Jan 17

2012 Legislative Wrap-up

Posted on in Energy Policy
hawaiicapitol.jpgThe 2012 legislative session ended May 3, with mixed results for clean energy. The main three key actions taken by the legislature with Blue Planet’s support were passage of the Hawaii Electricity Reliability Administrator and the interisland cable regulatory bill, and confirmation of Mike Champley and Lorraine Akiba to the Public Utilities Commission.

Hawaii Electricity Reliability Administrator (HERA)
The priority clean energy policy this session was SB 2787, which establishes the Hawai‘i Electricity Reliability Administrator, or HERA. As more independent power producers and distributed energy systems plug into the grid, they face numerous technical, operational, and regulatory issues presented by Hawai‘i's century-old electrical system. These obstacles hinder interconnection and compromise reliability, stifling the potential of renewable energy production. The HERA policy establishes formal, objective, and verifiable reliability and interconnection standards for Hawai‘i’s electricity grids. Having an independent entity—not the electric utility—
set the “rules of the road” for reliability and interconnection would enable increased integration
of renewables and greater system predictability and resiliency. Senate Bill 2787 passed 74-1-1.

Interisland Cable Regulatory Structure
Senate Bill 2785 establishes a regulatory structure for the installation and implementation of an interisland high-voltage electric transmission cable system, bringing it under the governance of the PUC. Having a regulatory framework for the implementation of an interisland cable system will ensure more certainty and oversight in the development process. Hawaii’s islands have varying amounts of technologically acquirable renewable energy resources and an uneven distribution of electricity demand based on population and economic activity. Maui, for example, has surplus wind energy at night, while Oahu has an expanding fleet of electric vehicles that could put that energy to work. Legislation to establish a regulatory framework for the implementation of an interisland cable system can provide more certainty, stability, and oversight in the development process. By providing structure for a statewide electrical grid we can get the most out of our state's abundant solar, wind, and geothermal energy resources. Senate Bill 2785 passed 67-9 (although 15 “with reservations”).  
Public Utilities Commission (PUC) Appointments
The Senate confirmed the nominations of both Michael Champley and Lorraine Akiba to the PUC. We believe both will be strong advocates for aggressive clean energy regulatory policy. Mike Champley served as Blue Planet’s expert consultant for two years. During his work with Blue Planet, Champley was instrumental in identifying and suggesting modifications to practices that impede the integration of renewable energy. Champley understands the complex economic, institutional, and operational changes that must happen to enable Hawai‘i’s clean energy transition. Lorraine Akiba will bring broad experience (in public and private law sectors) and energy to the PUC while balancing the skills and expertise of the existing commissioners.  
Other Legislative Issues
Unfortunately, we were unable to advance some other key issues this session. Policies that fell by the wayside included reallocation of the barrel tax (and expansion to include coal), renewable energy tax credit reform, and additional PUC policy guidance (related to curtailment provisions and variable rate of return for renewable integration).  

In particular, Blue Planet spent a good deal of effort in a measure to reform the renewable tax credit, largely in response to proposed bills that would have severely reduced the credit. The challenge has been the “success” of the existing 35% credit and the explosive growth of residential and commercial PV (as well as the utility-scale
wind). It’s estimated that the credit could cost the state budget upwards of $60 million this year and
much more in 2013.

Blue Planet took a couple of approaches to this threat. First, we asked former UH economist Thomas Loudat to analyze what the credit yields to the state in terms of job creation, income tax, GET, oil savings, and other ancillary benefits. An op-ed, co-authored by Jeff Mikulina and Thomas Loudat, was published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. We then worked on formulating a new incentive structure for the tax credit—one that converts most of the more substantial incentives from investment credits to production credits (rewarding the actual renewable kWh instead of the equipment cost). This also had the effect of spreading the credit over 10 years, reducing the one-year budget hit. We made some other changes as well, ratcheting back the residential and commercial PV from 35% to 20% over 3 years, eliminating the confusing “system” caps, and sunsetting the credit in 2018 (providing a predictable glide path for the industry). Although the tax credit reforms didn’t pass this session, we had good agreement among legislative leadership and most of the key players in the renewable energy industry, setting us up for next session.

Clearing the Path for Clean Energy