Light vehicles in state’s fleet to transition to electric by 2035

  • LOWEN

All state-owned light vehicles must be fully electric by 2035 under a bill that successfully passed through the state Legislature this year.

Under House Bill 552, the state will transition its entire light-duty vehicle fleet to zero-emissions vehicles by the end of 2035, with passenger cars transitioning by 2030. According to a report by the Hawaii State Energy Office, there are currently roughly 3,200 vehicles in the state’s light-duty vehicle fleet.

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Kailua-Kona Rep. Nicole Lowen authored the bill, saying it was one of her legislative priorities in 2021.

“It actually saves the state money in maintenance costs,” Lowen said. “And with more electric vehicles on the road, it gets more people to realize they’re not much different from other cars, and might convince more people to adopt them. And, of course, it incentivizes building more electric infrastructure.”

Although most of the state’s vehicles are deployed on Oahu, Lowen said there are about 300 state light-duty vehicles active on the Big Island, about 100 of which are passenger cars.

Under the bill, state agencies will operate under a procurement policy to prioritize zero-emissions or hybrid vehicles when purchasing new vehicles, although Lowen said some vehicles will be exempt from this policy depending on the circumstances.

Passenger vehicles will be transitioned to zero-emissions first, Lowen said, because there already are zero-emissions passenger vehicles commercially available at prices competitive with similar internal combustion vehicles.

Lowen said zero-emissions models of other vehicle types, such as SUVs, are not quite cost-effective yet, but are expected to be reasonably priced by 2035.

The bill corresponds with another one written by Lowen, House Bill 1141, which allocates 3 cents of the barrel tax — the tax imposed on each barrel of oil imported into the state — to fund the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

Lowen said the two bills were a “chicken and egg” situation, with the success of each dependent on the other.

Both bills were largely popular during their passage through the Legislature. Multiple state agencies, including the Office of Planning and the Hawaii State Energy Office, supported HB 552, as did several environmental groups from throughout the state.

“The decarbonization of the state fleet will encourage fleet owners to follow and will compliment similar steps taken by county governments,” wrote Noel Morin, president of the Big Island Electric Vehicle Association. “Notably, an aggressive goal to decarbonize will send the market and industry signals that will accelerate … an even broader range of affordable EVs, expanded charging infrastructure, increased focus on workforce development and jobs creation in green technologies, and a more urgent response by local industries that are dependent on traditional vehicles and fossil fuels.”

Both bills correspond with the state’s mandate to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2045.

“While Hawaii has made impressive progress on decarbonizing its electricity generation, we are falling short on reducing carbon pollution from our cars and trucks,” said Melissa Miyashiro, managing director of strategy and policy at Blue Planet Foundation. “These new measures address this missing piece and will help accelerate the adoption of clean electric vehicles statewide.

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“We appreciate the work our lawmakers put into these bills to help Hawaii chart a different path forward at a critical time for the state and the planet.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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