State seeks public input to develop energy plan
Analysts are nearly finished studying the state's energy usage patterns and will move into crafting policies aimed at lessening the state's dependence on foreign oil.
State officials say they now hope to solicit input from the public -- from individuals and business owners to utilities and oil refiners -- to shape the proposals.
"The main thing that we have before us is to get input from stakeholders," said Maurice Kaya, chief technology officer for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. "We see some direction emerging, but we want to make sure that people understand what those are, and have an opportunity to comment on them."
Kaya spoke yesterday after the third public briefing by his agency and the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based policy analysis group, on what is known as the Hawaii Energy Strategy. Its aim is to reduce the state's dependence on imported fossil fuels through conservation, improved technology and alternative fuels. Experts say the state relies on fossil fuels such as coal and oil for roughly 90 percent of its energy needs.
Analyses of the state's energy usage patterns completed in recent months by the Rocky Mountain Institute indicate that a shift away from fossil fuels is likely at a slow to moderate pace, unless policies are adopted to encourage the shift.
Among other incentives, lawmakers should continue to strengthen standards that currently require that 20 percent of the state's energy needs come from renewable sources by 2020, such as biofuels, wind, wave and solar, said Joel Swisher, managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute.
Other practical policies that should be considered include a sliding subsidy to aid agriculture supporting biofuels, and a combination of fees and rebates to promote purchasing more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Swisher explained that biofuels -- ethanol and biodiesel are among the ones made from agricultural products -- are cost-competitive only when crude oil prices are high. A sliding subsidy would protect farmers who grow those crops, so they would receive a subsidy if oil prices fell and biofuels became less competitive, and little or no price support if oil prices were high.
The fee/rebate system, or "feebate," would work by setting fuel-efficiency targets for each class of vehicle. A target for sport utility vehicles might be 22 mpg. People who bought an SUV that exceeded that target would get a rebate at the time of purchase, while buyers of a model with lower efficiency would pay a fee, Swisher said.
The system could be tailored creatively, such as by setting a dollar amount for each mile per gallon that a vehicle varied from the target. In the SUV example, if the amount were set at $1,000 per mile, a vehicle that got 25 mpg would qualify for a $3,000 rebate, while a model getting 20 mpg would be subject to a $2,000 fee.
"I think they're all very interesting," Kaya said of the preliminary proposals presented yesterday. "But at the end of the day, it's about how much are you willing to pay for all of these policies. Clearly, the answer is not an unlimited amount. These policies have to be economically reasonable and justifiable."