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Abercrombie and Aiona tangle on energy policy

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 10:32 p.m. HST, Oct 21, 2010

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said yesterday that former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's proposal to create an independent authority with policy and regulatory power over renewable energy projects would be a mistake that could derail the state's progress on renewable energy.

Abercrombie, the Democratic candidate for governor, wants the new authority to have policy responsibilities now in the state's energy office and the regulatory duties of the state Public Utilities Commission. The former congressman believes the PUC takes too long to review dockets. He would make the PUC a traditional rate-setting agency.

Aiona, the Republican candidate for governor, said establishing a new authority could delay projects already in the works and undermine momentum behind the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. The initiative, which has bipartisan support in the state Legislature and among environmentalists and utilities, commits the state to obtaining 70 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030.

"It is my position that this reorganization is just bad policy," Aiona said at Energy Expo 2010, a conference sponsored by the utilities at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki.

Aiona, a former judge, said combining policy and regulatory functions under a new energy authority would be akin to "merging the judge and the jury with the prosecutor's office."

He said he would instead put adequate resources into the PUC, the state's energy office and the consumer advocate.

Abercrombie, who also spoke at the conference, likened his new energy authority to a port authority that has jurisdiction over harbors or an airport authority that oversees airports.

"I think we need to make independent decisions about projects and concentrate more fully on moving the clean-energy agenda forward," he said.

Aiona used the conference, the first where both candidates shared a stage since the primary, to highlight what he described as a substantial policy difference with the former congressman.

Aiona and Abercrombie are both committed to developing alternative energy to lessen the state's dependence on imported fossil fuel. They also agree on incentives to get more people to convert to solar and other renewable sources, such as a state bond-financed program where homeowners could obtain loans to install clean energy systems.

Lawmakers rejected a bill this year that would have created the bond-financed loan program after concerns from counties and mortgage bankers about the repayment process.

Aiona also said he would use proceeds from a barrel tax on petroleum products for renewable energy and food security programs, not to balance the state budget. Lawmakers diverted a portion of the barrel tax, which was approved this year over Gov. Linda Lingle's veto, to help with the state's budget deficit.

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