Legislation Establishes Regulatory Framework for Developing, Financing, and Constructing Underwater Electric Transmission Cable

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Sen. Roz Baker

Sen. Roz Baker, D-Maui, chair of Commerce and Consumer Protection, made the following remarks on SB2785, SD2, HD2 on May 3, 2012, regarding the legislation that will pave the way for an undersea power cable between the islands.

Mr. President,


While I rise in support of this measure, I want to acknowledge some legitimate concerns that have been raised by folks on Moloka`i and Lana`i.  As a neighbor islander it is easy to feel like the concerns for our small, rural or less populated islands get short shrift from our big sister on Oahu.

For some neighbor islanders, Information may be hard to come by, it’s expensive to fly over for face to face meetings and sometimes it feels like things are done to us not with us.  Out of respect for those concerns, I had hoped we would be able to conference with the House on this bill.  Then we could have developed a clear policy statement about where the cable would go and the need for community consensus as the Senate Draft had provided in the bill’s preamble.

Our language stated “Nothing in this Act is intended to require the construction of an interisland cable from the islands of Molokai or Lanai to Oahu unless the communities affirmatively request an interisland cable.”  Such a simple sentence to acknowledge the concern.

The House draft was more generic: “Nothing in this Act is intended to require the construction of an interisland cable from any particular island.”   From the beginning we’ve tried to provide opportunities for input from communities potentially affected by this measure – that’s why we started with a fresh bill this session rather than going back to conference on last year’s bill.

It was important to vet the measure thoroughly and hopefully provide clarity and understanding in the process.  I felt written acknowledgement in a conference committee report would advance that clarity and understanding.  Unfortunately, the House did not agree to conference on this matter and we are here today to vote on the final version of the bill including the amendments made by the House to SB 2785.

This bill establishes the regulatory framework for developing, financing, and constructing an underwater electric transmission cable.  It is important to note, however, what this bill does not do.  This bill does not require that an underwater transmission cable be built nor does it specify that certain islands will be the subject of a potential cable.

Underwater transmission cables have been deployed elsewhere and our discussion about one in Hawai`i waters is not new.  As we move toward a more sustainable energy policy, it is important to be open to projects like this to help our State achieve its goals.  Currently, each island has its own electrical grid and there is no interconnectivity among the islands.  As Hawai`i moves to develop more alternative energy resources like geothermal power, it may be prudent to provide for the interconnection of these electrical grids to ensure that all our power needs are met.

It is desirable that the regulatory framework established by this bill be in place so that any potential bidders for a cable project know what the rules of the road are.    The provisions in this measure will help to ensure that any project selected would be ‘commercially reasonable,’ as well as feasible.  I simply don’t subscribe to renewal energy at any cost and thankfully neither does the PUC.  Again, SB2785 provides a pathway towards an underwater transmission cable but it does not in any way mandate one.

Although this bill is important for Hawaii’s energy future, attention must be given to the concerns raised.  Maui island has excess power and the capacity to produce more.  Maui island is poised to become an energy exporter.

For any cable project that moves forward, my preference and hopefully that of my Maui colleagues would be to establish a grid to grid cable that one day could to tap the abundant geothermal on the Big Island and the excess wind and other power from Maui island and connect to energy needs on Oahu. Such a grid to grid project would provide the benefits of a reliable interconnected major islands grid that would allow ratepayers the benefits of economies of scale and not be a burden to any one community.

Any project that goes forward in my opinion must be pono, it must be commercially feasible and not saddle ratepayers with unreasonable costs.  Fortunately the PUC shares my concerns about the cost of electricity and desire for affordable rates.  They demonstrated that commitment already in turning down a project that would have been costly using unproven technology.

SB 2785 provides the framework under which an interisland cable can be considered, vetted and proposals for deployment reviewed and evaluated.  As a part of our overall strategy to achieve energy security and independence from imported fuel, I believe such a cable should be thoroughly explored as a way to connect the grids of the major islands in our state.  Because I believe there is merit to such an orderly, considered, open dialog on the merits of and concerns regarding an interisland cable, I will vote yes on SB 2875, HD2.  Mahalo.