Renewable energy bill threatens to stall solar in Hawaii

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At a rally earlier this week at Hawaii’s state capitol building, solar advocates including the Hawaii Sierra Club, the Hawaii Solar Energy Association (HSEA) and numerous local solar companies, along with concerned citizens, urged Governor Ige to veto SB 2510. The portion of the bill that is raising ire among opponents is a policy that requires at least 33.33% of renewable energy on each island to be generated by “firm” renewable energy as opposed to intermittent sources such as wind and solar. Some of the island, such as Kauai, are already over the threshold, and would have to halt new construction, cutting jobs and limiting the advancement of solar in the state. Approximately 3,000 people are currently employed in the solar industry in Hawaii.

The bill is also opposed by Tesla, the Hawai‘i Youth Climate Coalition, Environmental Caucus of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, Our Revolution Hawaii, 350Hawaii, Beyond Kona, and dozens of other groups.

The primary sponsor of the bill is Senator Donovan M. Dela Cruz (D)  who said that “Over-relying on an intermittent source of energy will make it difficult for a utility to provide stated services for its customers… It’s scary to think that we’re going to rely on mostly intermittent. We can do hydro, pumped storage, hydrogen…”

A petition drafted by Jeff Kaemmerlen, CEO of the solar firm Sunspear, says the bill would “tip the scales in favor of expensive and high-emission biomass or biofuel projects and penalize proven solar and storage technologies. This bill picks winners and puts constraints on industry innovation and customer choice.” The petition has gathered nearly 300 signatures to date, with a goal of 500 before sending it to the Governor.

“The Governor’s veto of SB 2510 is essential to prevent a 180-degree turn in the wrong direction for Hawaii energy policy,” said Rocky Mould, executive director of HSEA. “There is no reason to limit solar, especially when solar and battery installations lower consumer energy costs and improve grid reliability.”

Hawaii’s renewable portfolio standard calls for 100% renewables by 2045, an effort to reduce reliance on expensive, imported fossil fuels. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association the state ranked 16th for installed solar in 2021, with nearly 18% of its electricity needs coming from solar. Hawaii currently has the highest electricity rates in the country, currently at 32.76 cents kWh, a jump of 7.6% in the past year. The bill, if passed, would limit the number of residents who could install solar to control their electricity costs.

According to Wayne Tanaka, Director of the Hawai’i Sierra Club, “SB 2510 is a threat to Hawaii’s clean energy future and will slow down our transition away from fossil fuels at the very time that we need to accelerate renewable energy adoption.  Allowing SB 2510 to become law would be a terrible mistake.”

Many of those opposed to the bill say that a biomass producer is behind it. “To say we cannot go with cheap alternatives but have to go with more expensive alternatives because someone is being greased, makes no sense,” said Henry Curtis, executive director and vice president for consumer issues of Life of the Land, a non-profit environment group based in Honolulu.

Governor Ige has until June 27 to say whether he is going to veto the bill.

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