A company that builds electric vehicle charging stations announced Tuesday the first steps toward building a network of chargers across Hawaii.
The firm is called Better Place and has partnered with Hawaiian Electric Company and four hotels in Waikiki to install 10 electric car charging stations on Oahu.
Five electric car charging stations have been installed at the Sheraton Waikiki with five other chargers at HECO sites on Oahu.
"Better Place's goal is to make electric cars more convenient and more affordable and more sustainable than today's gas-powered cars," said Brian Goldstein, director of Better Place Hawaii.
Two of the electric cars will be used by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Sheraton Waikiki, Princess Kaiulani hotel and the Moana hotel to transport VIP guests to and from the airport as a pilot project to see how the charging stations and the cars work. Hawaiian Electric Company will use five other cars in its operations.
Nearly half of the money for the $1.1 million project came from the federal government.
"The funding is an earmark,” said U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, whose remark brought laughter and applause from the crowd at a Tuesday afternoon news conference at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. The Democrat was referring to the earmarking process, which allows members of Congress to set aside funds for projects that benefit their districts. Congress has agreed to end the controversial practice of earmarking after Republicans took control of the U.S. House.
"We can no longer necessarily rely on federal intervention, in terms of support, dollar support," said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat.
Electric car charging stations cost a little under $1,000 and a Better Place representative said their price is coming down.
State Sen. Mike Gabbard, D–Kapolei, Makakilo, just bought a Nissan Leaf electric car Friday, costing between $23,000 and $24,000, after state and federal tax credits.
"I'm the chair of the energy and environment committee in the Senate and I gotta set an example, and we're really stoked," Gabbard said.
He said he learned the limits of the 100-mile charge on the car during a trip from Central Oahu to Waimanalo Sunday.
"Coming back to Kapolei, we got to the H-1/H-2 merge and it said six miles left and so I had 12 miles to my house. We ended up driving to the dealer where we bought it, Waipio Nissan, and stuck into the charger and within a half hour, 45 minutes, we had an extra 20 miles and made it home," Gabbard said.
The next step: an $850,000 grant from the state will pay for the installation of 130 electric vehicle charging stations across Hawaii, in all four counties. Among that project’s partners will be Enterprise Rent A Car, which will begin using electric cars in its rental fleet.
Better Place -- which describes itself as the world's leading electric car services provider -- has operations in Israel, Denmark, Australia as well as California and Hawaii in the United States.
Jason Wolf, Better Place’s vice president for North America, said the company chose Hawaii as one of the two United States markets in which to launch its services because of “leadership and vision” of its government, business and environmental leaders.