Expert: Hawaii would save money with liquified natural gas

Expert: Hawaii would save money with liquified natural gas

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An independent energy expert said the governor and environmentalists are wrong to reject liquified natural gas in the state's effort to convert 100 percent to renewable energy in 30 years.

Both Hawaiian Electric and Hawaii Gas companies are proposing to bring LNG to Hawaii, claiming that it could decrease electricity bills anywhere from 14 to 30 percent.

The governor and environmentalists say that's a bad idea, because it's a still fossil fuel, subject to price fluctuations in world markets.

"I think you need to put all the tools on the table, try to pick the most cost-effective way to get toward your goals as you can," said John Cole, who represented Hawaii electricity ratepayers for two years as consumer advocate followed by six years on the Public Utilities Commission.

Cole, who is now a researcher at the University of Hawaii's Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, said ruling out LNG is a bad idea.

Cole said besides being cheaper for consumers, LNG emits about 30 percent less pollution than current power generation plants, so it's a good interim measure on the way to the state's goal of meeting all its energy needs with solar, wind and other renewables by 2045.

"If it can save some money along the way, in total, including paying back for any necessary infrastructure, can reduce emissions and help comply with regulations at a lower cost," Cole said.

But State Rep. Chris Lee, chair of the House energy committee, said Florida's NextEra Energy, which is trying to buy Hawaiian Electric, already over-promised on natural gas.

"In places like Florida, where you had utilities make big bets on cheaper natural gas that turned out to be more expensive, costing ratepayers there billions of dollars extra that they wouldn't have had to pay," Lee said.

Lee worried that renewable energy costs will continue to drop and actually be cheaper than liqufied natural gas here in a few years.

"If we spend hundreds of millions of dollars that ratepayers have to pay in order to put LNG on the table, is that going to be paid down in time or is the price of renewable energy going to drop fast enough that all of a sudden we're paying extra for LNG that otherwise we wouldn't have to," Lee said.

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