Energy bill would
improve economic stability


A bill that maps an energy strategy for Hawaii appears stalled in the Legislature.

STEERING Hawaii toward renewable resources and encouraging market forces in production of electricity makes good sense if the state is to gain greater energy and economic stability. Unfortunately, a bill that would advance these goals appears lifeless at the state Capitol.

Legislative leaders would foster a better future for the islands by clearing away internal rules and other hurdles and approve the measure.

The energy omnibus bill has the strong support of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism as well as environmental organizations, groups that don't often see eye to eye. This time, both recognize that the state's dependence on fossil fuels for electricity harnesses the economy to outside forces and damages the natural surroundings on which the tourism industry -- Hawaii's bread and butter -- subsists.

The bill covers a range of issues, from installing solar energy devices at single-family homes and townhouses to forming renewable energy cooperatives for electricity production.

A major component calls for electric companies -- mainly Hawaiian Electric -- to meet a series of benchmarks for power yields through renewable resources. The so-called renewable portfolio standards require electricity to be generated by such means as wind, solar, hydropower, biofuels, waves, ocean thermals, hydrogen, geothermal and biomass, among others.

The standards require that 8 percent of a utility company's net electricity sales be produced by renewable sources by the end of 2005. The percentages increase through the years: Ten percent by 2010, 15 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020. With Hawaiian Electric producing a little more than 7 percent today, the standards appear reasonable. The bill also allows the utility to buy renewable-produced electricity, which may spark new businesses.

The objective is to spur development of indigenous renewable resources, to take advantage of what we have here instead of importing $2 billion to $3 billion in oil every year. Such imports are vulnerable to global forces beyond our control. With oil prices edging higher and production levels fluctuating, Hawaii's people and its economy are left increasingly vulnerable.

Just a few years ago, conventional wisdom held renewable energy as an impractical proposition, too costly, too cumbersome and technologically dormant. However, political instability in oil-rich regions has brought into acute focus the need to develop alternatives.

DBEDT's energy division is taking seriously its mandate "to increase economic productivity and reduce risks to Hawaii's economy by developing cost-competitive indigenous sources of energy." Department director Ted Liu, in a discussion with the Star-Bulletin's editorial board, said he sees the policy as a first step toward reducing oil dependence as well as an opportunity to stimulate economic growth in the energy arena.

The idea could be expanded. Vijay Vaitheeswaran, a correspondent for The Economist magazine, promotes a free-market case for clean energy in a new book, "Power to the People." He argues that energy -- the world's largest business, generating almost $2 trillion a day -- would flourish if controls and subsidies for "dirty energy sources" are removed. He likens current energy production to pre-breakup days of AT&T more than two decades ago. Since then, innovation and investment have harvested huge advances in telecommunications and Vaitheeswaran believes the same kind of progress would occur in energy production.

Hawaii may not be the field upon which to launch such practices. Smaller steps may be in order and the bill before lawmakers would be a start. About a dozen other states have initiated renewable resource standards. If oil-rich Texas has adopted them, oil-bare Hawaii ought to do the same.



Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Larry Johnson,
Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke, Colbert
Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,
Frank Teskey, Publisher

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