Lawmakers look to sever dependency on fossil fuel
Rising gas prices lead to measures offering incentives for the use of alternative fuels
With local and national attention focused on the rising cost of gasoline and Hawaii's one-of-a-kind gas price cap, legislative leaders in both parties say they will push for measures to reduce the isles' dependence on fossil fuels.
Republicans unveiled yesterday what they called their "energy independence" package of proposals. It includes measures to encourage the use of more energy-efficient vehicles, provide incentives for producers of alternative fuels and promote energy conservation among consumers.
"A lot of people are lamenting gas prices now, and we can definitely do something here" to reduce dependence on oil, said Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, a frequent critic of the gas price cap law.
"The gas cap is going to be dealt with, I think, by the Legislature, and it should be," added Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo). "But we want to put that behind us and look forward to doing things like this so we don't need a gas cap, because we won't be relying on gas anymore; we'll have other energy sources."
Democrats said they were working on a similar package of proposals that they planned to release later.
House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro said the package was being designed as a "total approach" to reducing Hawaii's dependence on fossil fuels.
"With the rapid rise in crude oil prices, our dependence on oil as energy and power, the increased costs that ripple throughout our economy as a result of this dependence, and being at the mercy of the oil companies, we need to invest in our future," Oshiro (D, Wahiawa-Poamoho) said in a statement. "Specifically, we'll be looking first to the state, a large consumer of energy and electricity, as a model for energy conservation and efficiency systems."
House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village) said one key to the GOP's package is providing incentives for private-sector businesses that already are producing alternative fuels such as hydrogen fuel cells and biodiesel, an organic fuel derived from cooking oil which can be used as a substitute in diesel vehicles.
At a news conference yesterday, officials from private businesses said they believe alternative fuels can be a viable, commercial product in Hawaii.
"What we really need is some incentives, in addition to government funding, for the private sector to take the first step and really take a look at Hawaii as a test site" for commercial use of the technology, said Mark Mahler, vice president of sales and marketing for Gaspro, a distributor of compressed hydrogen.
Kelly King, spokeswoman for Maui-based Pacific Biodiesel, said the company has been converting used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel since 1996, and in that time has seen the price remain between $2.57 and $2.64 a gallon.
"What you're seeing is not only a sustainable fuel source," King said, "but a sustainable price."