love that the service draws electric vehicle drivers to their properties, instead of the competition.

"This obviously is a great benefit for somebody to come to Ward Center for example and watch a movie in comparison to another property. An hour of charge gets you 25 miles so you might as well select which properties you want to visit throughout that day โ€“ go shopping out at Ala Moana or Pearlridge and you'll get a free charge," described Penton.

Hawai'i was the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring electric vehicle charging stations.