Wednesday, January 24, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Island Voices
We must wean state away from oil energy

By Rep. Hermina Morita, D-12th Dist. (East & North Kaua'i, East Maui)
Chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection

My recent Kauai electric bill, in addition to a 16 percent "energy cost adjustment charge" of 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour, contained this message: "Have you noticed the price of gasoline lately? World oil prices are the highest they’ve been in 10 years."

There is little Hawaii can do to control the price of oil, but there is much we can do to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels.

Our fossil-fuel dependency makes Hawaii vulnerable. In 1999, 28 percent of our crude oil came from Alaska, while 72 percent came from foreign sources, mainly Indonesia, Australia and China.

Hawaii needs an energy strategy for the future supply and price of oil, which places a heavy economic burden on residents and businesses. As an island community, we should also be fighting to halt global climate changes by reducing carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

Micropower generation and fuel cell technology are changing how we generate and distribute electricity. These developments provide the uninterruptible power source necessary for sensitive electronic equipment critical to information technology, the basis for our New Economy.

Visionaries like the late U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga recognized the potential of renewable energy resources in the world’s transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to one powered by hydrogen.

Solar, wind, geothermal, ocean thermal and other renewable sources would help to produce hydrogen, the ultimate energy carrier and most abundant element in the universe.

The Spark M. Matsunaga Hydrogen Research, Development and Demonstration Program Act of 1990 was the nation’s tribute to his vision.

Hawaii will not be the first to take this bold step. Today, the government of Iceland, in partnership with Shell Oil and Daimler-Chrysler, aims to make that island nation the world’s first hydrogen-based economy. If successful, Iceland will cut its annual oil bill of $150 million to almost zero. By comparison, Hawaii’s annual oil import exceeds $1 billion.

Just imagine a Hawaii economy powered by hydrogen produced from solar panels placed on roof tops or wind turbines powered by tradewinds. Hawaii could mirror Iceland’s strategy and become the center of hydrogen expertise in the Pacific.

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