Federal funds to help Hawaii build charging stations for electric vehicles

About $2.6 million in federal stimulus money will be distributed to four private companies and two county governments to build about 250 of the stations, which are a few feet high and plug into electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. The grant recipients pitched in $2 million in matching funds to receive the money.

”The construction of electric charging stations will help promote the adoption of electric vehicles,” said Estrella Seese, acting energy administrator for the state. ”This will help Hawaii’s efforts to transition to a clean energy economy by reducing our dependence on imported fuel.”

While there are only about 18 commercial electric cars on Hawaii’s roads so far, those numbers are expected to jump into the hundreds over the next few months.

Hawaii had the nation’s most expensive gas prices Friday, at $4.07 per gallon of regular unleaded, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

Building the charging stations creates an incentive for Hawaii residents to buy electric cars and feel comfortable that they won’t get stranded if their vehicles run out of fuel, said Brian Goldstein of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Better Place, which received $854,000 to build charging stations and introduce electric vehicles to rental car fleets.

”The electrification of transportation in Hawaii will speed the adoption of renewable energy because the batteries in electric cars and in our battery- switch stations are the perfect storage device for capturing large amounts of wind, solar, wave and hydropower,” he said.

The charging stations are planned to be built in parking lots of malls, grocery stores, department stores and other public locations.

A charge lasting an hour would add at least 10 miles of driving distance on a car like the Leaf, which has a range of 100 miles on a full charge. Most people with electric vehicles will charge them at home overnight, and the charging stations are meant to add to the cars’ traveling capacity.

”We’re an island state with smaller driving distances, so we really are in the best possible position to move forward with this technology,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. ”This is one of our best opportunities to move off of oil.”

The grants are going to Better Place, AeroVironment, GreenCar Hawaii, Plug In America, Kauai County, and the City and County of Honolulu.

Many of the charging stations will be built over the next year, and their power will likely be offered for free to electric car drivers, said Dan Davids, president of Plug In America. For example, Costco stores may offer free use of the charging stations as a perk to shoppers.

”One hundred miles of driving is enough for most applications, but public infrastructure definitely helps,” said Keiichi Kitahara of Nissan North America. ”If you want to go more than 100 miles, you can definitely extend the range of the vehicle.”

The State of Hawaii offers rebates to encourage electric vehicles – up to $4,500 per vehicle and $500 per charging system. Federal tax credits for electric vehicles are worth up to $7,500.