By David Lichtenstein
An excellent story on the true cost of energy in Hawaii appeared yesterday in the Honolulu Civil Beat. This story, along with the recent push to get Senate Bill 2785 through the House of Representatives, has serious implications for Molokai.
The Civil Beat story points out the numerous flaws in a 240-page study done for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The central thesis of the study is that wind energy is the most cost effective large-scale way to produce energy and without a Big Wind project Hawaii won’t meet the mandated 70 percent clean energy by 2030.
On Friday, Hawaii’s House Finance Committee passed SB 2785, legislation that establishes “a regulatory structure for the installation and implementation of an interisland high voltage electric transmission cable system and for the construction of on-island transmission infrastructure.”
Despite hearing testimony from 200 people in opposition to what is being called the “$3 billion undersea cable” proposal, this bill will now be voted on by the full House in the Hawaii Legislator.
The point of this bill is not to approve the controversial measure of installing an undersea cable, but to create a mechanism to reimburse Hawaiian Electric Company for its potential costs. The Public Utility Commission would have to review and approve HECO’s request for a customer surcharge for reimbursement.
If passed, this bill will allow a wind farm development company or HECO to receive cheap financing rates because the repayment of the loan would be guaranteed by utility ratepayers. In other words, customers will be forced to repay the cost for improving an infrastructure that they may not even want or need.
But what is most disturbing about this for the people of Molokai and Lanai is the way Governor Abercrombie changed the language of the bill. Abercrombie had stated, in writing, that, “The project must represent the majority interests of residents of the respective islands.”
But when opposition to Big Wind on Lanai and Molokai became organized around grassroots groups such as Friends of Lanai and I Aloha Molokai, the Governor began to threaten eminent domain action to secure the necessary land for an industrial-scale wind farm.
More recently, Gov. Abercrombie worked to change the language of SB 2785. Originally, it stated in the bill that it is, “the state’s policy that construction of a transmission cable from Molokai or Lanai must be affirmatively requested by the communities on those islands.”
But Abercrombie changed his tune, saying that no community should be allowed to “opt out” of this bill, calling it “undemocratic.” Friends of Lanai is lobbying to reinsert this language so that Lanai and Molokai will have the power to prohibit this project from coming to them.
This month, the Hawaii State Energy Office, part of the Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism, was supposed to release the results of a federal Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on the feasibility of the undersea cable. DBEDT’s Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program has delayed the release of the PEIS. Calls to the Hawaii State Energy Office were not returned.