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Abercrombie power plans seem to be losing energy

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 02:23 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011

Easily one of the most ambitious portions of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's platform and so-called "New Day" plan is energy.

When he ran for office, Abercrombie rightly called a revitalized energy plan "Hawaii's most important economic enterprise."

But today, after six months in office, key portions of Abercrombie's plan are either canceled, inoperative or simply ignored by his own administration.

When asked to discuss his plan last week, Abercrombie declined, saying that Richard Lim, the state director of business and economic development department, was responsible for the energy plans.

"If there are any questions on wind or like that, see Richard," Abercrombie said.

"Everything that is in the New Day plan we are going to move ahead with and I have assigned it to Richard Lim for the implementation of it," he added.

The key to Abercrombie's energy plan is the creation of an "independent energy authority." In his campaign, Abercrombie called the authority the "lead government agency" for setting standards for the power grid, deciding what providers can hook up to the grid and overseeing energy-efficency programs.

When asked about the energy authority, Lim downplayed it.

"We actually didn't push the energy authority. We are looking at creating some kind of an entity to address the long-term strategic issues. We haven't decided what form it would take.

"We do believe there is a need to address strategic long-term issues," Lim said in an interview.

In his imaginative energy plan, Abercrombie said the authority would set up rules to "enable retail wheeling." Wheeling means that a private energy producer sells energy directly to an energy consumer, bypassing the electric company. During his election campaign, Abercrombie blasted the local electric companies for "monopolistic control often at odds with the public interest."

The Abercrombie plan called it "democratizing energy."

When asked about wheeling now, Lim was not supportive.

"I didn't address it. We are still looking at the pros and cons on it," Lim said.

Asked about concerns, Lim said "if you allow retail wheeling you reduce the customer base … less customers to amortize the cost."

Another portion of the Abercrombie energy plan called for reducing "our dependence on fossil fuels for transportation."

Abercrombie even called for making the city rail plan green.

"We will require a majority of the power for Oahu's rail transit project to be generated by clean, local sources — the project should be built right and powered right," according to Abercrombie's New Day plan.

When asked about that part of the plan, Lim said, "I am not familiar with the rail system. It is not my area."

Not mentioned in Abercrombie's plan is the so-called Big Wind project on Molokai and Lanai. It is easily the biggest, most controversial neighbor island development since the ill-fated Hawaii Superferry project during the Lingle administration.

During a speech last week, Abercrombie stopped short of saying he would fight to the death for windmills on Molokai and Lanai, but he was adamant about a cable providing power from the neighbor islands to Hono­lulu.

"I'm working so hard to get the cable. … It has to be done on an island-wide basis; we all have to share in the cost. We have to see this as something we all have to do," Abercrombie said.

The question remains precisely how much of the Abercrombie energy plan Abercrombie actually plans to do before this new day grows old.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.

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