Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Hawaii’s energy future
clouded by small thinking


Hawaiian Electric has trimmed its rate increase request from 5.4 percent to 3.4 percent.

CONSUMERS battered by high fuel costs might take some comfort from a smaller electricity rate increase negotiated by the state's consumer advocate, but without a focused energy strategy backed vigorously by state and county governments, residential and business customers will continue to see their bills rise higher and higher.

Absent an authentic federal energy policy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, Hawaii's leaders should adopt more aggressive conservation measures. At the same time, they should formulate a program not only to encourage individuals to use available renewable sources, such as solar power, but to stimulate further research and development to capture Hawaii's rich alternate energy assets, such as wind and wave production.

Hawaiian Electric Co. last year put in a request to the Public Utilities Commission to increase rates 7.3 percent. The request packaged two components, one for a 5.4 percent increase to cover costs of infrastructure for conventional power generation and another 1.9 percent to pay for conservation programs.

After negotiations with the state's consumer advocate division, which represents the public in rate cases, HECO agreed to a 3.4 percent increase instead of the 5.4 percent raise. How much the company will seek for its conservation programs has not been determined, and the PUC still must sign off on the proposals.

Earlier this year, HECO announced plans to build a 100-megawatt power plant at Campbell Industrial Park at a cost of $130 million. The company, aware of environmental concerns, says the plant would use a cleaner-burning fuel, but the high-grade petroleum product would be more expensive. Besides paying for electricity, customers also pay a surcharge for the fuel used to generate the power, and with the cost of oil rising, can expect to pay more as worldwide demand grows.

What Hawaii needs is to significantly reduce its use of oil. HECO has made some attempts to do so, offering rebates to customers who install solar panels, proposing to install windmills above Kahe Point and investing in hydrogen fuel cells, photovoltaic and ocean energy technology research.

However, the utility remains overwhelmingly dependent on traditional power generation. Though the state has instituted a Renewable Portfolio Standard Act that requires electric utilities to provide 10 percent clean energy by 2010 and 20 percent by 2020, the law allows fossil-fuel generation as part of the package, which does not accomplish its intent.

With its wealth of alternate energy resources, Hawaii should be at the forefront of their development. Staying the course on old, oily methods will darken the state's economic future and its residents' well-being.

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