Hawaii Gov. David Ige wasted no time in making news Monday at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit, announcing his opposition to liquefied natural gas as an energy source for Hawaiian Electric Co.
His opposition is multifaceted. LNG’s use is not expected to save significant money, he argues, and it’s an imported fossil fuel that Hawaii doesn’t need as part of its energy future. Time and energy spent on development of LNG are resources not being spent to get Hawaii closer to its long-term goal of complete reliance on renewable energy sources, he said.
“It’s time to focus all our efforts on renewables,” said Ige.
This is a change in position for the first-term governor. He originally supported LNG as a “transitional fuel” and thought it offered “clear advantages” for Hawaii, including lower electricity costs, the ability to avoid big expenditures on existing fossil fuel plants to maintain compliance with federal environmental standards and a relatively small need for capital investment to make the energy source viable.
Since then, the cost savings for LNG have largely evaporated, Environmental Protection Agency draft rules may be addressed in other ways without major costs and the capital necessary to import LNG would divert investment from Hawaii’s renewables goal.
The Ige administration will oppose any significant expansion of large-scale LNG facilities or infrastructure around the islands, the governor said. That opposition is built in part on his concern over community conflict related to LNG.
“We will not put the neighborhoods of Pearl City, Waipahu, Iroquois Point, Ewa, Kapolei, Makakilo, Honokohai Hale and Ko Olina through years of permitting and siting battles for a fossil fuel plant,” Ige said.
“We know that the road to 100 percent (renewables) will be very difficult. We will be tested on our will to accept the changes needed.” — Gov. David Ige
While Ige opposes LNG for HECO purposes, he supports Hawaii Gas’ continued use of LNG. “So long as the gas is used only for its purposes and not to supply Hawaiian Electric, Hawaii Gas can obtain (its own gas supply) without great infrastructure,” said Ige, noting that the long-term prospects for the gas company’s LNG supply have improved.
An analysis unveiled by the Ulupono Initiative later in the conference’s opening session looked at costs associated with various forms and mixes of energy – oil, diesel and LNG. The analysis also included scenarios in which renewables are used in limited or great quantities. The analysis suggested that maximization of low-cost renewable energy sources with possible inclusion of LNG might present the most economically attractive way forward for Hawaii’s energy economy.
But Ulupono Managing Partner Murray Clay, who presented the research, stressed that it only took into account the current and historic economics of LNG. Ige’s position is affected by additional concerns around siting, LNG’s nature as a fossil fuel and the distraction it potentially represents from moving toward renewable sources — worthy considerations, all, said Clay.
“Even if LNG makes good economic sense right now, it might take years to be able to site” the necessary LNG infrastructure, said Clay. Such other considerations “might postpone any benefit of LNG for many more years to come. So part of the governor’s argument is, ‘Why not put all that effort and money into renewables, and go that route instead?'”
A HECO spokesman said the utility agrees with the governor that “any use of LNG should not result in development of major costly infrastructure that will impede our renewable energy progress.”
“We are evaluating delivering LNG in specialized shipping containers to our generating stations on a transitional basis, an approach that requires minimal on-island infrastructure,” said HECO’s Darren Pai. However, the utility still sees LNG as a “cost-effective, clearner alternative to oil to maintain relibaility for customers,” even as it adds solar and wind as part of its transition strategy toward 100 percent renewable energy sources.
“As more and more renewables come online in the coming years, we would reduce the amount of LNG purchased,” added Pai.
For his part, Ige on Monday sounded both realistic about the 100 percent renewables challenge and committed to its success.
“We know that the road to 100 percent (renewables) will be very difficult,” said Ige. “We will be tested on our will to accept the changes needed. The effort will require great capital, financial and political resources, and I am committed to bringing all the resources I have to bear on it.
“And we have no time for other agendas.”
The Ulupono Initiative was founded by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre Omidyar is the CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.