Pilot program aims to increase EV chargers

  • A car is plugged in at the EV charging station in the parking lot of Hawaii Community College in Hilo on Tuesday. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

  • Kelly Coleman’s car charges at an EV charging station in the Target parking lot in Hilo on Tuesday. (

  • Kelly Coleman sits in her car as it charges at an EV charging station in the Target parking lot in Hilo on Tuesday. Coleman said the most reliable chargers are in the store’s parking lot. (photos by Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

A pilot program by Hawaiian Electric will subsidize electric vehicle chargers throughout the state in an effort to improve charging infrastructure.

Charge Up Commercial is a three-year, $5 million pilot program wherein the utility will pay for the installation of supporting infrastructure associated with charging stations at eligible businesses. Through the program, Hawaiian Electric hopes to establish up to 30 new Level 2 charging stations on the Big Island, Oahu and Maui.


While eligible applicants — which include owners of businesses, housing complexes and office buildings — will have to pay for the installation and maintenance of the charging station itself, Hawaiian Electric will pay for the construction and maintenance of the infrastructure that connects the station to the power grid, such as power lines, transformers, switches, and more.

Hawaiian Electric will own that connective infrastructure, and maintain it for 10 years, but the participating business will own the station itself. The business can bill drivers to use the station at their discretion.

Alan Yonan, spokesman for Hawaiian Electric, said applicants can save up to $90,000 through the program. If the infrastructure costs exceed that $90,000 limit, the customer can either choose to pay the excess themselves, or request changes to the design to reduce the costs.

Noel Morin, president of the Big Island Electric Vehicle Association, said Level 2 charging stations offer about 30 miles of driving for about one hour of charge, and can cost up to $25,000 to install on their own, not counting the connective infrastructure.

“In some situations, the biggest cost is that infrastructure, not necessarily the charger itself, especially if you need to dig to install cables,” Morin said.

The pilot program is limited to four to six charging ports per site, with up to 30 sites to be supported for the entire program, Yonan said, although he added that the actual number of sites supported will depend on factors such as rising costs for construction.

Although Yonan said there is no limit to the size of business that can participate in the program, Morin said that he believes the public would be best served by more charging stations at places such as Prince Kuhio Plaza or Walmart — places where people will park for at least an hour to get a usable charge.

“The only thing I’m questioning is the number of installations — only 30 sites?” Morin said, explaining that there are about 50 charging stations islandwide.

Because of its size, Morin said the Big Island especially needs more charging infrastructure.

“If you’re driving over to the other side of the island, and there’s not a charger you can use over there, that could be a problem,” Morin said.

Other initiatives are filling the charging gap, however. Yonan said there is a separate Hawaiian Electric program that offers businesses a rebate for the installation of chargers themselves — businesses can avail themselves of both the rebate and the pilot program at the same time — while Hawaii County recently passed a law requiring new public parking lots of a certain size to include a certain amount of charging stations.

“At this point, the lack of infrastructure is the biggest sticking point for electric vehicle adoption,” Morin said. “So, I think this will definitely make a difference.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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