My Turn: Electric vehicles accelerate progress toward state’s energy goals

The majority of fossil fuels in Hawaii are consumed for the purpose of moving people and goods, yet the transportation sector has gone largely unnoticed in public pronouncements involving the state’s energy goals. According to the State Energy Office, transportation in Hawaii accounted for 63% of total petroleum use in 2016, with ground transportation making up 27% of our total petroleum use.

Thankfully, state officials, including Hawaii Island legislators, are passing progressive measures to help our state achieve the mandate of a 100% renewable portfolio standard.

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This year, Rep. Nicole Lowen of West Hawaii introduced HB1585 to establish an incentive, in the form of a rebate program, for upgrading or installing eligible multi-user electric vehicle (EV) charging systems. In June, the bill was signed into law as Act 142.

The role EVs play in the future of ground transportation is widely recognized. However, they currently represent less than 1% of all passenger vehicles in the state. Increasing adoption, and thereby fully realizing their benefit toward reducing our fossil fuel dependence and overall greenhouse gas emissions, depends directly on expanding charging availability for EV drivers.

Rebate programs similar to the one authorized by Act 142 have demonstrated effectiveness in other states by promoting infrastructure development for cleaner forms of transportation.

Government agencies, you can help, too

Allowing government agencies to also take advantage of initiatives help us meet our clean transportation goals more effectively.

With support from Rep. David Tarnas of West Hawaii, another bill, HB401 (Act 144), was passed and enacted to require all public agencies in our state to evaluate their vehicle fleet energy efficiency programs and implement vehicle fleet performance contracts for vehicles or charging/fueling infrastructure. It also expressly allows operational and fuel cost savings to be applied toward the cost of making these improvements.

In addition, Sen. Lorraine Inouye of East Hawaii helped introduce and pass SB661 (Act 143), which includes zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in the definition of “electric vehicles” for purposes of parking fee exemption eligibility, high occupancy vehicle lane use, and registration. It also adds fuel-cell electric vehicles to procurement priority for state and county vehicles.

Recognizing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as EVs and giving them the same benefits aligns with the state’s goals of reducing Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuels by increasing the use of more efficient, cleaner forms of ground transportation.

Consumers’ role is critical.

The role of individual, along with the understanding that EVs are just as beneficial to consumers’ wallets as to the environment, cannot be overestimated.

The Big Island Electric Vehicle Association is a good example of the impact individual EV owners and potential owners can have by working together. The association educates the general public about the advantages of EVs — the environmental and cost-of-ownership benefits, and superior driving experience. They also help answer questions about purchasing, charging infrastructure, and ownership experiences.

The reality is EVs provide increasingly affordable options. (After the federal tax credit is considered, the 2019 Nissan Leaf is less than the 2019 Toyota Camry.) EVs are also extremely economical to operate and maintain because they have fewer moving parts and are more fuel-efficient. Drivers save more than $500 per year by switching to an EV, according to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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Ulupono Initiative applauds Hawaii Island legislators and EV advocates for recognizing these vehicles as an effective solution, primed for acceleration. Electrifying our modes of transportation is one of the most effective ways to have an immediate impact on reducing fossil fuel use, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and helping to alleviate Hawaii’s high cost of living.

Greg Gaug is senior vice president of investments and analytics at Ulupono Initiative, which invests to improve the quality of life for the people of Hawaii in four key areas: locally produced food; clean, renewable energy; and better management of water and waste.