David Ige has photovoltaic panels on his roof but he can’t afford a hybrid car, even though he promotes their use. He wants people to walk and bike more.
Duke Aiona has had a solar-powered water system for decades but he can’t afford PV. His wife, Vivian, catches the bus to work downtown from their home in Kapolei and doesn’t plan to ride the rail line once it’s built.
Mufi Hannemann and his wife, Gail, have used hybrid vehicles since the 1990s. They are looking into solar. And he’s proud of the rail system that will link Kapolei to downtown and hopes Vivian Aiona might change her mind.
And Jeff Davis? Well, “The Solar Guy” has been talking about little else on his KGU AM radio show for six years.
Those details came in response to a question asking the Hawaii gubernatorial candidates about the personal choices made in their families to promote renewable, low-cost energy use. The forum on energy policy, held Tuesday at the Laniakea YWCA downtown, was sponsored by Hawaii Business Magazine, ThinkTech Hawaii, the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum and Blue Planet Foundation.
The topic drew a large audience that included lots of stakeholders in the energy industry and government concerned about the state’s high cost of energy. People also seem to paying more attention to the governor’s race, now that there are just three weeks until Election Day and early voting begins soon.
Though Hawaii may be blessed with plenty of sun, wind, wave, waste and volcanic energy sources, and while PV may be proliferating like rabbits, no one is satisfied with utility rates and transportation expenses. As was noted by several candidates, an estimated 4,500 people with solar arrays can’t connect to Hawaiian Electric’s antiquated grid.
Ige the Democrat, Aiona the Republican, Hannemann the Hawaii Independent Party candidate and Davis the Libertarian shared their respective stands for bringing down costs and increasing renewables. As the candidates pointed out, doing the latter will lead to the former.
Among the four candidates there is general agreement that change needs to come to the Public Utilities Commission, which some say hasn’t moved aggressively enough toward renewables, and to Hawaiian Electric, which seems more concerned with shareholders than consumers, as Davis cracked.
But there are big policy differences among these men, too. Here are key takeaways from the energy forum.
Ige, a state senator, wants people to walk and bike more. Maybe a lane on King Street should be devoted to bikes, he said. He also said charging $500 a month to park downtown might convince some that other modes of transportation are far cheaper.
Hannemann, a former mayor of Honolulu, wants to create a Department of Energy. The responsibility for energy policy is currently split between several agencies, including the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
Aiona, a former lieutenant governor, believes what’s necessary is new leadership that will set a vision for the PUC and others to follow. He reminded people that the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which calls for achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030 with 30 percent from efficiency measures and 40 percent from renewable sources, started under the Lingle-Aiona administration.
Ige, Aiona and Hannemann are cautiously open to the idea of an interisland, undersea cable to transmit energy generated by renewable resources.
Ige wants a cost-benefit analysis first. Aiona recognizes that people on Molokai and Lanai opposed “big wind” and that could continue to be a concern. And Hannemann — who reiterated his support for an interisland ferry service — said that a “community benefits package” may be needed to help areas that allow for the development of renewable energy sites. Hannemann also pushed for more geothermal development.
Davis, who works in the solar industry, wants to “dissolve” Hawaiian Electric, which operates the utilities on all counties except Kauai. He doesn’t want an undersea cable. And “big wind” doesn’t belong in Hawaii, unless it’s put on uninhabited Kahoolawe, he said.
Hannemann wants the state to be much more energy-independent by 2030 than the HCEI calls for, and he asked his opponents if they would go along with that goal. But Ige and Aiona both said it was “irresponsible” to pledge today that the state would meet a higher benchmark 16 years from now. Davis, however, said it was irresponsible not to set a goal of becoming 100 percent renewable.
Meantime, Ige and Aiona support the use of liquified natural gas as a “bridge” to help Hawaii move from heavy dependency on imported fossil fuels to greater reliance on renewables. Hannemann opposes LNG, saying it’s neither clean nor inexpensive. And Davis said LNG is “a bridge to nowhere” and that there is “no fracking way” he would support its import here.
Energy is Davis’ kuleana — he’s “The Solar Guy,” after all — and he was in his element Tuesday. While he can beat a dead horse with his “stop pay-to-play” campaign theme, he got off several great lines, including the ones on LNG and these:
• “My campaign chest is full of people, not Benjamin Franklins.”
• “I’m not the smartest knife in the drawer, but I can find one that is.”
Jeff Davis is a long shot to be elected governor. But he may attract just enough votes to shave critical support from the other three guys.