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Pave way for EVs to rule isle roads

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Alan Oshima, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company, charges his electric vehicle outside HECO’s Ward facilities.

Two years ago, amid emerging climate change threats to island communities — spurred on by burning fossil fuels — Hawaii became the first state to put in place a law that sets a trajectory for 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045.

We now need a trackable goal for reaching 100 percent renewable ground transportation fuel as well as a plan that aims to hold us accountable for marking progress. House Bill 1580 sets a state target that’s 28 years down the road, pairing it with the electricity sector’s ongoing effort to shed our ranking as the most oil-dependent state in the nation.

The bill, which also would establish a short-term plan to reduce vehicular fossil fuel use by 5 percent before 2025 and eventually dot the islands with electric vehicle (EV) chargers, will be heard today by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. State lawmakers should not hesitate to support it.

The proposal does not pin down answers to questions about potential pocketbook effects on residents and businesses. And an entity has yet to be tapped to lead the charge for clean transportation technologies and programs. Even so, the time for deferring legislative action for even a few years of study is behind us. There’s simply too much solid scientific consensus that without swift course corrections the consequences of climate change — rising seas, more hurricanes and droughts, species extinction — are likely to get worse.

While not a mandate, HB 1580 establishes some benchmarks tied to coordinating energy planning across sectors and various market expectations — all in an effort to transition Hawaii to less expensive and less polluting energy. Even climate change doubters should back this bill as it aims for independence from imported fuels used for on-island transportation, which is key to just about any sort of sustainability future in the far-flung mid-Pacific.

By 2045, according to the bill’s plan, there should be an electric vehicle charging station open for business every 30 miles, or one station for every five vehicles. Right now, there are nearly 230 public electric stations, with a total of 519 charging outlets statewide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Some outlets are free for motorists; some require some sort of payment for charging.

Hawaii ranks second nationwide, behind California, in its tally of EVs registered as a percentage of vehicles, and we have the second-highest ratio of electric charging stations based on population. However, while EVs are a good fit for the islands — electric batteries perform well in our weather and our shoreline boundaries lessen “range anxiety” — we have a daunting road to travel to make a statewide switch.

Last month, the electric vehicle count in Hawaii was 5,357 — up 27 percent from February last year. But EVs account for less than 1 percent of all cars and trucks registered in Hawaii. Still, the potential environmental gains, along with long-term cost savings, make the move away from petroleum- guzzling well worth the effort.

In HB 1580 testimony, Ulupono Initiative, which pairs a private investing fund with sustainability goals, underscored the need to focus on renewable transportation fuel. It pointed out that while 20 percent of electricity generation in Hawaii is now renewable, less than 1 percent of energy use in transportation is renewable. And transportation eats up a larger slice of the state’s energy usage pie — 28 percent for ground transportation, compared to 26 percent for electric power. Only air transportation consumes more, 31 percent.

On Tuesday, Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, described the bill as “telegraphing from the state that this is where we want to be.” He added in legislative testimony: “We were hoping to see the leadership from the Legislature set a vision for our clean-energy future. It is particularly important in light of the shift in federal policies brought by the Trump White House.”

Indeed, as the Trump administration endeavors to undo much of the Obama administration’s policies for battling climate change, it’s time for individual states to step up and fight for an environmentally sound future. In Hawaii, legislation like HB 1580 will help us navigate the road ahead.

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