Hawaii, Calif. utilities team up to reach energy goals

Signing highlight of 6th annual conference on Maui

James “Jay” Griffin, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission chairman, holds a memorandum of agreement that will enhance green energy goal collaboration between Hawaii and California commissions, as Michael Picker, California Public Utilities Commission president, looks on. The announcement highlighted the first day of the two-day Hawaii Energy Conference and Exhibition at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Maui Economic Development Board photo

KAHULUI — The battle against climate change got a boost Wednesday when Hawaii and California public utility commissions announced that they’ll be teaming up to fight the green fight.

A highlight of the sixth annual Hawaii Energy Conference and Exhibition at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center was Hawaii Public Utilities Commission Chairman James “Jay” Griffin and California PUC President Michael Picker signing a memorandum of agreement before a Castle Theater audience.

Griffin said the agreement signals a new chapter in communication and will enhance information and resource sharing, a big boost for Hawaii, especially because California is an energy industry leader.

“Symbolically, we, like our leaders in state government utilities, are pledging to work together for a cleaner future,” Griffin said. “But practically, the agreement will help us share resources between the commissions — particularly for ours, there is a huge benefit here.

“We can easily compare notes in the things we’re doing together, but perhaps the most likely and consequential effect will be the ability for our staff to work closely with President Picker’s staff. We follow California regulatory agenda closely but having the ability to call people up directly and work with them is really a huge benefit.”

Ellyse Mazzi (from right), Hawaiian Electric Co. distributed energy resources project manager, speaks during a panel discussion with; Steven Rymsha, Sunrun director of grid solutions and public policy; Rachel James, Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies project manager; and moderator Chase Livingston during the Hawaii Energy Conference at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater on Wednesday morning. The presentation was titled “Hawaii Distributed Energy Resources (DER) — Redefined for the 21st Century.” Livingston is an energy justice fellow at the UH William S. Richardson School of Law. The energy conference continues today. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaii and California were the first states to commit to 100 percent clean energy goals and sign historic agreements to fight climate change, Griffin said. Now, other states are following that lead.

The signing kicked off the first morning of the popular two-day conference, which was renamed to include “Hawaii” instead of “Maui” this year to signal its emergence as the premier energy event in the state. Presented by nonprofit Maui Economic Development Board, the annual gathering showcases experts, who discuss major energy initiatives, and draws professionals from a variety of industries for learning and networking.

With the memorandum of agreement, commitments by both state commissions include:

• Addressing climate change and limiting global warming emissions to less than 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

• Developing and using low- and zero-carbon technologies in the energy and transportation industries to meet each state’s clean energy goals and to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible and no later than 2045.

• The promotion of carbon offset programs, which allow companies and individuals to “offset” their carbon production with environmental projects that reduce carbon emissions.

• Support for energy planning processes that recognize the ability of low-carbon resources to provide reliability and cost-effective benefits, while fostering new technology and innovation.

• Promotion of cost-effective conservation and demand response. Because utilities have to keep electrical supply and demand equal at every moment, demand response programs reduce demand, by shutting off boilers in participating companies for example, to maintain the equilibrium instead of increasing supply.

“These are just starting points,” Griffin said. “We’ve left the ability to work on other topics that become relevant in the future.”

While California and Hawaii have many differences, both states are encountering similar problems as they drive toward the goals of increasing clean energy and decreasing greenhouse emissions in the electric industry, along with trying to reduce the impact of climate change in communities, Picker said.

“We have the same kinds of challenges,” he said. “You have large amounts of solar on very thin grids, we have that in many parts of the state of California. We have learned carefully by watching what you are doing, we share learning staff to staff.”

Picker added that the California PUC collaborates with a group called Gridworks, which now works directly with the Hawaii commission and collaborates with partners in Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Picker said Hawaii and California have a long history of comparing notes.

“We’ve had a long relationship of sharing information and discussing problems that are similar,” he said. “Although the circumstances here . . . are different than they are in California, the same kinds of problems are arriving as we drive towards this goal of lots of clean energy, reducing GHG emissions in the electric industry and trying to reduce the impact of climate change on our communities.”

The California commission leader said the agreement has deeper roots for him and discussed the history of Sacramento, where he has lived for 45 years. The city is the only one in the continental United States that was created by Asian-Pacific islanders.

“I believe we remember in Sacramento on occasion that essential, core relationship,” he said with a laugh. Picker added that he understands the importance of relationships and family life in Hawaii.

“We know how important family and relationships are in Hawaiian life, so I am honored that we can actually join formally into that kind of relationship here with Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission,” he said.

The sixth annual Hawaii Energy Conference continues today at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center from 7 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. This year, the future of solar in storage in Hawaii energy policy; fossil and renewable energy forecast; isolated grid operation; and clean energy in housing markets, among other topics, are being discussed.

For information, visit hawaiienergyconference.com.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.