State of Hawaii

05/26/2017 | News release | Distributed by Public on 05/26/2017 14:06

Trump’s budget proposal could affect Hawaii’s renewable energy goals

(Pacific Business News) President Donald Trump's budget proposal for 2018 could impact Hawaii's energy sector as cuts may hamper energy innovation efforts, according to industry leaders in the state.

The president's budget would cut $3.1 billion from energy research programs at the Energy Department, which represents an 18 percent reduction from last year, according to the New York Times. Those research programs are trying to discover new materials and design new chemical processes, according to the Department's website, discoveries that could lead to better batteries for electric vehicles, among other things.

The agency's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy faces a 69 percent cut under the administration's proposed budget.

For Veronica Rocha, renewable energy program manager at the Hawaii State Energy Office, the proposed budget raises fears about the environmental and energy plans of the new administration.

'I'm very concerned, I don't know what's going to happen with Clean Power Plan and all of that,' she told Pacific Business News in a recent interview. 'I'm concerned about the funding and what's going to be available to support green energy, but also other sustainable programs throughout the state.' Rocha is a 2017 PBN 40 Under 40 honoree.

The budget cuts could impact the state's goal of achieving 100 percent renewable energy production by 2045. As of 2015, renewable energy production in Hawaii equaled 23.4 percent of utility electricity sales, according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism's 2016 annual report.

HSEO receives approximately $280,000 from the DOE's State Energy Program, according to the 2016 Energy Resources Coordinator's Annual Report. It also received an additional $225,073 in 2016 for energy innovation projects. These federal contributions would be eliminated under the president's proposed budget, according to Terrence Surles, interim administrator at HSEO.

'Federal dollars are a principal source of programmatic funding for HSEO,' he told PBN in an email. 'Any changes in HSEO's capability to secure federal funding could adversely affect its ability to perform its statutory and functional obligations and expectations as Hawaii's lead energy agency.'

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which was established in 2008 and is the state's blueprint for its energy transformation and independence, is a partnership between the state, the U.S. Department of Energy, military and the private sector and could therefore affected by the proposed federal cuts.

Surles added that it would be premature to speculate on how the budget may affect Hawaii's energy sector. 'It should be pointed out that a growing number of Republicans in Congress have voiced concerns about the president's proposed budget cuts at the U.S. Department of Energy, including his plan to significantly roll back in spending on programs that promote clean energy technologies.'

While the proposed cut in federal grants could impact the state's energy innovation efforts, Rocha is confident the state will follow through with its renewable energy goals.

'I'm also encouraged in that I know that our administration and Gov. [David] Ige are very proactive to move forward with the Hawaii Green Energy Initiative to get to 100 percent RPS (renewable portfolio standard),' she said. 'It provides an inspiration for others to continue the battle as well.'

The local technology sector could play a big role in the process. Hawaii is a perfect breeding ground for startups in the energy sector as the state is testing the limits in renewable energy penetration, Rocha said.

'The thinking of these startups now is, 'If you can make it in Hawaii, you can make it anywhere,'' she said, referencing a consultant who works with energy stakeholders across the state. 'But if you don't try to make it in Hawaii, you are missing out on a huge opportunity.'

Trump's budget is now heading to Congress.

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