Hawaii Gas and Hawaiian Electric Co. executives stood firm Tuesday in their support of liquefied natural gas as the transitional fuel the state needs to achieve its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2045, touting its financial efficiency and environmental attributes.

Ron Cox of HECO and Joseph Boivin of Hawaii Gas served on a panel with Blake Blackwell of Excelerate Energy and Kyle Datta of Ulupono Initiative, taking up the issue of LNG on the second day of the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summits & Expo.

Their 90-minute discussion, moderated by John Pierce of Perkins Coie, came after Gov. David Ige announced his opposition to LNG on the first day of the three-day conference at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Liquified Natual Gas ship exhibit at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summits and Expo. 24 aug 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A liquefied natural gas ship exhibit at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summits & Expo.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We’re on the same mission,” Cox said. “We just think that using cleaner and cheaper natural gas that’s more stable in price would be a good bridge fuel to help us get to that 100 percent renewable energy future.”

He said LNG would have a side benefit of being able to be used in the transportation sector, pointing at a study that found that by 2040 as much as 60 percent of the demand would come outside of distributed generation facilities.

Because it’s a cleaner fossil fuel, Cox said transitioning to LNG would be the equivalent of taking 49,000 cars off the road.

“It’s not a permanent solution,” he said. “We believe that we could make this investment in LNG while minimizing our investment in our infrastructure — basically, doing some conversion work on our stations in order to use LNG.

“And as LNG is no longer needed for power generation, it could be redeployed in transportation areas or other sites outside the state of Hawaii,” he said.

“We will ultimately sail away when you ask us to.” — Blake Blackwell of Excelerate Energy

Boivin expressed similar sentiments from the Hawaii Gas point of view.

“We are focused on collaborating with the state and other key stakeholders as we transition from oil dependency to a self-sufficient, sustainable and clean energy future,” he said.

Boivin said LNG produces significantly less greenhouse gas emissions and costs 20 percent to 35 percent less than petroleum.

He said the company would need to put $200 million into new infrastructure plus $120 million for power plant conversions.

The infrastructure would be for an offshore floating storage and regasification unit. It would cover a buoy, sub-sea pipeline, gas treatment facility, regulator station and land-based pipe extensions.

If oil cost $50 a barrel, Boivin said LNG would mean savings of $100 million a year.

LNG Panel Conference

From left, John Pierce of Perkins Coie, Rox Cox of Hawaiian Electric Co., Joseph Boivin of Hawaii Gas, Blake Blackwell of Excelerate Energy and Kyle Datta of Ulupono Initiative served on a panel talking about liquefied natural gas at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summits & Expo on Tuesday.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Blackwell, the senior VP of development at Texas-based Excelerate Energy, said his company could supply a floating unit for Hawaii on a fixed-term basis.

“We will ultimately sail away when you ask us to,” he said. “This is a transitional solution. We would be thrilled if it stayed a long time. That’s not our objective.”

Datta, a general partner at Ulupono, a locally focused impact-investment firm, tempered the rest of the panel’s enthusiasm for LNG with a dose of caution.

“Governor Ige yesterday gave us guidance and direction, and that’s what leaders do,” Datta said. “So what did he actually say. He didn’t say ‘no new fuels.’ He didn’t say ‘no LNG.’ He said, ‘We’re not going to bring in this new fuel and use it to power the old power plants. That’s not going to happen in my term, in my tenure.’”

“We need to be transparent about the unintended consequences of LNG.” — Kyle Datta, Ulupono Initiative

Datta said LNG could indeed be the transitional fuel Hawaii needs as it moves toward 100 percent renewable energy, but it should not be a crutch.

He encouraged the public to scrutinize the contracts the companies will sign to bring LNG to Hawaii by looking at the volume, how much the volume is going to change, whether the volume is locked in and who will pay for scaling it down as planned.

He said it’s also important to look at the companies’ plans for how they plan to use LNG.

He underscored a point others have made, including Jeff Mikulina of Blue Planet Foundation, that bringing LNG to Hawaii effectively exports environmental damage to other communities because of the process by which it’s pulled from the ground.

“We need to be transparent about the unintended consequences of LNG,” Datta said.

LNG should be used to modernize Hawaii, not preserve the status quo, he said, noting the importance of using the fuel for its highest purposes like transportation instead of powering old plants.

“We are at a threshold of an entirely new and different era, but we still cling to the older business models and as a society we here in Hawaii have lost the political will to site new infrastructure,” Datta said. “This is the context that we have to think about as we debate LNG.”

Disclosure: The Ulupono Initiative was founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.

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