Last Thursday, the Hawaii State Senate passed SB 2785 by a vote of 22-3. Once signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, this new law creates a regulatory framework for the private investment in, and development of, an inter-island electricity transmission cable connecting the islands.
Molokai’s representation in the Senate, J. Kalani English, voted in favor of this bill “with reservations.” Rep. Mele Carroll also voted yes “with reservations” in the house version of the bill on April 10.
Immediately after it passed, both Gov. Abercrombie and former Gov. Linda Lingle issued strong statements of support for this bill.
“This is a long-term infrastructure investment that is needed now,” stated Abercrombie. “An integrated grid will stabilize energy prices and equalize rates between the islands, which will benefit all of us. As I mentioned at the start of the session, there is no legislation more critical to our future.”
Lingle wrote: “… My administration advocated and initiated the inter-island cable project, which would be the backbone of the long-envisioned statewide energy grid. The legislation passed yesterday is another step in the direction toward our state’s energy security.”
Opposition to this bill on both Lanai and Molokai has been strong and vocal. Friends of Lanai and I Aloha Molokai, two grassroots organizations, have lobbied vigorously against this bill. Both groups see this bill as a way for Hawaiian Electric Company to get 200-mw “Big Wind” windmill projects placed on each island.
As stated, the new law will create a mechanism to reimburse HECO for its potential costs in the “installation and implementation of an interisland high voltage electric transmission cable system and for the construction of on-island transmission infrastructure.”
Following Thursday’s vote, FOL issued a statement saying, “It was misleading at best to hear senators, especially the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Energy and Environment, say that all the bill does is establish a regulatory framework should a cable be built. That’s really not all it does. What it REALLY does is give the green light to potential cable developers by GUARANTEEING them and HECO a complete recovery of their expenses through HECO ratepayer bills.”
For its part, IAM released a video on the Honolulu Civil Beat and on Youtube questioning those lawmakers who voted “with reservations.”
When pressed for an explanation, Rep. Carroll said, “We need more community input and data collection on the matter before implementing any Interisland Electric Transmission Cable System.” This was the same explanation put forth by Sen. Sam Slom of Oahu who voted no on SB 2785.
Why would two politicians have the same explanation for opposite votes? Some commenters have suggested that the yes “with reservations” vote is a way for legislators to remain tied to the process so that environmental assessments can be built into an interisland cable proposal. Apparently, lawmakers who vote “no” are unable to participate in the reconciliation process between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
But if the 10 senators who voted “with reservations” had voted no, the bill would have been defeated 13-12, the result those senators seemed to have been leaning toward. Clearly, politics and logic do not mix.