Lingle, legislators making strong push for renewable energy
By B.J. Reyes
Sunshine, soft breezes and gentle waves.
The same assets that make the Islands such a popular tourist destination also are being looked at as generators that can make Hawai'i a leader in the development of alternative energy sources.
In her State of the State address, Gov. Linda Lingle pledged to follow up on a 2002 campaign promise to mandate that 20 percent of all electricity sold in the year 2020 come from renewable sources.
"That's a pretty sizable amount," said David Dismukes, associate director of Louisiana State University's Center for Energy Studies.
Whether the state can reach that goal, obviously, remains to be seen, but lawmakers and the Lingle administration are taking steps now to try and see it through.
The difference is in the approach.
Under Lingle's proposal, energy companies would be required to meet incremental standards of 8 percent of net electricity sales coming from renewable sources by 2006, 9 percent by 2008 and 2 percent increments every two years after that until the goal of 20 percent is achieved by 2020.
Failure to meet these goals would result in "significant financial penalties."
Twelve states have adopted such mandates known as renewable portfolio standards, according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy.
A proposal supported by Majority Democrats in the House sets similar benchmarks, but only as goals, not requirements punishable by fines.
The House Majority's proposal was heard in committee last week and is scheduled for decision making today.
"We cannot predict in 2020 what the science, the economics, what the market will be like," said House Consumer Protection Chairman Ken Hiraki, D-28th (Iwilei, Downtown, Makiki). "For us to predict out at 2020 and provide serious financial penalties, we thought that it was government putting undue regulations on the private sector goals."
The Majority proposal also would have the Public Utilities Commission study the possibility of a rate structure to encourage the use of renewable energy and develop an incentive program to reward utilities that meet the standards goals.
Incentives could be similar to tax breaks to those already available to Hawai'i consumers who use renewable energy devices, such as solar panels, on their homes.
Still, Lingle's proposal for financial penalties has the support of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, which said renewable energy use currently is projected to be only about 5 percent by 2010.
"Without enforceable energy policy and a clear market signal, we fear that the percentage of renewable energy that Hawai'i uses will continue to decrease," Sierra Club Hawai'i president Jeff Mikulina said in testimony to House lawmakers last week.
Louisiana State's Dismukes said the proposal could have an unforeseen consequence of stifling the use of other technologies that might be more cost effective.
"Let's say fuel cells became really, really cheap in the future for some reason," he said. The proposed penalties "certainly wouldn't give a utility a lot of flexibility if more efficient technologies became available."
Lingle's proposal hasn't been scheduled for a hearing in the House. A Senate version of the bill has been deferred.