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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 13, 2006

State launches new path in energy

By Tara Godvin
Associated Press

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Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday signed into law a bill launching a pilot project to put solar panels on schools and to make state agencies including buildings and cars more energy efficient.

The ceremony at the Capitol will be the first of four held throughout the Islands in the coming weeks to commemorate the signing of legislation aimed at easing Hawai'i's dependence on imported fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

The package of bills, supported by both the Republican governor and majority Democrats, launches Hawai'i on a long path toward being less dependent on foreign oil and less susceptible to political instability in oil-producing countries, said Ted Liu, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

"We are vulnerable and this is indeed a race, and we need to get on with it. There's a lot of hard work ahead of us," Liu said.

The bill signed by the governor yesterday includes:

  • $5 million to begin a pilot program to put solar panels on at least one school each on O'ahu, the Big Island, Kaua'i and Maui.

  • State policy changes on promoting fuel efficiency within its agencies, particularly for new buildings and vehicle purchases.

  • $500,000 for DBEDT to tackle energy-efficiency initiatives for state facilities and equipment, plus $130,000 to hire two full-time coordinators for the project.

  • $65,000 to hire a full-time coordinator for energy efficiency at Department of Education facilities.

    Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawai'i chapter, called the 2006 legislative session one of the best this decade for energy issues. But he stressed the state has only begun to shake its dependency on fossil fuels.

    Likening the state to a person with a pack-a-day cigarette habit, Mikulina said Hawai'i has shed the equivalent of about one cigarette from its addiction.

    "But this is a step. It's an acknowledgment. ... And it will move us forward at least in the right direction," he said.

    Lingle said her administration has called the measure she signed yesterday the "leading-by-example" bill, because it makes the state meet goals for efficiency and conservation.

    Lingle began the session by submitting to lawmakers an ambitious energy independence plan for the state, and later, in a unique show of support, sat through several marathon committee hearings on the session's energy bills.

    "It was a very long process," Lingle said of devising her administration's plan. "But we knew that our state could not continue on its current path, that it was making us much too vulnerable, that it was saying to future generations, 'Well, you're just on your own. Hope it all works out in the end,' " she said.

    Among the many people Lingle thanked for their efforts was Rep. Hermina Morita, House Energy and Environmental Protection chairwoman, who helped usher the bills through the session.

    "We had to move forward if we wanted to secure Hawai'i's future, for future generations," said Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei).