Energy bills take aim at consumer benefits


Several Hawaii state senators are taking on the 2006 state mandate requiring gasoline sold here be at least 10 percent ethanol.

“It adds to the cost of gasoline,” Sen. Sam Slom said this week. “It lowers the productivity of gasoline.”

Slom, the Senate’s lone Republican, has introduced bills similar to Senate Bill 790, which would repeal the ethanol requirement completely, in the past. He said he continues to hear complaints from boaters, who said the fuel with ethanol damages their boats’ motors. And despite claims that Hawaii would be creating its own ethanol, that has yet to happen.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Slom said.

He said realistically, this year’s bill probably has about the same chance as his previous, unsuccessful iterations of the measure.

“We have state officials in love with certain energy products,” Slom said.

When government, or anyone, has to force people to do something, that’s a sign that idea probably isn’t good enough to stand on its own, he added.

He was surprised to learn of a similar measure, this one introduced by Maui Sen. Rosalyn Baker, West Hawaii Sen. Josh Green and several other senators from across the state. Senate Bill 201 would allow gas stations to sell gasoline without ethanol unless “sufficient quantities of locally produced ethanol or biofuel crops have been produced and are available” for ethanol production in Hawaii.

“The purpose of this bill is to give our local drivers a break,” Green said. “Initially, there had been some hope Maui would produce ethanol.”

That didn’t happen, and bringing in ethanol to mix with gasoline increases prices at the pump by about 5 percent, Green said. That savings would add up for island residents, especially those on neighbor islands, where prices are typically about 10 percent higher than Oahu.

“We just need a break,” Green said. “I think it’s got a pretty good chance.”’

Hawaii Island’s newest state senator, Russell Ruderman from Puna, is championing several energy measures, including one to end electric utilities’ habit of charging customers for a $5,000 to $20,000 interconnection study before allowing customers to install photovoltaic systems.

“What I’m hoping to do is remove some of the obstacles to homeowners installing photovoltaic systems” with Senate Bill 366, Ruderman said. Utilities charge the fee for the interconnection study “and there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to do (a photovoltaic system). I’m trying to increase the use of solar energy and make it more available to more people.”

If the utility company legitimately requires a study, it should pay for the study, Ruderman said. He also questioned the need for a study in a particular neighborhood each time a new resident wants to add solar. The studies could probably be done on an annual basis, he said.

“It’s an obstacle” to installing solar power to a home, Ruderman said. “We should remove as many obstacles as possible.”

House Bill 346, introduced by freshman Rep. Nicole Lowen, of West Hawaii, makes the same proposal regarding the interconnection studies.

Other energy bills up for consideration this session include: SB 724, which requires the Public Utilities Commission to rule on small-scale renewable energy projects within 90 days. SB 64, which requires the PUC to publish on its website contracts, including price information, for the renewable energy by utility companies. SB 587, which requires the PUC to establish preferential rates for the purchase of energy that is used or consumed for agricultural activities.