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Clean energy in Hawaii is moving from research to reality, from talk to action

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    wind2 by christie wilson, 7/14/06, maalaea, maui Some of the 20 1.5-megawatt turbines at the new Kaheawa wind farm built on the West Maui Mountains.

On Feb. 24, on Oahu’s North Shore, Hawaii’s largest wind energy farm broke ground. When completed by year’s end, it will be able to meet up to 5 percent of Oahu’s energy needs at a lower price than oil, and much of the remaining land on the parcel will be leased to local farmers.

This year, requests for proposals will be seeking up to 500 megawatts (MW) of additional renewable energy on Oahu, up to 50 MW on Maui and up to 50 MW more of geothermal power on Hawaii island.

This will approximately double the total renewable energy capacity in the state, and, if these projects are financed, approved and built, will move Hawaii away from fossil fuels far more quickly than many of us had dared to dream.

Consumers are getting in on the action, too. The amount of rooftop solar for businesses and homes has exploded, growing more than 230 percent to approximately 76 MW in just the last two years. The solar industry has become so significant a part of our economy that it accounted for 15 percent of Hawaii construction spending in 2010.

This progress confirms that we’ve moved from goal-setting to implementation, from research to reality and from talk to action.

Clean energy in Hawaii is no longer the stuff of dreams; it’s happening now.

How do we keep the momentum going? Here are four of our next steps:

» First, we need to help transform the Public Utilities Commission, the body charged with regulating all utilities, including the electric companies.

Its problem is that it works under the old processes, with not enough staff and other resources, based on the old model — fossil fuel generation from large, centralized power plants. But now, there are dozens of power producers, technologies, and myriad challenges in making it all work together while looking out for the consumer. There is a different set of choices.

The PUC needs the financial resources — staffing, space and information technology — to process, in a fair and efficient manner, all of the new power purchase agreements hitting its desk.

» Second, we need an interisland cable network to connect a statewide grid.

Without the ability to move energy between islands, each island is on its own, which makes a statewide vision for clean energy nearly impossible. Our administration’s desire to move forward with an interisland cable isn’t about any particular project, but without a cable, most large-scale renewable energy projects will not be feasible, either technically or financially. In the past we always thought of ourselves as the end of a very long energy supply line. But with this cable network, we become our own supply line.

» Third, we need to modernize the electric grid. Parts of our old grid are rapidly approaching the maximum of clean, intermittent energy that can be used. Without some policy changes at the PUC, combined with deploying load- management tools, and a few additional technological breakthroughs, we risk seeing clean energy literally rejected from the grid as it’s being generated. This is happening already in some places, and it’s a shame.

The solution is a smart grid, where Hawaii is becoming a leader by enabling high levels of penetration of clean energy. We are hosting two smart-grid demonstration projects: one on Maui with the Japanese government and U. S. Department of Energy; another in development with the Korean government for Oahu.

The smart grid gives us access to clean energy options without sacrificing reliability and will enable rapid growth of wind and solar energy.

» Finally, we need to continue the partnerships. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative is a working alliance with the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Abercrombie administration, our congressional delegation, the counties and the nonprofit and business sectors. We are one of the few states with such an alignment of powerful and serious allies.

By taking these four steps, we will put ourselves in charge of managing our energy costs. In many instances, clean energy is cheaper or competitive with the current price of oil. New renewable energy agreements, such as those for wind, biofuels and geothermal, are fixed-price contracts, meaning we can predict and plan for what we will be paying 20 years from now.

We in Hawaii have an extraordinary opportunity to be a world leader in clean energy. Let’s do it.

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