Hawaii's Bio Beetles offer more than 35 mpg. (Jim Motavalli photo)
Hawaii is green, or so its boosters tell you incessantly. Of course, you have to ignore the thick smoke from the sugarcane-field-burning operations and the runoff chemicals used to control roadside plants, mountains of tourism-generated waste, plus a huge complement of invasive species.
An encouraging sign is the 30-megawatt wind farm visible from most parts of Maui, providing 10% of the island's electricity. Unfortunately, most of the rest is from diesel oil. But during a recent stay, I saw some evidence that the islands are starting to really go green, especially when it comes to transportation.
There's not much public transit in Hawaii (a light rail system is still stuck in the planning stage) but there is the Bio Beetle company, which rents a fleet of 20 biodiesel VWs and other cars in Maui. Also on Hawaii's second biggest island, the rapidly growing Maui EVs converts trucks and cars to batteries -- and has a backlog of orders.
The Korean EV company CT&T recently met with Governor Linda Lingle about opening a battery car assembly plant in Hawaii that could put 10,000 cars on the road annually, for local use and export. It's not clear where that plant would be located.
Since August 1, Hawaiian residents have been able to tap into a $4 million state-administered pot of stimulus funds for buying EVs ($4,500 maximum) or installing an EV charging station ($500). Bio Beetle is one of the applicants, hoping to add cars such as the Nissan Leaf to its fleet as soon as that car is available (expected to be at the end of this year).
In my week here, I visited David Noon at Maui EVs, took a ride in his Gem neighborhood vehicle, and saw a Ford Ranger XLT he was converting to run on 23 Optima marine batteries. Another is waiting for conversion, and there's a customer backlog that includes a Hummer H2, Mini and 1950s Studebaker.
Noon also operates Internet-based TV and radio businesses, but he thinks EV conversions are likely to be more lucrative.
David Noon of Maui EV works on converting a Ford Ranger XLT into an electric car.
I stopped by Bio Beetle near Maui's main airport, and encountered President Shaun Stenshol alternately taking care of stray cats, running a recycling business (Maui's only curbside program) and renting out Jettas, Beetles and other biodiesel cars. He sources the 100% biodiesel locally -- Pacific Biodiesel is right down the road. Stenshol's plan is to expand to the other islands, particularly Oahu and the Big Island.
Maui is a funny place. Stenshol is a vegan, and he'll find plenty of places to eat around the island, where there's also a healthy local food movement. But for every green car there's more than one monster truck, which the locals roar around on off-road mountain paths. This despite some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation, $4 a gallon for premium.
The Honolulu Advertiser predicts that there will be 10,000 EVs on Hawaii's roads in five years, and 43,000 in 10 years. That's not a huge dent in the million cars with tailpipes on those roads now, but it's a start.
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