Hawaii legislature unanimously approves framework for interisland cable

The Hawaii legislature passed a bill establishing the legislative framework for an undersea power transmission cable connecting the Hawai’ian islands. In one of its last actions before adjourning May 3, Senate Bill 2785 passed its final reading in the Senate without a single “no” vote.

The measure now goes to Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is expected to sign the bill. Abercrombie addressed the need for the measure in his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 23, saying, “There is no legislation more critical to our future.”

The bill, which was passed by the House on April 10, establishes the regulatory structure under which interisland undersea transmission cables can be developed, financed, constructed, and regulated.

However, the measure does not explicitly authorize such a project, a provision that proved pivotal in securing the support of certain legislators.

In remarks delivered before the May 3 vote, Hawai’i Sen. Roz Baker (D-Maui), chair of the Commerce and Consumer Protection committee, noted that, 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 renewable energy at any cost.”

“SB2785 provides a pathway toward an underwater transmission cable but it does not in any way mandate one,” she continued.

Currently, each Hawai’ian island has its own electrical grid, meaning that some islands have an abundance of energy or potential energy, while other islands – particularly O’ahu – are facing resource adequacy challenges.

“The problem for O’ahu is that we have most of the people and most of the infrastructure but very little of the renewable energy potential,” a spokesperson for Hawai’ian Electric Company (HECO) told TransmissionHub on March 13. “The neighbor islands have substantially more renewable energy resources but they have very small populations and really can’t use most of what would be generated.”

In a written statement, Abercrombie said an interisland cable, “[I]s a long-term infrastructure investment that is needed now. An integrated grid will stabilize energy prices and equalize rates between the islands, which will benefit all of us.”

“As we move toward a more sustainable energy policy, it is important to be open to projects like [interisland cables] to help our State achieve its goals,” Baker said. “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.”

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly 80% of Hawai’i’s electricity was generated by petroleum in 2010, the last year for which figures were available. Renewables accounted for 12.5% of the state’s generation. The state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) calls for 25% renewable energy by 2020 and 40% by 2030.

Seven percent of the state’s electricity came from coal, while hydropower and “other gases” generated 1.3%.

In addition to incorporating renewable resources and reducing dependence on expensive oil, the HECO spokesperson said interconnecting the islands’ grids would provide additional stability to all the grids, a concept the pending legislation acknowledges.

“Interconnecting the islands via a high-voltage undersea electric transmission cable system would provide the islands with increased energy security and system efficiencies and enable the islands to provide each other with backup power,” according to SB2785.