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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 26, 2006

COMMENTARY
Hawai'i's energy future bright with possibilities

By Robbie Alm

If Hawai'i's energy future could be reduced to two words, they would be "less" and "local."

Using less energy and more locally produced energy are the best steps we can take to reduce our dependence on imported oil.

As a community, we should welcome and applaud the initiative taken by the governor and by the Legislature to come up with energy policies and plans to help this community take control of our energy use. We have strongly supported these packages, with only a few reservations, and pledged to help make them happen.

What does this mean for us as consumers?

We live in an electronic world. We rely increasingly on computers at work and at home.

Our children's education, more and more relies on computers. Our entertainment is increasingly electronic. Our comfort and convenience, particularly air-conditioning and microwave cooking are electronic. And, for many of us, health needs lead to electronic medical devices. Use less?

Yes, by efficient use of compact fluorescent lights, Energy Star appliances, insulating our homes, solar water heaters on our roofs and by changing cooling and lighting equipment in our workplaces. These steps will help use less electricity even as we use more of these devices.

We all need help to do this. So what role does the Hawaiian Electric Co. play in these programs?

Hawai'i has a great record in this area, especially in solar water heating, where we lead the nation. The buck stops with Hawaiian Electric delivering the power to your door, and we view these energy efficiency programs as an important part of meeting that obligation.

  • Concerning local fuels: Hawai'i already produces more than 100 megawatts of renewable power from geothermal, wind farms, hydropower on the Big Island, H-Power on O'ahu and bagasse from the HC&S plantation on Maui, along with all those solar roofs.

    In the next few months, we will add 53 megawatts from two wind farms on Maui and the Big Island. And more is coming, including expanding garbage-to-energy, wind power, and a type of energy called pumped hydro-storage a man-made river in a pipe.

    What the new bills at the Legislature do is substantially increase the use of ethanol and other biofuels, as well as hydrogen, in our transportation and electrical power areas.

    This is perhaps the most exciting part of the legislation.

    Agricultural energy, producing fuels locally as we replant our Islands, helps free us of the need to go overseas for fuels; this affects jobs, green space, keeping our money here by purchasing locally, and leaves us less vulnerable to world events.

    HECO built one of the first wind farms in the world in the 1980s. It failed, but we learned a lot. We tried and failed with a wind farm at Kahe and are now working with the community in the Kahuku area on another wind farm.

    We also are working with developers on another four to 10 renewable energy projects.

  • Consider transportation fuels: Two-thirds of our imported oil is for transportation, and while we may not be able to work with jet fuel on our own, we certainly can affect our automobile fuels.

    The great support provided to ethanol and biofuels is critical to our future. We need private-sector investment to help an ethanol future come to pass, and that takes public support such as tax credits. Ethanol and biofuels also help to generate electricity.

    Do we agree with every word of every bill? We do not. We agree on most of the specifics, and we absolutely agree with the purposes of these bills. Hawai'i's energy future depends on working together to make it happen. The good news is we are all poised to do so.

    Robbie Alm is senior vice president for public affairs, Hawaiian Electric Co. He wrote this article for The Advertiser.