The majority of parking lot owners have evaded a law that requires lots with 100 stalls or more to have at least one electric vehicle charging station.
Roughly 70 percent of properties on Oahu required to have an electric vehicle (EV) charging station have not installed one, according to a survey conducted by Blue Planet Foundation.
Since passage in 2009, the law has been ignored by most parking lot owners because of its lack of teeth. It does not assign an agency to hold the properties accountable, and there is no penalty if a parking lot forgoes an EV charger.
“The law has effectively always been voluntary,” said Shem Lawlor, clean-transportation director at Blue Planet Foundation, a clean-energy advocacy group. “The easiest way to increase compliance would be to assign an entity or entities with monitoring properties and create penalties for noncompliance.”
As the law is routinely ignored, the number of public charging stations has failed to keep pace with EV ownership growth.
As of January there were 5,202 electric vehicles on the road in Hawaii, a 27.7 percent year-over-year increase. There are 229 public electric stations with a total of 519 charging outlets in Hawaii, according the U.S. Department of Energy.
In some cases, difficulty to find a charger has caused owners to sell their electric cars.
Manoa resident Michael Cawdery, a former Nissan Leaf owner, said he sold his EV because it was too much of a hassle. Cawdery said he occasionally had to call friends for help when he needed to refill his battery due to charging stations being full or out of commission.
“I have been stranded overnight,” said Cawdery, who was living on the North Shore at the time. “I have called friends for rides. I have called friends for a place to stay. I have told people I can’t meet them.”
Cawdery said even if a parking garage had a charging station, it was often being used by another car.
Of 195 hotels, downtown parking lots, hospitals, universities, airports and shopping centers that fit the requirements, only 60 have complied, according to preliminary data from Blue Planet Foundation. The nonprofit gathered the information by using satellite imagery and publicly available GIS data layers from the state and counties to identify property owners who matched the requirements.
Blue Planet said its survey counted about half of the number of parking lots on Oahu with 100 or more spaces.
Some shopping centers that don’t offer EV charging stations say plans for installation are in the works.
Carl Johnsen, general manager of Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, said he was aware of the law, but the property had not yet installed a charging station.
“Parking is at a premium at the center,” he said. “We haven’t gotten around to installing a charging station yet. … It is something that we will eventually get.”
The state has said EVs are a key to Hawaii cutting its dependency on fossil fuels.
“Developing an electric vehicle infrastructure is a first and essential step toward the transformation of transportation in Hawaii,” the 2009 law said.
The law requires parking lots that have at least 100 spaces to designate one stall for electric vehicles and have one EV charger. The law originally required parking lots have one EV stall per every 100 spaces, but that was changed in 2012. Now regardless of the number of stalls above 100, only one EV stall and one charger are required.
Efforts to add an enforcement mechanism to the law have failed so far.
One bill this session (HB 793), which didn’t make it out of committee hearings, proposed assigning the state Department of Transportation to monitor and fine businesses that don’t comply. The bill also proposed to change the requirement to one charging station for every 100 stalls, instead of one charging station if the property has at least 100 stalls.
Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants Hawaii, said she opposed the change because the stalls can be costly for businesses as some EV owners charge but don’t shop.
“Taking away open public parking stalls and turning them into reserved EV stalls would hurt businesses, especially on weekends when many go to the malls and stores to shop and turn away when they can’t find a stall,” she said in her testimony about the change. “Many of our members have found EV drivers in the surrounding neighborhood and condominiums plug into retailers’ charging stations to avoid increasing their electric bill at home.”
Some public EV charging stations are free, in which case the parking lot owner or tenants must pay for the electricity pumped into the cars.
Not all shopping centers find a problem with reserving a stall for EV chargers.
Fred Paine, general manager at Pearlridge Center, said most of the drivers who use the property’s four charging stations spend money at the mall.
“Nine times out of 10 the person would say, ‘I don’t spend any money on gas, but I spend money at the mall.’ It takes a couple hours for a full charge, so they spend it, whether it’s on food or whatever,” he said. “(A charger) just gets them on the property. We feel we get the customer foot traffic. We’re willing to pay for the power.”