Energy forum urges tax-saving policies
Members of the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum told lawmakers last week that updating state energy policies would mean significant savings adding up to a big tax cut for residents.
About two years ago, the forum estimated that increased energy efficiency in Hawaii would be worth about $3 billion over 20 years or about $600 per household annually -- and that was when oil was about $35 per barrel, said forum member Kyle Datta, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
On Wednesday, oil prices closed at $66.83 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
While energy costs have gone up by $1,850 per household in Hawaii over the last three years, the state's current collection of energy-cutting rules and laws will increase the state's use of renewable energy -- such as solar and wind power -- by only one percentage point over the next seven years, Datta said.
"So efficiency and these renewables that we spoke of really are the equivalent of a very large tax cut. That's how they affect societies," he said.
The four-year old forum convened by the University of Hawaii-Manoa has about 40 members, ranging from state government officials to the leaders of environmental groups and representatives of oil companies.
With the costs of fuel continuing to climb, this legislative session, Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Gov. Linda Lingle have all said they are putting a priority on weaning Hawaii from its dependence on imported oil.
Among the proposals for the 2006 session made by the forum to members of the Senate and House energy committees was increasing the amounts businesses and residents can claim in tax credits for installing systems that use renewable energy. The group is also looking for energy efficiency to continue to be counted toward the goal set in state statute of 20 percent alternate energy used by utilities by 2020.
Forum members' future recommendations could include a "Hummers pay for hybrids" plan that would increase the excise tax paid on vehicles weighing 3,000 pounds or more while eliminating the excise tax on more efficient vehicles, such as cars that get 40 miles to the gallon.
Rep. Cindy Evans (D, Makalawena-Waimea), vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, raised concerns over the challenge of community opposition to large projects, such as wind farms in sight of their back yards.
Robbie Alm, a spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Co., said a new wind farm with turbines just under 400 feet tall currently being built at Kaheawa along a ridge near Lahaina and in view of landing planes should help island residents envision wind farms being closer to their homes.
Forum members said they were also trying to boost public awareness and education about similar energy projects to make residents more comfortable with them.
Sen. J. Kalani English, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and International Affairs Committee as well as a member of the forum, said with so many areas of agreement between political parties and branches of state government, he was hopeful a set of alternative energy and energy efficiency bills will move forward the session.
"The alignment is very good this year," said English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai).