Experts: Hawaii can lead changes in the country’s renewable energy landscape
KAHULUI – The Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) hosted the third annual Maui Energy Conference on March 16-18 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. As Maui’s leading event for the renewable energy industry, the 2016 conference provided a unique opportunity for more than 300 attendees to share insights with the industry’s thought leaders while networking and conducting business, all under one roof.
“The conference brought together some of the best minds in the energy sector from the county, the state and the nation,” said Frank De Rego Jr., director of business development projects at MEDB and member of the conference program committee.
“The focus of discussions was on achieving the Portfolio Standard for Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative’s 100% Renewable Energy by 2045 and its implications for the state’s energy future.”
“The Renewable Portfolio Standard tells us when to achieve 100 percent renewable,” said Conference Program Committee Chair Doug McLeod. “This conference looked at all the other questions: how, where, why, and who pays as just a few of the obvious issues. Within how and why, there were important sub-questions about fairness and respect for Hawaiian culture and the ‘aina.”
The program included notable out-of-state and international speakers. Bill Ritter Jr., former governor of Colorado and founder and current director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, presented the keynote. He summarized many issues and conclusions that are documented in his recent book, “Powering Forward: What Everyone Should Know about America’s Renewable Energy Revolution.”
“No one is going to get to 100 percent without upending the utility model,” said Ritter. “It’s absolutely doable. It’s part of what the future of the world needs to look like.”
“Hawaii is one among many examples where we see the challenges of the clean energy transition under way in the utility sector,” Ritter said. “The state has relied on expensive oil to generate electricity. As a result, Hawaiians pay the highest electric rates in the nation.”
Utility executives said they support the 100 percent goal and are willing to adapt, but they underscored the practical limitations of the current technologies and how the regulatory environment slows the process.
“The customer is an integral part of a 100 percent renewable energy future,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric Company vice president of corporate planning and business development.
“The state is going renewable because it’s trying to be environmentally responsible. The disposal of renewable energy systems is going to be increasingly important.”
Kimura and Hawaii Gas CEO Alicia Moy reiterated their support at the conference for using liquefied natural gas as a bridge fuel to get to a 100 percent renewable future.
“Just because it’s a fossil fuel doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be considering a cleaner version of that to get to our end state,” said Moy.
Another invited presentation, “The Path to Moving Forward to 100% Renewable Energy,” was given by Jon Wellinghoff, the former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission chair, now an energy law attorney with Stoel Rives LLP.
“Solar is growing so fast, it is going to overtake everything,” asserted Wellinghoff.
“Storing solar energy is key to enabling Hawaii to meet their 100 percent renewable energy goals,” said Boris von Bormann, CEO of sonnenUSA. “At sonnen, we envision a world where clean and affordable energy for all is available. We’re doing it in Germany now, with our sonnenCommunity of households using sonnenBatterie storage with solar, and we see a pathway to a clean energy future in Hawaii thanks to innovative utility tariffs, market adoption of clean technology and key distribution partnerships with local solar installers and contractors.”
Here on Maui, Haleakala Solar Inc. has partnered with sonnen, while Rising Sun Solar signed up with Tesla Energy.
Jared Stigge, vice president of C.H. Guernsey & Company, presented “The Guernsey Report: An Analysis of Alternative Utility Models for Maui County.” In the same session, a representative of the Hawaii State Legislature addressed the idea of a Maui municipal utility.
“The Guernsey Report clearly states there are ways to look at other renewable models,” said Maui Mayor Alan M. Arakawa. “NextEra thinks they can make a profit here, but they have not showed us a model to cut our costs. My hope is that we really research it further and get our facts correct for the best utility.”
“It’s a given we need to change,” said Mayor Arakawa. “We are committed to it. Every family could eventually save so much money. We can do it! We have to do it! And let’s do it right!”
The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is considering whether to approve NextEra’s offer to buy Hawaiian Electric Industries for $4.3 billion. A decision is expected this summer. However, NextEra, a major sponsor of the conference, did not participate on a panel, nor did the company have any visible representation at this year’s event.
“The conference panelists presented many innovative local solutions to bring 100 percent renewable energy to Hawaii in the most efficient way possible, without requiring a Mainland takeover by NextEra,” said Stanley Chang, consultant with Earthjustice.
“Discussion of the Independent System Operator (ISO) model for Maui County and Hawaii was particularly interesting, because an ISO would bring lower prices by introducing fair competition. Clearly, Maui County is on the forefront of Hawaii’s renewable energy future.”
Energy leaders agreed that Hawaii, even with the state’s many challenges, can lead changes in the country’s renewable energy landscape, and that we already have so much to be proud of. For example, Hawaii is the leader of solar rooftop integration into the grid.
The exhibition segment of the conference gave networking opportunities to participants to generate business or collaborate to address common issues and concerns. The conference’s third day moved outdoors with two optional Maui Sustainability Mobile Workshops.