Lawmakers are trying again to close a loophole in Hawaii’s “100 percent renewable energy by 2045” policy that allows the state to meet that goal even if half of the electricity being consumed comes from oil-burning power plants.
Gov. David Ige asked lawmakers in 2016 to reconsider a tabled bill to amend the first-of-its-kind law, saying “the current method is flawed and results in the misrepresentation of the state’s renewable energy process.” It died in conference committee.
A new bill, House Bill 1801, seeks to simultaneously fix the old electricity formula and set similar renewable standards for gas utilities. Gas is not currently regulated by the law.
Hawaiian Electric’s oil-burning Waiau Power Plant in Pearl City.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaii’s electric and gas utilities oppose the bill in written testimony.
HB 1801 had its first hearing Thursday in the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, but was deferred until Feb. 2. State agencies and utilities will try to work on the language and figure out “whether or not there’s a path forward,” said Rep. Chris Lee, committee chair.
The bill is primarily a housekeeping measure, he said, and not a top priority.
“Everyone has the same end goal, but it’s a question of how you get there,” Lee said.
Testifying before the committee, Melissa Miyashiro, chief of staff for the environmental advocacy group Blue Planet, said the bill is “really about ensuring that 100 percent means 100 percent.”
Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet, told Civil Beat it’s important to close the law’s loophole because “we don’t know if we will have alignment (with the electricity sector) in the future.”
“What is critical though is making sure that we all go together on this journey to 100 percent (renewable energy) and that includes all generators connected to the grid and the gas company,” Mikulina said.
The current law uses a formula to calculate Hawaii’s percentage of renewable energy used by the state. It is based on electricity sales, which could include both fossil fuels and renewable resources. HB 1801 would change the law so it’s based on electricity generation instead.
Here’s a breakdown of the current formula:
The formula allows utilities to include 50 percent fossil fuels in its portfolio and still meet the “100 percent renewable” target because customer-generated electricity could offset fossil fuel use.
Here’s how HB 1801, in its current form, seeks to change the formula:
This is a more straightforward fraction that compares renewable electricity generated to all electricity generated. It lumps together customer- and utility-generated electricity, or “grid-connected systems,” in the numerator (top of the fraction).
The denominator (bottom of the fraction) is different in that it doesn’t mention fossil fuels at all.
The other portion of the bill that creates renewable gas standards for gas utilities relies on a similar formula:
Hawaii Gas testified in writing that mandating renewable standards were “unachievable and impractical,” and that renewable natural gas was expensive and somewhat scarce. Transporting gas between islands adds to that cost, the utility wrote, and it’s difficult to create biofuels in a quantity that could support the state.
“While Hawaii Gas has endeavored to find new renewable fuel sources, renewable biogas advancements globally have lagged renewable electricity generation gains,” according to the utility’s testimony.
Mikulina of Blue Planet called the Hawaii Gas opposition to renewable goals “frustrating” and “unfortunate.” In testimony, Blue Planet requested an amendment that would require all usage of natural gas follow the renewable standard, not just gas connected to the electric grid.
The Hawaii Gas Synthetic Natural Gas plant in Kalaeloa.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Hawaiian Electric “strongly” supported setting standards for renewable gas, but opposed immediately implementing the new formula for electricity.
The “100 percent renewable energy by 2045” policy sets several staggered benchmarks to ease the electricity sector into the transition. The next benchmark requires 30 percent of “net electricity sales” to be renewable by 2020.
The bill, which deletes references to sales, “unfairly increases the risk to us of not achieving” the next benchmark, wrote Lisa Giang, general manager of Hawaiian Electric, in testimony. Changing the law at the next benchmark, 2030, “would be a more reasonable timeframe to align the market realities and public policy,” she wrote.
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