Hawaii lawmakers moved forward a bill Tuesday that would dismantle the recently established regulatory framework for building an interisland cable system to transport electricity from renewable energy projects such as wind, solar and geothermal.
But a key lawmaker said the measure designed to derail such a system isn’t likely to ultimately pass the Legislature.
Bill 1468 would repeal Act 165, signed into law in 2012, which allows for the creation of a “cable utility,” separate from Hawaiian Electric Co., that would own or control a cable system. The company would be reimbursed for the costs of the cable through a consumer surcharge. The purpose of the law was to lower development costs.
The bill to repeal that act is opposed by Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, the Consumer Advocate and Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. The agencies are all parties to an ongoing review of proposals to build renewable energy projects on the neighbor islands and transport energy to Oahu via underwater cables.
“At this juncture, related PUC proceedings are still open,” Luis Salaveria, director of DBEDT, wrote in testimony opposing the measure. “Until that process (in which public intervention and comments are being taken into account) concludes, it is premature for the Legislature to eliminate Act 165, a tool that may result in cheaper financing for the cable, should the PUC find an undersea cable is needed.”
Bill 1468 passed out of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee on Tuesday and will now go to the Consumer Protection and Commerce Committee and Judiciary Committee for review.
Rep. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill and is chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, told Civil Beat after the hearing that he didn’t expect the measure to pass and that he moved it along for discussion purposes only. He noted during the hearing, which included no public testimony because the bill was debated earlier this month, that there were “wide, polarized views” on the measure.
Hawaii’s effort to build an interisland cable system goes back to 2008 when Castle & Cooke sought to build a wind farm on Lanai and First Wind, a wind farm on Molokai. The energy from the large-scale wind farms with about total 140 turbines would be transported to Oahu via undersea cables.
The proposals have stumbled amid heated opposition on both Lanai and Molokai. The wind farm on Molokai has been scrapped, and the Lanai wind farm is increasingly uncertain with the sale of the island from David Murdock to Larry Ellison, as well as a shift in state policy that emphasized building projects on Maui instead.
In 2013, HECO came out with new long-term energy plans that concluded that it probably wasn’t necessary to bring renewable energy from the neighbor islands to Oahu in order to meet its target of 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.
But discussions about a potential interisland cable system have been rekindled in recent months with the announcement that Florida-based NextEra Energy is in the process of acquiring Hawaiian Electric Co.
NextEra is one of several companies that has been looking to build renewable energy projects on the neighbor islands and a cable system to transport the energy to Oahu. NextEra officials, who have been exploring solar and wind projects on Maui, have not said if they will continue to pursue a renewable energy cable project if their purchase of HECO goes through.
The company submitted testimony against Bill 1468, arguing that it’s important to allow the PUC to finish its investigation into whether a cable system between the islands is cost-effective. The PUC currently has two dockets open to explore potential cable systems.
Eric Gleason, a NextEra president who is the company’s lead official on both the HECO acquisition and an interisland cable project, said in testimony that any plans for a cable are still in the early stages and that there is still time for extensive review of proposed projects.
It “is very early in the process, and any conclusions regarding the public interest case for an interisland cable, including the degree of public support, are premature,” Gleason wrote. “Therefore, it would not be in the public interest to effectively preclude further consideration of an interisland cable by eliminating the existing statutes enacted by the state legislature just two years ago.”