(BIVN) – A House Bill that aims to broaden the definition of “renewable energy” as used in the Hawaiʻi Public Utilities Commission law will have to go through a state legislative conference committee if it is to become law, after being amended in the State Senate.
HB307 SD1 proposes to add “other self-replenishing non-fossil fuel” and “non-nuclear resources” to the PUC definition of renewable energy. The bill also amends the renewable energy technologies income tax credit by including commercial seawater air conditioning systems, and making changes to the tax credits for grid-connected solar energy systems, as well as grid-connected wind energy systems.
The bill went into a big joint senate committee hearing on April 2, and included language that specified that mono-cultured wood crops are excluded from the definition of “renewable energy”.
“I was a little confused to hear that the monoculture wood-crops are currently included in renewable energy, unless this exemption passes,” observed Puna state senator Russell Ruderman during the hearing. He asked testifier Henry Curtis to elaborate.
“The definition of what biofuels are and are not included have changed over time,” Curtis, the executive director of the Life of the Land nonprofit, answered. “Currently, if somebody decided to chop down the Amazon forest and ship it here and burn it for power, it would count as renewable energy. That’s what this clause would seek to get rid of. It’s also part of a suit against the European Union right now, because a lot of countries around the world claim that chopping down forests and burning it for electricity is carbon neutral. That was based on one statement by the forest industry in the 1990’s dealing with Kyoto Protocol – but nobody ever verified it – when it came out saying that burning is carbon neutral. It’s obvious it’s not.”
In 2018, Life of the Land went to the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court, appealing the Public Utilities Commission decision to approve a new power purchase agreement between Hū Honua and the Hawaiʻi Electric Light Company. The nonprofit argues that the PUC failed to consider the effect that Hū Honua, a planned bioengery project in Pepeʻekeo, would have on greenhouse gases.
The senate committee advanced an amended version of the bill out of the committee, which removed the exclusion of mono-cultured wood crops from the definition of “renewable energy”.
During a senate floor vote on April 5, Senator Ruderman stood to speak in opposition, noting that for various reasons, nobody testified in favor of the bill.
“There was no one present to explain the very curious phrase that was the original purpose of this bill, adding a non specified renewable energy to our list,” Sen. Ruderman said. “We passed it anyway. The vague, unexplained portion is still there. It’s essentially been interpreted as giving a renewable tax credit to Hū Honua to cut down trees and burn them for 30 years.”
“To make a bad bill worse, we also added a part that reduces our renewable energy tax credits,” Ruderman continued. “We’ve been told they have 10 to 12 years to act on climate change and we’re going to bring our tax credits to zero in about five years. I think that it’s magical thinking, to think that climate change will be solved by somebody else, while we do nothing. It’s financially irresponsible to think that $80 million dollars-a-year is an expenditure we can’t afford, as compared to the disaster of climate change. It’s been said that the renewable tax credits are to jumpstart an industry. And while that’s true, this isn’t any old industry. This is an industry that can save our planet.”
“We lost $86 million dollars in taxes in 2017 to incentivize the installation of distributed solar,” countered State Senator Gleen Wakai, speaking in favor of the amended bill. “The state has been so successful in promoting rooftop solar that the utility is now complaining that there is too much for their grid to handle. It’s actually destabilizing the electric power system. A different way of stating this is that all taxpayers are paying for some tax payers to get solar, and all ratepayers are paying for an upgrade to the grid to support those lucky tax payers.”
The bill passed the senate with 20 ayes to 4 noes. On April 11, the House reported that it disagreed with the Senate amendment, setting up an opportunity to further discuss the bill in conference committee.