Hawaii most expensive gas, Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, Tesla electric car
The Honolulu Advertiser, Greg Yamamoto/AP
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (right) glances
under the hood of a Nissan Rogue.

Hawaii Plans Switch to Electric Cars

December 04, 2008 02:33 PM
by Anne Szustek
The Aloha State hopes to alleviate residents’ dependence on gas—the most expensive in the country—by pushing through incentives for electric cars.

Hawaii Electric Car Program on Track

On Wednesday, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle announced a plan that could see more than 1 million electric cars on the Aloha State’s roads by 2012, the first statewide project of its kind.

Our path, the direction of energy independence, is not based on what happens to the barrel of oil,” Lingle said at a press conference. “We have to reach a secure and clean energy future.”

Echoing a similar proposal unveiled in November in San Francisco, the state is partnering with Palo Alto-based company Better Place, which has put forward a plan worth up to $1 billion to fund some 100,000 charging stations around the state as well as possibly sponsoring incentives for drivers to purchase the electric cars.

The plan, which would draw financing from private sources, would also offer drivers state incentives to buy subscription-based electricity packages from Better Place, in partnership with Hawaiian Electric Co. The plans resemble those offered by cell phone providers, and would charge motorists up to 8 cents per mile for power. Gas in Hawaii currently averages some 13 cents a mile.

“Our goal is 1.2 million cars in Hawaii all going electric,” Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive of Better Place, was quoted as saying by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Hawaii’s short driving distances—the longest continuous drive across the length of an island is some six hours across the Big Island—make the state a prime candidate to take on electric car technology, according to Agassi. Most batteries cannot compete with a full tank of gas on total distance but can power about 120 miles of driving without recharging.

The electric car proposal is part of Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative, which seeks to have the state derive 70 percent of its power needs from green energy sources by 2030. The state is working to have upward of 3,000 electric cars on state roads in 2010, and more than 50,000 electric cars five years later. Better Place’s proposal sees electric cars up and running in Hawaii in less than a year and a half.

“Better Place is a grand scale step in the right direction,” Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said in a statement. “Let us not falter or recede from our commitment to reduce our dependency on foreign oil.”

In addition to San Francisco and Hawaii, Israel, Denmark and Australia have signed on for Better Place-organized electric car programs.

Background: Hawaii’s high gas prices; electric cars elsewhere

In August, Hawaii became the second state—after Utah—to implement a four-day workweek for state employees. Utah and Hawaii have similar reasons for their move: lower overhead costs for government buildings, as well as gas savings for state workers.

“It would save the employees a lot of money if they didn’t have to drive in five days versus four days. But the bottom line is can we provide the same degree of service that we do to the taxpayers?” Gov. Lingle said in July.

Owing to the state’s far-flung island location, Hawaii on average has the most expensive gas in the country. The highest average price for a gallon of regular unleaded this year was $4.390 on July 31 in Honolulu, the state’s capital and financial center. In Hilo, located on the Big Island, the same gallon of regular unleaded hit $4.656 the same day.

This, on top of the state’s commitment to protecting its tropical island environment, make Hawaii’s move toward electric cars arguably fortuitous.

Electric cars are still a rare sight on the road, thus it has been a challenge to record their energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions. But what is most appealing to drivers is being able to eschew gasoline in an era of sky-high fuel prices.

General Motors and many others are working on diesel-electric, gas-electric, and fully electric cars that will trickle onto the market before the end of the decade. These models hope to overcome the issues of first-generation electric cars, like inefficient batteries.

Another U.S. automaker turning out electric cars is California-based Tesla Motors, which released a battery-operated car debuting on the U.K. market earlier this year.

The car, called the “Tesla,” travels 225 miles before its battery needs to be recharged, and can reach 60 miles an hour in four seconds. Like the G-Wiz, another electric car released in Britain last year, the Tesla appeals to consumers with a bigger budget who want to invest in the next wave of auto technology.

But an electric car program in another EU country targets lower income brackets. Paris, France, has plans to put 4,000 electric cars at 700 access points by the end of 2009. City residents can pay to use the cars on a one-time or annual basis.

The plan comes less than a year after the city launched its Vélib bicycle-sharing program, which has proven to be very successful.

The car program targets those who cannot afford to buy cars, such as young families, and others who want a vehicle for spur-of-the-moment travel. The model of the car has not yet been decided, but it could be a French model like Le BlueCar, which debuted its prototype in 2007.

Related Topic: Hawaii's garbage concerns

The 200-acre Waimanalo Gulch Landfill, Honolulu’s only municipal waste disposal facility, is projected to reach capacity in the next 15 years. Given the constraints of its island setting, the city had been considering a plan to outsource its trash to the mainland United States. Earlier this week, the Honolulu City Council opted to expand the landfill. Local residents are pushing municipal authorities to still review plans to ship out Oahu’s trash.

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