'Clean energy' needs a clean permit process
There's sometimes a need to put the rush on meeting an important deadline, which also presents a risk: In the hurry to get the job done, it might not be done right.
That's been both the impetus and the concern behind House Bill 2863, an attempt to streamline the permitting process for approving renewable energy facility sites.
The importance of accelerating the established timetable has become clear to most government and community leaders here. Rising energy costs have meant Hawai'i's dependence on fuel imports will only be felt more painfully with each passing year.
Although streamlined review would apply to all renewable energy projects, the Castle & Cooke plan for a Lana'i wind energy project may be among the first to benefit.
The wind farm project, which already has embarked on a test phase, is showing promise. Its planners project that a 400-megawatt wind farm could supply enough electricity to power more than 200,000 households. The hope is to transmit that power into the O'ahu grid through the undersea cable.
Existing permitting procedures would not enable such a plant to be up and running for another decade. The bill could cut that timetable in half by aligning the required state and county permits in a consolidated review.
This set off alarm bells among environmental groups here, rightly worried that skipping steps could give short shrift to legitimate public concerns about impacts on natural and cultural resources.
The revised version of that bill addresses much of that concern. Language has been added to require that a public meeting be held on the island in which the facility will be built to allow the public to see the plans and comment. The bill now also allows government agencies to independently seek public input.
The state has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy on a plan to ramp up Hawai'i's use of its renewable energy resources. It's important for the state to accelerate the pace of transformation, and HB 2863 provides a reasonable framework to do that.