Getting the Details Right for Hawaii’s Renewables Push

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative is a partnership between the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy that was launched in 2008 and has the bold goal of attaining a 100 percent renewable energy portfolio standard by the year 2045. This is important to the state of Hawaii because imported oil currently supplies 80% of its energy due to the isolated nature of the archipelago. This dependence on oil brings with it threats to natural resources on and outside of Hawaii, as well as economic instability.

In 2016, Governor David Ige proposed HB2291, a bill that would replace the current renewable energy technology systems tax credit with tax credits for solar energy, wind energy, and energy storage property. The governor stated, “the current method is flawed and results in the misrepresentation of the state’s renewable energy process,” but the legislation stagnated.

As of January 2018, state lawmakers introduced and scheduled for decision making a new bill, HB1801, which would amend the definition of “renewable portfolio standard.”  The goal is to

  1. more accurately reflect the percentage of renewable energy
  2. establish standards for gas utilities like those that have been set for renewable portfolio standards.

The current law uses a formula to calculate the percentage of renewable energy used in the state.

The current equation: (Electricity generated from the utility’s renewable resources (ex. Wind turbines)) + (Energy generated by customers (ex. Rooftop solar)) / (Total utility sales from electricity (renewables and fossil fuels)) = % Renewable Energy

Because the formula puts electricity sales and not electricity generation in the denominator, it could include both fossil fuels and renewable resources.  Hypothetically, utilities could include 50% fossil fuels in their portfolio and still meet their 100% renewable target because the energy generated by consumers wouldn’t count towards “sales” and could offset fossil fuel use.

HB1801 would change the formula to: (Renewable electricity generated by grid-connected systems) / (All electricity generated by grid-connected systems) = % Renewable Energy

The proposed formula would directly compare renewable energy generated to all electricity generated and would exclude fossil fuels entirely from being counted in the percentage.

The other portion of the bill creates renewable gas standards for gas utilities: (Heat energy from renewable gas sold) / (All energy from gas sold) = % Renewable Gas

The legislation brings up 2 fundamental issues in the current calculations:

  1. The current renewable portfolio standard calculation overestimates the reported percentage of renewable energy by excluding customer-sited, grid-connected energy generation in the denominator.
  2. The current electrical energy sales number does not include energy losses that occur between electrical generation and the customer meter where sales are measured.

In response, Hawaii Gas testified in opposition to HB1801 and countered with their own proposal to require all gas sold for grid-connected electrical energy generation by the regulated gas utility operations in the state to become more renewable over time. But, they have demonstrated their commitment to liquefied natural gas (LNG) which is collected using the environmentally unfriendly procedure of “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing.  Fracking is controversial largely due to the potential for the chemicals used to leech into drinking water reservoirs, and this severely disadvantages LNG as a fuel resource.

It is my position that the feasibility of achieving the goal of 100% renewables by 2045 goal is a separate issue from whether a bill like HB1801 should move forward. I think that the importance of HB1801, while a minor piece of legislation, lies in the precedence that the formula for calculating % renewables would set. Whether entities like Hawaii Gas are making environmentally and economically valid statements in opposition comes down to the feasibility of the proposed timeline. But, setting a realistic goal for renewables will have the most impact if the calculations are more accurately representing a renewable portfolio standard. While HB1801 did not ultimately make it to a vote in the Senate during this year’s session, I support future legislation like it that would seek to clarify energy goals and push forward clean energy initiatives.

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