Legislators passed a bill that would allow the Public Utilities Commission to give indoor farmers preferential electric rates compared to other agricultural producers.

State House representatives agreed to a Senate draft of House Bill 452 Tuesday morning in a conference committee between the two chambers.

The bill doesn’t state what those electric rates might be. It leaves those decisions up to the PUC.

The bill singles out “protected agriculture,” which under this new law would mean any crop that is grown by farmers controlling the microclimate of their crops. Electric providers would need to give the PUC an application on behalf of the farmers requesting the preferential rates and provide proof of how the crops were grown.

The bill excludes any marijuana growers from the preferential rates.

The Hawaiian Electric Company worries that the preference given to these indoor farmers could be unfair to other electric customers.

“Preferential electric rates, however, have the potential to create subsidies that other customers may pay for,” Kevin Katsura, a HECO director, said in written testimony.

The Hawaii Farm Bureau said in its testimony that those rates should be set for all farmers, not just those growing indoors or in greenhouses.

“Livestock and orchard and some fruits cannot be grown in greenhouses. Why should they be required to pay higher rates for electricity?” the bureau said in written testimony.

Growing food indoors could help to reduce the use of pesticides and protect crops from any rough weather, lawmakers wrote in the bill’s preamble. HB 452 will now go back to the House floor for a full vote. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. David Ige for his signature.

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