Energy bills would raise 'green' goal for state's power grid

Some legislators want new clean-generation standards in place before HEI is sold
Honolulu Star Advertiser - February 4, 2015
Kathryn Mykleseth

Several bills have been introduced to the Legislature as some lawmakers say now is the time for Hawaii to commit to increased renewable energy generation, tax credits for renewable energy batteries, and community solar projects before the sale of Hawaiian Electric Co. is finalized.
The proposals include setting a goal of having Hawaii's renewable resources make up 70 percent of the state's energy mix in 2035 and 100 percent in 2040. Currently the state has a goal of 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Sponsors of the legislation hope to solidify the state's energy goals before Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc. buys Hawaiian Electric Industries, which the companies expect will happen before the end of the year.

The two companies filed an application with the Public Utilities Commission on Thursday seeking approval of the purchase. As part of the application, they said customers would save more than $60 million over four years after the deal closes.

In December NextEra Energy announced its plan to purchase HEI for $4.3 billion.

Energy laws need to be in place before the purchase is decided, said Rep. Chris Lee (D, Kailua-Waimanalo).

"We need to push forward especially because we have a potential change in utility ownership," Lee said.

It is essential that the Legislature work fast before the deal is finalized, said Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe Bay).

"We have less than a few months to go ahead and put in place what we want for Hawaii and put it into law," Thielen said. "This a time for positive and effective action to put our green energy future into solid law so no one can come in and take over and change Hawaii's objectives."

Several Hawaii environmental and renewable energy groups want energy plans decided before the sale is finalized. Blue Planet Foundation, the Alliance for Solar Choice, Hawaii PV Coalition, Hawaii Solar Energy Association and Sierra Club of Hawaii petitioned the PUC in January to set plans for Hawaii's clean energy future before reviewing the proposed purchase.

Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo), who introduced the energy-goals bill in the Senate, said Hawaii could achieve higher renewable energy integration than current state targets after HEI said in August it could get to 65 percent renewable energy by 2030.

"Our state has positioned itself as a national leader in moving forward with clean, renewable energy. Our energy portfolio standard goals are a big reason that's the case. We've heard from our electric utility that they can get way past 40 percent by 2030. Senate Bill 715 is how we can set the bar even higher," Gabbard said.

Another measure looks to give tax credits to residents who purchase energy storage systems. House Bill 265 would provide the tax credits to residents who buy a battery for photovoltaic systems. The amount of the credit is not set yet.

Thielen, who introduced the bill, said energy storage will be important for Hawaii residents to integrate more renewable energy.

"Energy storage is going to be the key device that is going to help businesses and homeowners become independent from the grid," Thielen said. "It is still in the early stages, but the prices are going to come down."

Senate Bill 1050 and House Bill 484 would set up guidelines for community solar to allow residents who can't install rooftop solar to take advantage of tax benefits by investing in a larger solar-power system.

Both bills require the PUC to establish prices for community-based renewable energy.

A similar bill was introduced last session in the Senate but didn't make it through the conference committee.

Because of overwhelming support, Lee said, he is confident that the community solar bill will be approved this year.

"It is something that I think people are demanding," Lee said.

Lee also introduced House Bill 1504, a measure that would look into different public utility models across the U.S. to help identify what would work best in Hawaii, whether that be a publicly owned or independently owned utility.

"Looking into all of the various public models across the United States, whether it is a co-op or another form. We want to see what could be and what an ideal model would look like," Lee said. "Let's set that up against what is on the table today."