Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Hawaii’s alternative energy future postponed a little to allow time to get it right

by Larry Geller

Well, you didn’t read about this in your daily paper. I’m not sure if they sent reporters or not. But no use waiting, at this point it qualifies as Disappeared News.

After week-long hearings with the Public Utilities Commission and Feed it to me Hawaiian Electric Company on whether Hawaii will have a feed-in tariff or not, it was decided to put off the decision until July, with final action to be taken in the fall. This is to allow the parties more time to prepare, according to Life of the Land’s Henry Curtis, one of the participants in the hearings.

I know that feed-in tariffs are not high on most readers’ curiosity list, but here’s the benefit, according to the only coverage of the hearing I could find on the web by a news organization:

Setting a standard rate for renewable electricity is a key to Hawaii's transformation from the nation's most fossil-fuel dependent state to its most self-reliant.

"It really is the difference between us having a rapid development of large-scale renewable development in Hawaii, or having things stay the same," said Erik Kvam, chief executive officer for Zero Emissions. [, Hawaii gets to work on energy independence, 4/17/2009]

In case you are curious, a clean-energy boom is not happening in most places. The economic downturn killed what was being counted on to cure it. But there is an exception, and it is because they have a feed-in tariff:

This winter, as Congress was scrambling to pass the stimulus package, the bottom fell out of the renewable energy sector -- the very industry that lawmakers have held out as our best hope of salvaging the economy. Trade groups like the American Wind Energy Association, which as recently as December was forecasting "another record-shattering year of growth," began predicting that new installations would plunge by 30 to 50 percent. Solar panel manufacturers that had been blazing a trail of growth announced a wave of layoffs. Some have since cut their workforces in half, as stock prices tumble and plans for new green energy projects stall.

But there is one place where capital is still flowing: Gainesville, Florida. Even as solar panels are stacking up in warehouses around the country, this city of 120,000 is gearing up for a solar power boom, fueled by homegrown businesses and scrappy investors who have descended on the community and are hiring local contractors to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops around town.

Why is the renewable energy market in Gainesville booming while it’s collapsing elsewhere in the country? The answer boils down to policy. In early February, the city became the first in the nation to adopt a "feed-in tariff" -- a clunky and un-descriptive name for a bold incentive to foster renewable energy. Under this system, the local power company is required to buy renewable energy from independent producers, no matter how small, at rates slightly higher than the average cost of production. This means anyone with a cluster of solar cells on their roof can sell the power they produce at a profit. [AlterNet, A Solar Revolution May Be Coming to Your Town, 4/11/2009]

That’s what makes the world turn, it seems, the ability to make a profit. If Hawaii’s feed-in tariff lets alternative energy producers sell their power for a profit, that is, if it all works, then we will have alternative energy.

So stay tuned for more on this later.


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