Hawaii seeks 'Better Place' through electric cars

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Hawaii has an "extreme oil addiction," according to Gov. Linda Lingle. Ninety percent of her state's energy comes from imported oil, costing about $7 billion a year. A third of that oil makes its way into automobile tanks as gasoline. With gas on the islands still hovering around $2.65, Hawaiians spend more money on their cars (taxes, insurance, and fuel) than Americans on average in any other state. Governor Lingle's solution? Go electric.

The state has called in California startup Better Place to seed Hawaii with 50,000 to 100,000 electric-car recharging stations by 2012. The $100 million project comes as a three-part effort to radically overhaul the state's energy diet.

First, Better Place power spots will pop up in parking lot and downtown areas. As The Wall Street Journal reports:

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Under the plan, consumers would buy or lease electric cars, and Better Place would supply recharging services and batteries. Consumers would have a choice of buying mileage plans -- which would include recharging services and battery swaps -- or being guests on the network and paying for each battery charge.

Second, the company continues working with automakers to design electric cars that fit Hawaii's driving habits. Better Place says Nissan-Renault has already signed on to make vehicles compatible with the proposed network. America's Big Three automakers may soon follow suit. The Monitor's environment blog reported today that "Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, seeking access to $34 billion in taxpayer-financed loans, have presented to Congress plans to invest in clean technologies and to accelerate the development of fuel-efficient vehicles." Each has sketched out plans that calls for new electric cars in the next few years.

Last, the islands promise to invest heavily in renewable resources, ending their oil dependence and shrinking the state's carbon footprint. Since January, the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative has prodded state officials to slash oil imports from 90 percent of its energy intake to just 30 percent by 2030.

While Hawaii is the first US state to embrace electric cars so vigorously, Better Place says the San Francisco Bay area, Israel, Denmark, and Australia are considering similar plans.

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