Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hawaii Heading 100% Renewable

By Nick Lawton, Staff Attorney 

Hawaii has become the first U.S. state to set a goal of developing a 100% renewable power grid. On Monday, June 8, Governor David Ige signed HB 623 into law, directing the state’s utilities to sell only renewable energy by 2045. Hawaii’s new Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is the most ambitious in the nation, and serves as an excellent example for the many states that are already meeting their RPS targets. 

Hawaii is a good proving ground for a fully renewable power grid for several reasons. The state has excellent solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal resources, making the transition to renewable energy technically quite feasible. Additionally, the high cost of imported fossil fuels leads the state to have the nation’s highest energy prices, stimulating demand for renewable energy. Currently, Hawaii spends roughly $5 billion each year on importing fossil fuels to generate electricity. As Governor Ige notes, “making the transition to renewable, indigenous resources for power generation will allow us to keep more of that money at home, thereby improving our economy, environment, and energy security.”

The Hawaiian Electric Companies (HECO), the state’s major electric utility, claims it is backing the new 100% RPS. HECO’s president Alan Oshiman stated that the new RPS represents “the clean energy transformation we all want for Hawaii.” He also noted that the company is working toward “a diverse portfolio of renewable energy resources” and that the proposed merger between HECO and NextEra Energy can help facilitate the transition. However, HECO does not have a spotless history of support for renewable energy. In the past year, it has been responsible for significant delays in residential solar development and has proposed an electricity rate structure that would likely hobble the solar industry. While the utility has since moved to clear the backlog of solar PV systems waiting to connect to the grid, it has done so only at the direction of state regulators.

The state is doing an admirable job of beginning the transition to 100% renewable energy and of helping the state’s main utility understand how it will need to grow and change to serve the new grid. The state’s Public Utilities Commission is contemplating a fundamental restructuring of the state’s utilities, which would change how the utilities will operate and make money. To its credit, HECO “welcome[s] the PUC’s clear direction and roadmap,” according to CEO Dick Rosenblum.

As many other states achieve their RPS targets, they should look to Hawaii for guidance on how to set more ambitious renewable energy goals. Most states are already on track to meet their RPS goals, and many are ahead of schedule. These states should keep a close eye on how the transition goes in Hawaii. Policy tools developed on the islands may be exactly what mainland states need to make their transitions to renewable energy efficient and successful. 

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