By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hawaii County is still mulling whether to expand its hybrid vehicle fleet after putting five new cars on the road last year.
Will Rolston, county energy coordinator, said the county is in the “analyzing process,” and will likely be able to make a decision on whether to add more hybrids when the fiscal year ends in June.
So far, results have been promising, he said, with fuel savings at between 50 and 75 percent.
“These are performing at least twice as good,” Rolston said, when compared to a fully gas-powered vehicle.
The cars have ranged between 59 and 66 miles per gallon, and the county estimates that switching to hybrids saves up to $1,600 a year in fuel costs per vehicle.
The five Chevrolet Volts, costing about $47,000 each, hit the road last April.
In total, they have traveled 41,313 miles, according to a report issued this month.
The cars are based at the West Hawaii Civic Center, which is equipped with solar panels.
Rolston said the county takes advantage of the solar energy when charging the vehicles, though the power isn’t free.
The panels are owned by SunRun, which installed them at no charge to the county, Rolston said. The move saved the county between $1.5 million and $2 million in installation costs, he said.
In exchange, the county buys the power the panels produce.
The rate is half of the local utility rate, Rolston said.
Still, the cost of electricity is cheaper than running a vehicle purely on gasoline, he said.
Rolston estimates the cost of running the cars on all-electric mode to be equitable to buying gas at $2 to $3 a gallon.
The cars can drive about 40 miles without using gas.
That’s typically enough for most single-day use.
The county is also planning to install charging stations in Hilo.
David Yamamoto, county building chief, said he hopes to have stations installed by the summer at the county’s main administrative building in Hilo and Aupuni Center across the street.
Each would have two charging stations.
Yamamoto estimates they will cost between $150,000 and $200,000 each.
“We have the plans,” he said. “We are just researching the type of units we might want installed.”
The stations, like those at WHCC, will be available to the public.
The cost of charging in Hilo hasn’t been determined.
The county’s main building has solar panels, but they don’t provide any excess energy, Yamamoto said.