Interisland underwater cable bill passes

Published: May. 3, 2012 at 10:10 PM HST|Updated: May. 4, 2012 at 12:52 AM HST
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State Senator Mike Gabbard
State Senator Mike Gabbard
State Senator Roz Baker
State Senator Roz Baker
State Senator Clayton Hee
State Senator Clayton Hee
State Senator Sam Slom
State Senator Sam Slom

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It came down to the last day of the legislative session and the controversial interisland undersea electric cable bill has passed.  Today's bill would ensure if the undersea cable is built it will be regulated by the Public Utilities Commission but it's also expected to energize the discussion on funding and impacts for the billion dollar project.

The underwater interisland electric cable debate has gone on for decades some say more than a century.

"It's said the wheels of government turn painfully slow, but this is ridiculous," said State Senator Mike Gabbard, (D) Kapolei, Makakilo, who supports the bill.

Hawaii residents pay the most in the country for electricity.  Neighbor islands even more than Oahu.  The state spends between $4-6 billion a year on foreign oil to produce 77 percent of the state's energy.

"This is in a word, stupid," said Sen. Gabbard.

Maui has a surplus of wind but no backup system.  Oahu has high demand and can provide backup.  Plus connect the islands and everyone pays the same rate.

"It makes sense for our islands to be interconnected. It will allow us to strengthen and improve our electricity grids and at the same time enable us to level our electricity rates," said Sen. Gabbard.

"Most of the renewable energy is on the Big Island and Maui. And most of the need is on Oahu," said State Senator Kalani English, (D) East and Upcountry Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.

However things got dim when talking environment.  Proponents tout the unlimited sun and wind resources and potential geothermal energy from Madam Pele, but that's a sensitive issue.

"We have Tutu Pele on Hawaii Island ready and waiting to share her geothermal energy with us," said Sen. Gabbard.

"Any project that goes forward in my opinion must be pono," said State Senator Roz Baker, (D) South and West Maui, who supports the bill.

"Any suggestion that this is pono I find offensive. Actually I find that tragic," said State Senator Clayton Hee, (D) Kahuku, Laie, who voted against the bill.

Opponents cited various arguments against including the hostility between islands, the dangers of being on one grid should there be a disaster and some just flat out oppose boosting the monopoly on electricity.

"We make sure not only do they get a guaranteed rate of return but we're going to give them an even higher rate of return. And we're going to add surcharges and more profitability to this monopoly.  This utility monopoly should be deregulated and people should have choices," said State Senator Sam Slom, (R) East Oahu, who voted against the bill.

"When you have to spend so much time year after year, trying to convince the people that this is good for you, take it, like it, get used to it. Then there is something wrong," said Sen. Slom.

Sen. Slom's suggestion was to bottle the excess hot air and wasted wind from the State Capitol but that will have to wait until next session.

It's not just flipping a switch before there is any construction there still needs to be environmental studies and public hearings on all affected islands.

Governor Neil Abercrombie had asked for support for the interisland cable project in his State of the State speech earlier this year and congratulated the House and Senate on the passage.

"This is a long-term infrastructure investment that is needed now," said Governor Neil Abercrombie, in a written statement. "An integrated grid will stabilize energy prices and equalize rates between the islands, which will benefit all of us. As I mentioned at the start of the session, there is no legislation more critical to our future."

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