Isles' PUC plugs into quest for alternate energy
The state Public Utilities Commission will soon have a bigger role in trying to end Hawaii's dependency on imported fossil fuels.
And as oil prices soared to wallet-wringing highs, both Democrats and Republicans came out this past legislative session with comprehensive energy plans to make better use of Hawaii's solar, wind and geothermal energy sources.
The measures include a $5 million plan to put solar panels on public schools and a $10 million fund to support hydrogen fuel research.
But some of the most innovative measures of Gov. Linda Lingle's original 140-page energy bill that would have radically changed how the state's electric companies operate were revised, switching the measures from requirements to ideas to be considered by the commission. The commission regulates utilities in the state, including energy and telecommunications.
The three electric company measures are contained in a single bill still awaiting Lingle's signature.
The new projects given to the commission under the bill include:
» Considering the creation of a new agency dedicated to administering tens of millions of dollars electric companies collect in surcharges each year for use on energy efficiency projects. Hawaiian Electric Co., the state's largest electric company, spent only about $7 million of the $19 million it collected for the projects in 2004, according to the Lingle administration.
» Refining how the state will get its utilities to reach a goal of using 20 percent renewable, nonfossil fuels -- such as wind, solar, ocean wave or geothermal power -- by 2020.
» Reviewing whether to end the companies' ability to automatically pass along the higher cost of fossil fuels to customers. The idea is that if companies are forced to share the burden, they might feel more inspired to switch to another fuel source.
HECO spokesman Robbie Alm said last week that his company was not authorized by the commission to spend 2004's entire $19 million on the efficiency programs. He said he hopes the panel now looks at all the different incentives for utilities to use renewable fuels and selects the right ones.
Jeff Mikulina, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii, called the 2006 legislative session one of the best this decade for energy issues, but said it could have been even better.