Hawaii’s state government cut its electricity bill by $20 million by implementing energy efficiency measures, according to Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s website, where he recently promoted his first year accomplishments.

An interactive quiz on his website includes the following question and answer:

The State cut consumption of electricity saving how much money each year? The state saved $20 million through a competition to conserve energy in simple ways such as turning off lights and computer screens when they are not needed.

To verify the claim, Civil Beat contacted Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor’s spokeswoman, who referred us to a press release issued by the state energy office announcing the savings. The press release references a report to the legislature, called Lead By Example. Civil Beat reviewed the report. It covers the 2010 fiscal year, which ended June 30 2010, almost six months before Abercrombie took office.

During the 2010 fiscal year, state agencies’ electricity use dropped by 2.8 percent, according to the report, and the state paid $20 million less for electricity than the previous year.

The total electricity bill for the state was $145 million for fiscal year 2010, according to the report. The total bill for 2009 was $165 million.

So, he’s right as far as that goes.

But electricity rates were higher in 2009 than they were in 2010. They actually went down in 2010. So part of the $20 million reduction in state spending was based on the change in electricity rates.

A 2.8 percent reduction in electricity use actually meant that the state saved about $4 million, not $20 million. The rest of the savings came from the lower price.

Abercrombie also says the state saved money on electricity through energy efficiency practices, such as “turning off lights and computer screens.”

However, the report concludes that it’s “difficult to determine the primary reasons” for the reduction in electricity use. The state has taken many actions to reduce electricity consumption, including encouraging office workers to reduce their usage, retrofitting lights and switching out old energy-intensive air conditioners. But it’s likely that other factors, related to the poor economy, contributed to the reduction in electricity use, such as furlough days, reduced operating budgets and staff cuts. Cooler weather may also have cut back on air conditioning use.

According to the report:

It is most likely that a combination of factors is responsible for the decrease in consumption in 2010. For example, in conjunction with energy efficiency and renewable energy development, weather differences could have changed the amount of cooling that was necessary or furlough schedules varied by department and buildings that house more than one department may have resulted in building systems not being entirely shut down on furlough days. Budget reductions also may have impacted program operations or eliminated programs which, consequently, affect energy consumption.

The bottom line: Hawaii state offices didn’t save $20 million on the government’s electricity bill during the 2010 fiscal year — they saved $4 million. And while energy savings behavior, such as turning off lights, may have been one of the reasons for the 2.8 percent decline in electricity use, it’s likely that other factors, such as furlough days, played a role. Also, Abercrombie leaves the impression that the savings were achieved in his first year in office. That’s not the case.

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