Officials discuss adapting Hawaii's energy sector, focused on resiliency

By Megan Fernandes, Reporter, Pacific Business News


In a panel discussion held Tuesday at the YWCA, politicians from across the Islands spoke about what Hawaii’s energy sector can do in the long term to prepare for the effects of climate change.

Hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and Hawaii Energy, Gov. David Ige, Hawaii County Deputy Director of Research and Development Ron Whitmore and Mayors Kirk Caldwell, Derek Kawakami and Michael Victorino all spoke about the specific energy needs and challenges each county and the state face.

“As a business organization we want to look at how to address the issue and find solutions collaboratively, ensuring the policies are practical,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, president of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

The big question that the speakers addressed was: How can the counties make Hawaii more resilient and reach the 2045 100% renewable energy goal?

“Change always has impact, and there is a cost to change,” Caldwell said during the panel. “[Resiliency] is not anti-business, it’s pro-business. In fact, being resilient is not just making sure that our businesses are ready for today but for 20, 30, 50 years from now.”

Caldwell spoke about how streets and first floor infrastructures in cities along the coast — like downtown Honolulu and Waikiki — will have to be raised over the course of decades, to counter the predicted effects of a rising sea level.

“[Resiliency] helps local businesses be prepared for a changing environment, but also be prepared for one we can thrive in,” Caldwell said to Pacific Business News.

Other actions taken by the City and County of Honolulu include updated building codes, one of which will mandate new buildings to have infrastructure for electrical charging for 25% of its parking stalls.

Ige elaborated on several bills passed in this legislative session that aim to reduce the long-term cost of living for island residents and prepare for natural disasters and recovery. He mentioned how HB556 will set minimum efficiency standards for appliances, HB1585 will create a state rebate program for the insulation of EV charging stations in public or commercial areas and HB1558 will require the Office of State Planning to update the sustainability plan before the 2020 legislative session.

“All of these actions make Hawaii a more resilient state,” Ige said. “We can’t leave anyone behind in the 100% clean energy journey. Low-income households are more likely to see a higher percentage of their household income go toward their utility bill. Low-income households more often cannot afford solar, and they are renters on top of that, so they cannot make the investment.”

Hawaii County Deputy Director of Research and Development Ron Whitmore said that even though the Big Island’s transportation, logistic and utility sectors are not the largest portion of the County’s economy, they are “the backbone of local economy” as employers and demand multipliers.

“We look at energy in a holistic, balanced perspective,” Whitmore said to PBN. “We are working on a climate action plan of strategies that will help the county reach carbon neutrality. We are very focused on adding climate adaptation strategies into our strategic plan and multi-hazard litigation plan, completed in 2020. It’s through those plans that we plan to integrate robust climate adaptation strategies.”

Kauai County is the only county in the state with a utility cooperative structure of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. Mayor Kawakami said that the county is looking at modernizing public transportation, electrifying buses and updating the Lihue Town Center in the near future. He noted that the county sees cost savings by using energy efficient methods, or as Kawakami put it, “by just going after low-hanging fruit.”

“Long term we are looking at smart growth initiatives, while taking a look at revitalizing our urban core and focusing on developments,” Kawakami said. “Many people said that we are trying to turn Kauai into Oahu and we’re not. I can promise you that we’re keeping Kauai, Kauai by preserving our rural space and developing where development is appropriate — which is Lihue — where 80% of our jobs exist, but only 20% of housing.”

For Kauai, Kawakami sees hydro-electric as a renewable energy forerunner.

“Wind is not going to happen,” he said to PBN. “Hydro-electric is a firm, renewable, reliable power that can provide energy night and day. Where it’s appropriate, we should consider moving towards hydro-electric and maintaining the current stations. In the geographically isolated island state that we live in, being sustainable and self reliant is key.”

The County of Maui has reduced electricity consumption in its operations by 15% over the last five years, according to Mayor Victorino. Several projects are in the works including: Molokai New Energy Partners battery energy storage, South Maui Renewable Resources solar, Peahu solar and Kuihelani solar projects. The Kuihelani Solar project, which is 500 acres of former agriculture land that will produce 60 megawatts of power, will be completed by 2022.

“This is replacing the old Kahului generating plant which produced 40 megawatts,” Victorino said. “By 2025 we will be at 70% renewable energy.The biggest issue for us is storage and having the storage capacity. Moving into these areas will make sure that as we retire the Kahului plant, as we move into more sustainable energy for our county, especially the island of Maui, we will be in a very strong position by 2030 at having all [the projects] completed.”

Hawaii Energy Executive Director Brian Kealoha told PBN that clean energy benefits both the private and public sectors, through economic development, the creation of jobs and the money that stays in the local economy.

“What’s often missed in the discussion around climate change is the impact to business: what financial impact and opportunities of mitigating and adapting to climate change that businesses can face,” Kealoha said.


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