It's Too Early For Law Regulating Undersea Cable

Robin Kaye

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee will be reviewing SB367, HD1. This legislation, written and pushed by Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) and the State's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), would establish a regulatory system for a proposed undersea cable. Once laid, this cable would then carry the intermittent electricity produced on Lāna‛i by up to 170 wind turbines. All the electricity produced by this industrial wind power plant would go to O'ahu. Almost 100 people and organizations throughout Hawaii (and even several others who have visited Lāna‛i from the Mainland and Australia) submitted testimony opposing this bill, the costs of which would ultimately be borne by HECO ratepayers. Many of the opponents said SB367 was premature, noting that not a single environmental study of the cable — which would pass directly through and lie upon the floor of the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on its 70+ mile path from Lāna‛i to O'ahu — has even begun.

House Energy and Environmental Protection and Consumer Protection and Commerce reviewed this bill. When they sent it on to Finance for Tuesday's hearing, they included their "Committees Report." In my testimony below, I am trying to show my testimony in direct relation to specific pieces of the Committees' report.

This is my testimony against the bill. Please, submit your testimony as well: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/emailtestimony/

Let's not be rushed into Big Wind before we know its financial and environmental costs.

Report: "Hawaii is one of the most fossil fuel-dependent states in the nation with a majority of our oil being imported. This makes the State extremely vulnerable to any oil embargo, supply disruption, international market dysfunction, and many other factors beyond the control of the State. Furthermore, the continued consumption of conventional petroleum fuel and price volatility can negatively impact the environment and economic health of the people of Hawaii. At the same time, Hawaii has among the most abundant renewable energy resources in the world, in the form of solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and ocean energy assets."

Response: It is important to note that electricity generation accounts for just 30 percent of our fossil fuel dependence. We need to know why the State is pushing to address this instead of the 70 percent used by transportation. The cable contemplated by SB367 will benefit one industry, wind, will benefit one island, O`ahu, and as it stands today, one individual, David Murdock. Our priorities are out of balance.

Report: “Increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy resources would increase Hawaii's energy self-sufficiency, achieving broad societal benefits, including increased energy security, resistance to increases in oil prices, environmental sustainability, economic development, and job creation.”

Response: Building an undersea cable for wind will not provide “economic development” for our state nor will it create jobs. It will ultimately take much-needed tax dollars away from our residents. It will pass on to tax and rate payers $2.3 BILLION of the total $3 billion dollars for the Big Wind project, given the government’s tax credits, tax incentives, loans and grants which will cover 65 percent of the developer’s costs.

Wind power plants have not been cited as a “job creation” engines anywhere in the United States or in Europe. If we wish to create renewable energy jobs in Hawaii, why not support our world-leading efforts in wave energy, OTEC, geothermal and solar. Why not keep our funds here, in Hawaii? Why not create jobs here, in Hawaii?

Report: “Hawaii's clean energy policy also mandates and strongly promotes the use of renewable energy resources. As the amounts and forms of renewable energy differentiate from island to island, establishing an undersea cable capable of transmitting renewable energy-generated electricity between islands would help Hawaii achieve its clean energy goals.”

Response: Energy conservation on O’ahu and throughout our state would get us much closer to our clean energy goals. Putting solar hot water and photo-voltaic systems on all the homes in our state would support local jobs and achieve our clean energy mandates with much less impact to our islands and our seas.

Report: “While your Committees note that there is and has been a good deal of opposition to this legislation, a majority of the opposition references the establishment of wind farms and electric utility rates, and include statements that this legislation is premature.”

Response: This legislation IS premature, especially in light of the fact that the PUC’s March 18th deadline for a term sheet from Castle & Cooke and First Wind has NOT been met by First Wind, leaving only one player at the table. Since First Wind has now asked the PUC for an 8 month extension, and HECO plans to have an RFP for the cable development available by Fall, SB367 could be establishing a regulatory process for a cable that would benefit only one private, mainland developer — David Murdock — and take resources from only one island, making this a special interest measure paid for by ALL Hawaii’s ratepayers.

On the other hand, perhaps the PUC will re-open the entire bidding process, and/or Maui island will become a target for development of an industrial wind power plant in light of resistance on Molokai and Lanai. In either case, the prematurity of SB367 becomes evident.

Report: “DBEDT and Hawaiian Electric Company testified in support of the Proposed H.D. 1. Life of the Land and numerous concerned individuals testified in opposition to the Proposed H.D. 1. The PUC and OHA submitted comments on the Proposed H.D. 1.”

Response: Almost 90 individuals and organizations testified in opposition to SB367. And the argument that SB367 is really just about a cable — and not about the wind power plants — is extraordinarily specious. Would the cable be built if there were no wind power plants to supply it with electricity? There is no good reason — other than HECO’s need to assure its stockholders that they will have no risk and can pass on all costs — to establish a regulatory process for a cable that has not had a single potential impact examined.

Report: “Furthermore, your Committees note that the residents of the islands on which the wind generation facilities could be located have raised concerns that they will not have their chance to participate in the evaluation of the development of these facilities and the subsequent shipment of electricity to Oahu via an undersea cable system.”

Response: It is important for the Finance Committee to know that residents of the islands on which the wind generation facilities could be located ARE very worried that they will not have a “...chance to participate in the evaluation of ...these facilities...” As almost all of the testimony submitted to the Committees on Energy and Consumer Protection indicated, residents of both Lana’i and Moloka’i were told that little of certainty was known about any of the specific on-island components of Big Wind, and thus were shut out of the comment process on the programmatic EIS. Shortly after that was announced, HECO introduced this legislation. So indeed, residents are all but certain that their voices will not be heard.

Report: “It should be noted that the overall project contains several related projects which will require formal environmental impact statement processes and reporting. Moreover, permits for these projects will require review and approval from county agencies, and these projects will be subject to much review, evaluation, discussion, and decision making over a period of many years.”

Response: The Finance Committee would benefit from a macro view of Big Wind, of which SB367 is just the first step in the inevitable involvement of the Legislature in facilitating wind power plants on Neighbor Islands to power O`ahu. Members should review comments from the Scoping Meetings which DBEDT has recently posted on its website: http://www.hirep- wind.com/scoping-documents. In particular, review the comments raised by several of the governmental agencies with a direct relation to this proposal, including NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Hawaii’s Office of Planning. They, too, have serious concerns with the entire project.

SB367 IS premature, places an incredibly expensive burden on ratepayers and is but the first step in the establishment of Big Wind, with no attempt to explore other renewable alternatives. It is unnecessary, it is bad legislation, and it should be filed.

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