City needs to better manage electricity use and expense
An audit has found that energy use and costs at city facilities have increased sharply during the last five years.
JUST as residents and businesses manage their electricity use in the face of steeply rising carbon-fuel surcharges and utility rates, so should City Hall.
A report by the Office of the City Auditor found a distressing increase in electricity consumption and utility bills during the past five fiscal years, a trend detrimental to the city's treasury and the island environment.
Officials have an obligation to monitor and control energy use wisely, purchase energy-efficient equipment, institute conservation procedures and make sure contracts promising energy savings actually deliver, as the audit recommends.
The audit showed that between fiscal years 2002-03 and 2006-07, electricity consumption at city facilities increased 5.7 percent or by 9.1 million kilowatt hours. The biggest rise came in 2005-06, increasing 4.6 percent from the previous year.
Meanwhile, the cost for power shot up 44 percent, from $19.8 million to more than $28.6 million. Though the figures reflect higher rates and surcharges, officials should realize that costs need to be contained since the price of electricity is unlikely to decrease anytime soon.
One difficulty the report points to is a lack of "full accountability" for cost, consumption and conservation efforts because responsibility is "dispersed among several city agencies" that were not able to verify if energy goals were being achieved.
For example, an energy conservation project completed in 2002 for Honolulu Hale guaranteed specific savings with the contractor required to collect data and present reports calculating results. However, the administration said only one report, for fiscal 2003-04, was on file. Officials said they would request the contractor provide complete reports, but the auditor had not received them in time for his review. Officials assured that savings "were being realized," but that could not be verified without the reports.
The project was done under a previous mayor, but city contracts don't expire with the terms of elected officials. At that time, the city had an energy coordinator whose job was later eliminated. While reinstating the position would be an expense, other cities, such as Philadelphia, have found that an energy manager can decrease consumption significantly. Mayor Mufi Hannemann should consider appointing one or designating a single agency to be responsible for managing cost and consumption.
The mayor also should move more quickly to define his much-touted 21st Century Ahupuaa plan, which has the goal of reducing consumption in existing city facilities 10 percent by 2016-17. The audit found that although the plan became effective last fiscal year, there is no clear implementation process by which the goal will be achieved.