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Editorial | Island Voices

‘Decoupling’ critical to cutting oil dependence

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There is an old adage that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

In Hawaii, we all recognize our dependence on imported fossil fuels is unacceptable and we desire a different result. Setting aside the $4 billion a year we pay for this foreign oil, our economic security and quality of life is dependent on often-hostile suppliers in often-unstable parts of the world.

However, over the past 30 years, our state’s dependence on foreign oil has not declined; rather we have remained the most petroleum-dependent state in the nation.

Could it be that this is the result of "doing the same thing over and over again"?

The premise of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) goal to move from our current 90 percent dependence on fossil fuels to 70 percent clean energy within a generation is that Hawaii has to fundamentally change how it has done things; fundamentally change how we plan, produce, transport and use energy.

For 30 years now, our main electricity utility, Hawaiian Electric Co., has done the same thing over and over again under a system that allowed it to make money by selling more electricity generated from foreign oil. Hawaii needed to break or decouple the link between HECO’s profitability and its electricity sales. After thorough deliberation, the state Public Utilities Commission issued a historic decision in August to help do exactly that.

With decoupling, HECO is provided a target rate of return, set by regulators, that ensures the utility can maintain dependable service to all consumers; assure its investors will provide capital at lower rates to modernize and improve the electric system; and allow the electric company to fully support energy efficiency and renewable development.

In the long run, electric rates will stabilize because renewable energy generation does not rely on volatile oil prices.

Decoupling is just one action to move us toward HCEI’s 70 percent clean energy goal by 2030; it’s the most ambitious target in the country, and we can’t afford anything less.

The goal is based on studies by organizations such as Booz Allen Hamilton and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that identify a potential for more than 1 billion kilowatts of electricity from biomass, solar, wind, geothermal, ocean, waste and other renewable resources, and 4.3 billion kilowatt-hours in energy savings by existing buildings and new construction.

During recent gatherings in Hawaii and on the national level, many expressed their wonderment at the state’s tremendous progress. Even so, it isn’t fast enough for many, including me. I clearly remember the economic devastation when yogurt shops and airlines alike shut down in 2008 because the cost of energy was too much to bear. Some experts believe oil prices will go back to $150-$200 a barrel in a few years. Hawaii’s economy needs to divorce itself from petroleum as quickly as it can. We all need to be a part of that.

 

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