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Pilot project pays infrastructure cost for bus fleets to go electric

Casey Harlow
Hawaii Public Radio

Hawaiian Electric is looking for bus operators to participate in a new pilot program that will offset some of the cost of converting a bus fleet from diesel fuel to electric.

The Public Utilities Commission has approved $4.2 million for the Charge Up eBus Pilot program – which is set to run through mid-2024.

The utility can install up to 20 bus charging ports at 10 locations on Oʻahu, Maui and Hawaiʻi Island.

“Charging infrastructure is new to a lot of operators, vehicle operators, and it is a significant cost, and it's expertise that they may not have in house," Tandy Tabata, eBus product manager at Hawaiian Electric, told HPR.

"And so I think we're looking at how we can help bridge that gap through this type of program. And, of course, we will be looking at adoption of this type of program, if this type of incentive helps increase further adoption of electric buses. (It will also look at) our rates, and how that can support bus operators, and their ability to leverage the lower costs.”

Under the pilot program, Hawaiian Electric will pay for the infrastructure costs - the design, planning, permitting, construction and maintenance of equipment leading up to the charging station.

Companies and organizations that own buses and take part in the program would be responsible for installing and maintaining the charger, the cost of electricity, buying the electric bus and sharing data with Hawaiian Electric.

"Electric buses and electric vehicles in general are relatively new, and this data helps us to better understand what the charging needs and behaviors of real customers in Hawaiʻi," Tabata said. "That also helps us plan for the future, and create, you know, additional products and services and rates that are a good fit for those needs, as well as helping us plan for the future of our grid and how we can support those charging needs."

Bus electrification can help the state meet its 100% clean energy mandate by 2045.

"For our communities and individuals, electric buses are going great way to introduce electric transportation to a cross-section of our communities," Tabata said. "Buses are accessible to so many different individuals at all ages. And the environmental and health benefits are multiplied in an electric bus, rather than just a single passenger vehicle, so I think that's one really exciting aspects of bus electrification."

Participating companies would be enrolled in electric bus charging rates, which offer discounted lower prices.

Hawaiian Electric is accepting applications for the program until March 31st. More information can be found at interested customers can learn more on our website www.hawaiianelectric.com/chargeupebus and send questions to chargeup@hawaiianelectric.com.

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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