Hawaii state officials banded together last week in their commitment to the state’s renewable energy goals, despite climate change naysayer Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election.
Hawaii’s policy on energy couldn’t be further from the future President-elect Trump promised in his campaign, as the state has one of the most aggressive renewable energy goals in the nation, seeking to eliminate its fossil fuel dependence by 2045. The goals were put in place to liberate Hawaii’s economy from a reliance on oil and protect the environment.
Makena Coffman, associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said that with a Trump presidency, state-level action becomes more important.
“For years, states, including Hawaii, have wavered on greenhouse gas policy pending federal efforts,” she said. “I think that uncertainty has now gone away. We can be assured by his campaign promises that a Trump administration is not going to take strides in greenhouse gas policy and it is up to states and local governments to keep moving forward.”
When campaigning, Trump said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
In line with his campaign promises, Trump appointed Myron Ebell — an outspoken climate change contrarian — to head his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Ebell is director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and heads the Cooler Heads Coalition, which is made up of nonprofit groups that question global warming and oppose policies that favor the conservation of energy.
Whether Trump sticks to his campaign promises or not, Hawaii officials made it clear they aren’t wavering from the state’s clean energy plans.
Cindy McMillan, communications director for Gov. David Ige’s office, said it is too early to speculate on the changes Trump’s administration would make to the nation’s energy policy but “the state remains steadfast in its commitment to
100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2045.”
Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chairman Randy Iwase said that if the new administration is “guided by science, technology and the facts. There should be no conflict with federal policy and the state’s policy to achieve renewable energy.”
Iwase said Hawaii will push forward to its goal even if federal policies don’t align.
“That won’t affect us but it will affect the nation,” he said.
Similar to Iwase, State Rep. Chris Lee (D-Kailua, Waimanalo), chairman of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, said that if the president-elect decides to support fossil fuels, the state will continue pursuing the use of renewable energy resources such as solar and wind energy, noting “it won’t stop us.”
Mark Glick, administrator for the Hawaii State Energy Office, said Hawaii’s vision and supporting policy framework will stay the course.
“We will continue to collaborate with our federal partners consistent with our historical agreements and understandings, and hope and expect the new president to honor those agreements,” Glick said.
The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, the foundation for the state’s renewable goals, was launched in 2008 through a partnership between the state and the U.S. Department of Energy. The initiative brought in $19 million in resources from the DOE from 2008 to 2012.
Hawaii’s energy community was mixed on how the possible ending of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to combat climate change will affect the state.
Isaac Moriwake, an Earthjustice attorney, said the momentum of the renewable energy market won’t be stopped if the Clean Power Plan is eliminated.
“While Trump and congressional Republicans can try to undo Obama’s climate regulations, the market is already rapidly accelerating to where clean energy like solar and wind is cheaper than fossil fuels including coal and gas. This shift has already happened in Hawaii, and there’s no going back now,” he said.
Not everyone was as certain of the market’s capability of weathering potential changes in policy.
Former PUC Chairwoman Mina Morita said regulations are critical in creating certainty for businesses.
“With this uncertainty, it’s going to be a lot more expensive and dependent on state public-private partnerships to get the big infrastructure investments completed which are necessary to ensure Hawaii’s actions benefit all power users,” she said.
In Hawaii, state policy has been instrumental in building the solar industry.
A state energy program that offered residents the full retail rate for excess energy their solar systems sent to the grid resulted in more than 71,000 rooftop systems installed.
While state officials remain committed to the energy goals, one hit Hawaii could face would be a loss in funding for renewable energy research.
“We can likely expect federal support for renewable energy deployment and research to drop,” UH’s Coffman said.
Because of the state’s clean energy initiative, UH and others received $30 million in congressional funds from 2008 to 2010.
Federal funding has significantly helped the expansion of renewable energy in the islands.
The federal solar tax credit, also known as the investment tax credit, allows residents to get 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system back from federal taxes. The tax credit runs through 2019. The ITC reduces to 26 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2021. After 2023, the residential credit will drop to zero while the commercial and utility credit will drop to a permanent 10 percent.
Many said they doubted the ITC would be a top focus.
“I am doubtful that when this incoming administration has so many areas it will want to work on, that it will try to kill something which is going to sunset anyway,” said Moriwake. “The extension of the ITC was passed as a bipartisan measure, and I don’t think Congress will be interested in revisiting the issue.”