Alternative energy high priority for Coffman


With an energy model driven by electric companies, Hawaii’s path to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels for energy isn’t so clear, said Denny Coffman, a Democrat seeking a third term representing residents in North and South Kona and Ka‘u.

That is why Coffman, if re-elected, plans to introduce legislation to develop a statewide energy plan to be administered by a separate agency and map out how Hawaii can wean itself from fossil fuels and transition to renewable resources. Doing so would increase the speed of the state’s transition to renewable resources and hopefully lower electric rates, he said.

“The current energy model or plan is being driven by utilities, and there’s no real reason for a utility to want to replace itself,” he said in support of why the plan is needed.

The model would differ from the state’s Clean Energy Initiative, which calls for the state to achieve 70 percent clean energy from renewable resources by 2030, because it would provide a path to switching to renewable resources, such as geothermal, he said. Rather than saying it needs to be done, it would provide the steps to be taken, along with a time line for action.

Coffman, who is seeking the House District 5 seat representing residents in west Ka‘u to Keauhou, faces Leolani Oyama for the Democrat ticket in the Aug. 11 primary election.

In addition to a state energy model, Coffman said the best means for weaning the state off its reliance on fossil fuel is to start by using liquid natural gas to generate power and then work to harness energy from geothermal resources. Coffman said he supports increasing geothermal energy production on Hawaii Island. He also said the state should use money collected from the oil barrel tax to fund exploration work, making it easier for a private company to eventually develop a resource.

“We need to find ways to do this in a manner that can move forward faster,” Coffman said about the need for natural gas in the interim. “We don’t have any choice but to expand our use of geothermal because it is the most abundant source of energy (we have) to produce firm power.”

He said reasonable precautions need to be taken, however.

“I’m not advocating we aim the torpedoes full speed ahead,” he said. “We do need to go through and address all the environmental and safety issues.”

Safety is also a concern when Coffman looks at the state Department of Education’s funding for busing public school students. Continuing funding for the program will require the state to look at its spending for transportation, which annually averages $1,251 per child, as well as possibly finding other revenue sources.

The best way the Legislature can support the department in improving its schools is by decentralizing control and allowing each island, with a board, to manage its education system. He said he would support a pilot program that would take a neighbor island school complex, give it a fair slice of funding, and let it evolve as a decentralized district for five years.

“I’d want the local folks, who know the schools and the district, to make the decisions,” he said. “When you have layers of bureaucracy and centralized control, some things just get lost.”

Coffman said he does not see the need for an increase to the state general excise or income taxes. He did say, however, that the state should look into an airport passenger tax.

User fees can be increased so long as the fees collected are justified and stay within the agency rendering the service he said.