May 16, 2012

Hawaii bills aim to reduce oil use, energy costs

Legislation before Hawaii's governor could expand geothermal energy production across the state.

The pending measures could increase the geothermal output on all islands by amending the Hawaii State Planning Act to encourage development of geothermal energy on state and public trust land.

"I really believe that the consumer should own the resource because it's a mineral," explained Sen. Malama Solomon, who introduced Senate Bills 2001 and 3003.

Solomon, D-Hilo-Honokaa, explained that geothermal energy, unlike wind and solar power, is a firm energy source reliant on ever-present underground heat, rather than intermittent rain and sunshine.

Only a firm energy resource can replace oil consumption, she added. Nevertheless, the state has invested millions in solar energy tax credits, which doesn't create much cost savings because it doesn't reduce the need to import oil.

If Gov. Neil Abercrombie signs the amendments into law, they could help move the state toward its clean energy goal of 70 percent renewable energy use by 2030. Right now, Hawaii is the most oil dependent state in the nation, with only 10 percent of its power coming from clean energy resources.

Currently, a geothermal plant in Puna generates enough power to meet nearly a fifth of Hawaii Island's energy needs.

Energy independence is important for Hawaii, the most geographically isolated state. Hawaii has to pay higher costs to import fuel and, unlike mainland states, can't share power with its neighbors.

"The cost of electricity in the state of Hawaii is the most expensive in the nation," Solomon said. At about $200 a month per household, power bills in Hawaii are about three times higher than the national average.

Solomon also introduced a resolution calling for more transparency from alternative energy companies. If renewable energy plants offered information that met current technological standards, she believes there might not be as much confusion over intermittent and firm alternative energies.

"This new regulatory responsibility will put Public Utilities Commission in better position to make sound recommendations about what works and what doesn't work for Hawaii when it comes to indigenous renewable energy resources," she said.

Abercrombie, who called for more renewable energy options in his own bill package, has until mid-June to decide whether to sign, veto or let the bills become law without his signature.


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