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Molokai Electric Vehicle Movement

Molokai transportation may recharge as eco-energy specialists and community members have begun brainstorming how to introduce more electric vehicles (EV), charging stations, and energy and cost efficient ways to power them on the island.

“Molokai is an absolutely perfect fit for electric vehicles,” said Ethan Elkind, an EV expert and climate policy associate from the University of California Berkeley School of Law.

Elkind met with Molokai residents last Wednesday to discuss the long process of increasing EV drivers on the island. They discussed some of the obstacles Molokai faces including lack of on-island EV dealers, charging stations, and costly energy rates, which inhibit large-scale EV adoption.

In a recent report conducted by Navigant Research, a market research consulting firm, Hawaii is expected to have the highest concentration of EV sales in the country by 2022.The state’s geographic structure, large tourism base, and abundant renewable resources makes Hawaii a picture-perfect model for pushing electric vehicle deployment on a global scale, according to a September report published jointly by UC Berkeley School of Law and UH Maui College.

The report highlights Molokai’s strong malama aina core values and that both residents and visitors could benefit from EVs as a sustainable, cost-effective measure.

“People ask me why got my [Nissan Leaf] and I say, ‘doctor’s orders,’” said Molokai resident Bill Garnett. “I was spending $450 a month on my diesel truck, my Leaf lease is $250 a month, and I have solar panels on my roof so it hasn’t made my bills go up.”

Tapping into Tourism
“I think the best way we can get electric cars on this island is through a rental company that already exists, or through one we need to start up,” said Garnett, one of a handful of local residents who already own EVs.

According to Berkley Law and UH Maui College, 53,300 visitors came to the island in 2012. Compared to the 1.4 million people that visit Hawaii each year, Elkind said Molokai attracts a specific kind of person likely to request an EV rental car.

“[Tourists on Molokai] are more into eco-tourism than other islands would get,” said Elkind. “They don’t come here for art galleries and all that stuff so they are the perfect market.”

Elkind said rental agencies are great ways to introduce the cars to the island because people who have never driven one can test them out and residents can then purchase them at a discounted rate. However, rental companies are hesitant because new drivers don’t understand how far they can get on a charged vehicle and often run out of juice, he added. According to Nessan, a 2013 Leaf can drive an average of 75 miles on a single charge.

Installing Charging Stations
Introducing multiple charging stations across the island may help encourage EV implementation.

Because Molokai is roughly 38 miles wide and 10 miles long, it is unlikely a 100 percent electric vehicle with a 60-mile range can drive the entire span roundtrip without running out of power. By installing public charging stations in popular locations, it could mean the difference between powering up Kamehameha V Highway’s hills, and waving for help on the side of the road.

Garnett said the county building would be the easiest location to install a charging station because Molokai’s is the only county building in the state that doesn’t have one. Other proposed locations included Pu’u O Hoku to the east and Papohaku to the west.

“This is exactly the conversation people need to have,” said Elkind. “Where does it make sense to put it and who are you trying to serve? Residents are going to have different travel patterns than visitors.”

However, much of the problem lies with a lack of landowners willing to front the installation and energy costs.

Funding for Electric Charge
Charging stations can take the form of everyday electric outlets, also called “level one chargers,” which can take 8 to 12 hours to fully charge a vehicle on empty. Level two chargers can charge a car in about 2 to 4 hours, but use more energy and can be costly if powered through Maui Electric’s grid without rooftop solar panels.

Though the federal government may pay for the equipment for the charger, the landowner would pay for the trenching, the electrical upgrades, and for the electricity. On average, according to Elkind, a level two charging station would cost about $20,000 to install.

“It’s hard to find property owners because they don’t want to deal with it and it’s not clear how to make any money off of it yet,” said Elkind. “It doesn’t make sense for a lot of them at this point but we’ll get there with different charging companies, subscriptions and gas station models.”

Matt Yamashita, Molokai representative for Rising Sun Solar, suggested the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) could be a possible entity to tap into for funding the charging stations.

“The HNEI guys have additional funds that can pay for stuff like off-grid charging stations,” said Yamashita. “When they have their [community] meetings…people need to talk about EVs.”

Yamashita recommended Molokai start a network of EV stakeholders to put together a formal request for the next HNEI meeting on Molokai to jumpstart the EV initiative island-wide.

“Other islands have their advantages, but Molokai has a lot going for it,” said Elkind.
“Population-wise, you have a community here that understands the benefits to the environment and…most visitors want to tread lightly on the island. So you have a sympathetic visitor base and a sympathetic resident base.”


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