Lingle listens in on House energy debate
The governor's own plan has common ground with the Democrats' proposals
Gov. Linda Lingle is trying to send a message to Democrats who control the state Legislature: She really is interested in alternative energy.
She has said it before. She hit it hard in her State of the State address.
But last week, she took a different tack by sitting quietly among spectators through a hearing on several energy and environmental bills authored by Democrats.
Unable to push her own bills to the top of the agenda, the Republican governor is for now just listening in on testimony on Democratic House members' attempt to control Hawaii's hunger for energy made from imported oil.
"Now its just a matter of exactly what form it's all going to take," Lingle said at the end of public testimony.
Lingle has submitted her own massive energy package to the Legislature. While that bill has been assigned to be heard by a list of committees, it has yet to be assigned a date for a hearing in either house.
Lingle said she plans to keep a close eye on the topic throughout the four-month session, not because of her conflicts with Democrats, but because she and majority lawmakers seem to share so much common ground on the issue.
The Democrats' legislation includes a measure to raise the cap on the tax credits available for people who install solar panels on their homes and businesses, to encourage more fuel-efficient designs for public buildings and to put solar panels on public schools.
Discussion on that bill came as oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange settled at $67.92 and President Bush called for more research into and use of alternative fuels in his annual State of the Union speech.
Comments on the Democrats' House bill ranged from a plea for even higher tax credit caps from members of the solar industry to nudging by administration officials that the governor's bill does all the same things but better.
None of the 15 or so people speaking at the hearing came out against the House bill. Most simply suggested tweaks to clarify or expand on what the bill provides.
Warren Bollmeier, president of the Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance, asked that the school project in the bill also include solar-powered air-conditioning and wind systems.
The state Capitol -- well known among its resident workers for its arctic air-conditioning system -- should also be first on legislators' list for converting to a more energy-efficient system, he said.
However, Henry Curtis, director of the environmental group Life of the Land, said the Democrats' bill is too weak and does not do enough to establish true energy self-sufficiency for the state.
"This would be more like the fossil fuels self-sufficiency act of 2006 that has a little bit of renewables kicked in," he said.
Curtis said the Legislature would be better off using the governor's bill as the basis for its 2006 legislation because it tightens the rules for utilities to be fueled by 20 percent alternative fuel by 2020, and it also cuts down on utilities' ability to pass higher oil prices on to their customers.
"It's more comprehensive, covers more areas and would move us closer, faster," he said.
But both bills would still leave Hawaii dependent on oil for some time to come, he said.