The meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Pomaika'i Elementary School to encourage public comments on long-range planning for Hawai'i's energy future was very thinly attended. Fewer than 20 members of the public were present and most of those who spoke or asked questions could be considered energy professionals.
The event--billed as the Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) Public Meeting--was hosted by Hawaiian Electric Companies to gather input. The IRP planning horizon is 20 years (2013-32). The action plan spans five years (2013-17).
However, most in the audience preferred to listen rather than speak. As a result, the evening session was punctuated by long intervals of silence. Few of those who did speak represented the point of view of local consumers.
Mathew McNeff, manager of renewable energy services for MECO, said that Maui had been named No. 1 in the nation last year for the number of new PV installations here. New hookups for that year exceeded the number for the whole prior decade.
A handout distributed at the meeting explained that the IRP process is not a way of predicting the future, but rather, is used to create "multiple stories which capture a range of future possibilities--good bad, expected and surprising." These possible outcomes, the release said, are not a replacement for forecasting or econometric modeling, but are supplements to those core planning techniques.
The document suggested four possible versions of Hawai'i's future (PDF attached to the Website version of this story) set against a wide range of possible economic, technological and political variables.
First to comment was Warren Shibuya, a retired Maui resident currently serving on the Maui Planning Commission. Shibuya called attention to "the elephant in the energy room," which he identified as the current electricity generating plant.
He termed the current methods "great-grandpa's techniques," and observed that the utility is transferring the resulting higher electricity generating costs to customers.
"Initiatives," he said, "cannot be implemented using stove-piped organizational design and protectionist fiefdom rules, codes and attitudes."
He concluded by saying he hoped that when company representatives return, they bring with them "new efficiencies, graphed data on avoided costs and rate reductions."
Other speakers included Bruce Bruzina and Walter Enomoto, who each mentioned a variety of other energy scenarios ranging from natural gas, increased battery storage, off-the-grid possibilities and other ideas that might be incorporated into a long-term vision for the state.
But it was Maui's short-term reality rather than the state's distant energy future that seemed to be the real sub-text of the meeting.
Jerry Wright and Ted Gupenhoff each brought up problems, delays, red tape, costs and frustrations local residents presently face in the installation of small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems here.
Both men questioned whether regulations that governed the procedure to hook up to Maui Electric Company's (MECO) grid and costly fees charged to consumers for "studies" were put in place more for the benefit of the utility than to assist the public.
They also claimed that PV systems under 10kW on other islands did not have difficulty getting approvals without any apparent limitation based on grid capacity--approvals they said could sometimes be obtained in a few days, rather than weeks or months that MECO processing takes.
A number of those who did speak observed that residents who had the money and foresight to be early adopters of PV technology and tax credits gained substantial savings, while those without the funds to make the investment were left behind to shoulder the ever-increasing costs passed through to the consumer by the local utilities.
Mathew McNeff, manager of renewable energy services for MECO, fielded the comments and answered questions. He asserted that to the best of his knowledge, the controversial "Rule 14" relating to grid access was applied even-handedly throughout the state.
He also stated that in 2011, the Solar Electric Power Association ranked Maui Electric at the top of the "Cumulative Number of Solar Systems per 1,000 Customers" category and number two in "Cumulative Solar Watts per Customer" category. (Visit www.solarelectricpower.org/sepa-utility-solarrankings.aspx, pages 14-15.)
As for new hookups, McNeff said MECO enrolled 1,039 customers in the net metering program in 2011 compared to 923 customers from 2001 through 2010. So far in 2012, MECO has enrolled over 1,200 customers in the net metering program.
He reiterated that the Hawaiian Electric Companies are actively seeking public comment on the Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process. IRP documents, he said, are available online at www.irpie.com. The deadline for comments is Friday, Dec. 21. He said comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and requested that they be in the form of a document attached to an email, including name, date and island of residency.
McNeff said that though the public comment period on this phase of the IRP process will end on Dec. 21, public comments will continue to be accepted via the email address above beyond the deadline, and that all comments will be posted on the Website.
According to the meeting handout, the long-term planning process is required by the Public Utilities Commission. The goal is to develop an action plan that governs how the utility will meet energy objectives and customer energy needs as outlined in PUC Docket #.2012-0036.