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Hawaii on track toward renewable power goal

Jan 28, 2010 - Mark Niesse - The Associated Press

Two years into Hawaii's ambitious project of vastly increasing the amount of power it gets from renewable sources, state leaders say the islands are on track.

The goal is for Hawaii, the nation's most dependent state on foreign oil, to get 40 percent of its electric power from renewables by 2030. The state so far only gets about 9 percent of its power from such sources.

A state law passed last year calls for at least 10 percent of electricity sales to come from renewables by the end of this year, and 15 percent by 2015.

Although new wind and solar projects haven't yet made a dent in Hawaii's use of fossil fuels, the state has laid the groundwork for additional renewable power to come online, according to public utility companies, environmentalists and state officials.

"We have a long way to go, but we've accelerated our pace," said Robbie Alm, executive vice president for public utility Hawaiian Electric Co. "Most of this in the end has to take place in the private sector."

The achievements of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative were highlighted at the governor's mansion Wednesday during a ceremony marking the two-year anniversary of the deal between the federal government and the state.

Since that deal, an undersea cable linking rural island wind farms to urban Honolulu was planned. State regulators are weighing how much money to pay businesses and individuals who contribute power to the electrical grid, and Hawaii now leads the nation in solar water heating.

Meanwhile, more wind, solar and geothermal power is expected to start up over the next 18 months, Alm said.

"Hawaii can be a model for the nation and a model for the world," said George Kailiwai of the military's U.S. Pacific Command. "We're using our Hawaii strategy as a template for the rest of the Pacific."

Obstacles ahead include community opposition from residents on the island of Lanai who don't want a large wind farm built there to benefit Honolulu. Some environmentalists believe the undersea cable that would carry the power isn't necessary.

It's also unknown whether the state will require the power utility to pay renewable providers a worthwhile rate for their power.

"The progress has been remarkable and breathtaking, but it's only the beginning," said Ted Liu, director for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.