Clean Energy Advocates Push for 100 Percent Renewables

Bill would advance Hawaii's clean energy mandates, but hotels say it could prevent them from switching to natural gas to save on electricity bills.
Honolulu Civil Beat - February 4, 2015
By: 
Sophie Cocke

Hawaii could become the first state in the country to adopt energy mandates requiring the state’s utilities to derive 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal, if a bill backed by clean energy advocates is approved.

Currently, Hawaiian Electric Co., serving Oahu, the Big Island and Maui County, as well as the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, are required to convert to 40 percent renewable energy by 2030 or face penalties.

Bill 715 would take these goals much further, requiring the utilities to convert to 100 percent renewable generation by 2040.

The measure, as well as 10 others related to energy efficiency, ethanol, renewable tax credits and the use of clotheslines, passed out of the Senate’s Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday.

The bills still face numerous hurdles to passage — in addition to further committee votes, they would have to be passed by both the full House and Senate before being sent to the governor.

“It’s important that we set the bar higher as we continue in our quest of being the nation’s leader on clean renewable energy and leaving fossil fuels behind,” said Sen. Mike Gabbard, chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, before recommending that Bill 715 pass out of his committee.

The bill passed 2—1, with Sen. Sam Slom, the sole Senate Republican, voting no. Slom said he worried that the bill could entail “unintended consequences” and questioned whether the renewable energy mandates would bring rate relief to consumers.

Scott Seu, a HECO vice president, testified in general support of the bill, which lays out various energy benchmarks leading up to 2040, including achieving 75 percent renewable energy by 2035. While

Seu said that HECO was comfortable with the 2035 mandate, he suggested extending the 2040 deadline.

Opposition from Hotel Lobby

Hawaii’s current electricity mandates were enacted under the 2008 Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative and apply only to the utilities, HECO and KIUC.

However, Bill 715 goes further in trying to curtail the use of fossil fuels. The measure also applies to all new generating units with a capacity of 500 kilowatts or more. The clause has elicited opposition
from some of the state’s largest hotels, which would be stymied from acquiring on-site generators that run on natural gas as a strategy for cutting their electricity bills.

Starwood Hawaii, which includes 11 resorts on four islands, submitted testimony in opposition to the measure. The group represents several Sheraton hotels, the Royal Hawaiian, Westin Moana Surfrider, Westin Maui, Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort, St. Regis Princeville and Westin Princeville Ocean Resort.

Eric Au, a director for Starwood Hawaii, wrote that self-generators are an efficient way to produce electricity from fossil fuels and that the “benefit to the customer is a dramatic reduction in overall energy costs.”

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, testified that HECO could lose 50 to 100 megawatts of generation from businesses seeking to disconnect from the grid and generate on-site electricity from natural gas.

Joe Boivin, a senior vice president for Hawaii Gas, the state’s sole gas company, declined to comment on the measure when reached by Civil Beat.
Some of the other bills passing out of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday include:

Senate Bill 350 requires the state Department of Taxation and Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to submit a joint report to the Legislature annually that details the total cost of the state’s renewable energy tax credits and the estimated economic benefit of the credits to the state for the past four years.
The state’s renewable tax credits have stirred controversy over the years, with critics arguing that it’s time to start scaling them back as the cost of solar and wind drops.
There is a significant delay, however, in getting the most up-to-date tax information. In 2012, the credits cost the state $179 million, according to the latest available information from the state tax department.

Senate Bill 646 – The seemingly innocuous practice of hanging up a clothesline to dry one’s clothes — and save on electricity — has stirred debate in Hawaii over the years, with opponents arguing that the lines are unattractive.

This bill would make sure that clotheslines are allowed in any residential dwelling, apartment, condominium or townhouse.

Senate Bill 488 – Not everyone living in condos has an electric meter, leaving management to divvy up electricity costs among residents regardless of energy use. This measure, backed by Hawaii Consumer Advocate Jeff Ono, would require separate meters for each unit.

“This issue is personal for me,” testified Ono, who lives in a building that doesn’t have separate meters. “I like to run my air conditioning — I should be the one to pay for it. By the same token, the woman in my building that runs the laundry service out of her apartment, she should have to pay for her energy as well.”

Senate Bill 698 – Prohibits the electric utilities from banning renewable energy providers from selling curtailed energy to a third party.
Wind and solar developers in Hawaii have had to dump some of the energy they are producing because HECO has said that its grids can’t handle all of it. On Maui, the utility was dumping as much as 40 percent of the wind energy that was being produced. The HECO companies have reduced the amount of renewable energy they’re wasting and say that they are implementing new battery storage and demand-response technologies to ensure that it’s not a problem going forward.

However, clean energy advocates want to ensure that renewable energy developers can sell excess energy for other projects if the utilities do end up dumping the energy.