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High energy costs make case for harnessing sun


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POSTED: Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Electricity prices in Hawaii are far above rates in all other states because the islands rely on imported oil while domestic coal and nuclear power are the staple sources throughout the mainland. While efforts are being made to convert to renewable energy across the country, today's high prices should cause Hawaii to make a more ambitious effort.

The state Public Utilities Commission is hearing testimony this week on becoming the first state to initiate a policy for conversion to renewable energy at fair prices over the next 20 years. The hearings follow an agreement last October between Gov. Linda Lingle and Hawaiian Electric Co., Maui Electric Co. and the Big Island's Hawaii Electric Light Co.

The electric companies agreed to implement power rates that they will pay “;for each type of renewable energy resource based on project size fed to the grid.”;

It is similar to the system in Europe and other places that encourage families and businesses to generate their own energy while connected to the grid.

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council issued a report last week comparing costs of electricity, based on a state's average revenue per kilowatt hour for utilities. The cost index for states ranged from 0.58 to 1.71 except Hawaii, where the index was an atrocious 2.98.

Although coal and nuclear power are expected to supply two-thirds of the nation's electrical needs by mid-century, efforts are being made on the mainland to change to renewable sources, mainly the sun, to reduce carbon emissions.

Pennsylvania has begun funding to provide alternative-energy rebates, and all of Florida's residents are paying a 31-cent-per-month rate increase to fund three solar plants to power thousands of homes in the southern part of the state.

In California, Assemblywoman Lori Saldana has introduced a bill that would require all homes built from 2020 on to produce their own power, most likely from solar panels but also from wind or geothermal sources. That can add $15,000 to $50,000 to a home construction price, 30 percent of which is a federal tax credit.

A similar bill last year passed the Assembly but died in the House.

A new Hawaii law that takes effect next Jan. 1 will require all new single-family homes to include solar water heaters, but the PUC policy should embrace electricity in houses and other buildings new and old.

Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, pointed out in an opinion column in this section on Sunday that the transformation need not be costly. In Germany, according to Mikulina, the average ratepayer paid an extra penny per kilowatt hour, about 3 percent of the household electricity costs.