Gathering Places


Friday, April 6, 2001

Hawaii can shine
with renewable energy

HAWAII has the potential to be the nation's leader in the use of renewable resources for power -- yet we lag behind. Our dependence on fossil fuels costs us billions and has high environmental costs. And today, residents on Oahu are lining up to oppose HECO's plans for high-voltage power lines along Waahila Ridge.

Virtually all power-producing fuel in Hawaii must be imported, costing almost $2 billion a year that goes out of state to pay for oil and coal. About 93 percent of our electricity is generated by imported fossil fuels, making our electricity rates the highest in the nation. And the need is growing. Hawaii's electricity usage grew twice as fast as the state's population between 1990 and 1999.

The House has passed a bill requiring utility companies to generate part of the energy they sell from renewable sources such as wind, solar power, hydroelectricity, geothermal, wave power and biomass. Called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), this initiative requires utility companies to diversify their "portfolio" of power-generating sources and mandates that 10 percent of energy production be from renewable sources by 2010.

RPS would require utility companies to produce a "renewable energy credit" for each kilowatt-hour of power produced using alternative energy sources. Companies obtain credits by investing in alternative energy development, by contracting with other energy providers, or by purchasing a credit at market value.

Renewable energy credits create an incentive to invest in renewable energy. Twelve states already have taken this approach, and Hawaii should follow their example. Expanding renewable energy options is environmentally friendly, reduces electricity costs, cuts our dependence on imported oil, eases the burden of price fluctuations and creates jobs.

The House bill, which is now before the Senate, accomplishes dual objectives. It takes steps toward energy diversification and increases our potential to make it a profitable industry.

Hawaii has a comparative advantage in renewable energy. Wind and geothermal power provide reliable sources of energy on the Big Island, and our 350 days of sunshine annually make the islands ideal for solar power. Our biggest resource, the ocean, has yet to be tapped, but a House resolution aims to change that. It requests the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to study the feasibility of wave power. A wave power device in Scotland supplies power to 400 homes, and eight other nations are developing wave power technology.

High electricity costs need not be a "cost of paradise." We need new, less expensive solutions to our energy needs while protecting our environment. The energy bill and resolution support market-minded policies that will build our economy and preserve our resources.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kaneohe) is ranking minority member
of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

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