Getting Serious About Energy

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - June 03, 2009

Rep Mina Morita

This coming Saturday will be Hawaii Clean Energy Day on the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii. There will be a keynote speech by Christine Ervin, a former assistant secretary of energy in President Clinton’s administration, panels including many of the leaders in Hawaii’s clean energy initiative, and various exhibits.

The festivities begin at 9 a.m. and run until 4 in the afternoon. They require advanced registration and $25 admission, $15 if you are a senior citizen or a student.

Seven-term Kauai state Rep. Mina Morita will be among the panelists. Morita has been fighting for renewable energy since the day she set foot in the state Capitol - first as a member of and now as chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

Through the years, she has known her share of disappointments.

But this legislative session was different. “We finally have the political will to achieve energy independence,” says Morita. “We have a better understanding of the necessity of achieving it.”


That understanding and that political will resulted in passage of House Bill 1271. “It increases the state tax on a barrel of oil from 5 cents to $1.05,” says Morita, “55 cents of which will be dedicated to an energy security fund for the development of renewable energy resources, 35 cents will be dedicated to a food security fund to help farmers, and 10 cents will go to the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute.”

Morita feels the bill is essential to Hawaii achieving its goals of energy independence. “Dedicated resources will establish Hawaii as the demonstration site for renewable, clean energy for the entire nation,” says Morita.

The Kauai Democrat’s only concern is that Republican Gov. Linda Lingle may veto the bill, as she so publicly did four other tax hikes passed by the Legislature in its plan for balancing the budget.

“We have to have the bill,” Morita insists. “Ted Liu, the director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (who also will be among Clean Energy Day speakers) sat in my office and said that ‘a vision without resources is only an illusion.’ And he’s right.”

Morita’s concern may be misplaced. Last year Gov. Lingle signed on with the federal Department of Energy to launch the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. Lingle’s been consistent in her support for environmental and renewable energy projects throughout her two terms. So she may keep her veto pen in her holster on this one.

Morita also boasts about House Bill 1464, which would enlarge the state’s renewable energy vision: from the state’s current goal of producing 20 percent of the state’s electricity from renewables in 2020 to 40 percent in 2030.

Why such confidence? Why such an ambitious vision? First, because Hawaii has it all: waves, solar, wind and geothermal. And second - perhaps most important - the utilities now welcome sources other than oil. The high gas prices of a year ago provided them with their epiphany. Says Maui Electric Company executive Ed Reinhart: “We’re of a different mindset now. It’s a new road for us to follow as a utility.”

Currently Puna Geothermal Company, tapping the volcano’s heat, produces 30 megawatts of electricity for Hawaii Electric Company on the Big Island. That amounts to 20 percent of the island’s needs. Puna Geothermal could do more - approximately double its current output.

Then there’s wind. Wind turbines were first tried in Hawaii in the 1970s. Two huge windmills rotated slowly at Kahuku on the Windward side of Oahu, dozens of them in the the Kohala mountains on Hawaii Island.

But they broke down, often and at great cost. Hawaiian Electric officials watched their losses mount, and referred to their wind technology as at “the bleeding edge.”

Today technology is not the problem, and a Maui wind farm is now producing 9 percent of Maui’s electric power. Its developer also has plans for wind farms in Kahuku and on Molokai and Kauai. The problem now is community support. Residents’opposition stopped development of a wind farm at Kahe in the Waianae Mountain Range of Oahu.

Then there’s solar. Solar panels provide hot water to homes across the Islands - and have for years. But Act 204, passed in last year’s session, mandates that beginning in 2010 all new homes have solar heaters. Perhaps more significant, solar industry executive Mark Duda reports that while solar heater sales have gone up 30 percent with the rise in utility costs, sales of photovoltaic systems that provide power for the entire home have increased 500 percent.

When it comes to renewable energy, Hawaii’s future is obviously now. Celebrate it. Learn more about it Saturday at 9 a.m., UH-Manoa. See you there.

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