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New Environmental and Energy Legislation

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

With 200 to 300 measures passing out of the legislature each year, it can be difficult to keep track of what survived the gauntlet and what failed. On many occasions, after several affirmative votes, bills that seem like sure things die quietly on the conference table. Certain bills pass out of the Legislature, only to get vetoed by the Governor.

In this article, I will focus on some of the new laws that affect various environmental and energy concerns. Many of these measures passed through the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee, on which I serve as Vice-Chair, and the Ways and Means, and Water and Land, Committees, on which I serve.

The Rate Payer Protection Act calls on the Public Utilities Commission to establish performance incentive and penalty mechanisms that directly tie Hawaiian Electric’s revenues to the utility's achievement on performance metrics. This should break the existing model that allows the utility to set tariffs based on how much the utility spends and allow the PUC to push HECO faster into alternative energy production, new technologies, and cost savings for rate payers.

Another law directs the Public Utilities Commission to establish a microgrid services tariff to encourage and facilitate the development and use of energy resilient microgrids. Independent power producers could feed electricity into the grid and operate separately from the grid, when needed. A network of microgrids would build resiliency and could prevent massive power disruptions, such as the one experienced in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

The Hawaii Technology Development Corporation was awarded a million dollars to provide matching grants to Hawaii awardees of alternative energy research grants from the United States Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research. These grants will encourage high-impact, clean energy solutions from locally based businesses.

Hawaii now has a carbon sequestration target of returning more carbon to the land than is generated as atmospheric carbon in the state by 2045. Carbon sequestration can be an economic driver as global businesses often support reforestation, agricultural and aquaculture projects to offset their carbon impact with financial resources. The Office of Planning and the newly established Greenhouse Gas Sequestration Task Force have been tasked with developing an action plan to meet the new sequestration target.

Future environmental assessments and environmental impact statements prepared according to state law will require consideration of sea level rise based upon the best available scientific data regarding sea level rise.

Rep. Quinlan and I introduced companion bills that improve the case load in the environmental courts by pulling out parking tickets and other matters better handled in the regular district courts. Rep. Quinlan also introduced a bill to help protect our fresh water supply and near shore waters by prohibiting the construction of sewage wastewater injection wells, unless alternative wastewater disposal options are not available, feasible, or practical.

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