Friday, January 29, 2010

Energy Security: Way more than just changing lightbulbs

Changing lightbulbs is a step, but a mini-step, toward meeting energy security. Far bigger steps are needed. Below, reasons why, and some ideas from Blue Planet Foundation on how.

Switching to fluorescent or LED lights can save a few bucks, and reduce the amount of oil-burning for which you're responsible.

But the state spends $6 to $7 BILLION on oil each year. That's roughly $5,000 for every human on the archipelago. Figure $10 grand for a couple—and for a larger family, you can do the math.

How are you using that

About a third is electricity, of which 90 percent or so is produced from oil. It's the power we burn at home, at work, and the power that's being used at the store, the doctor's office and all the other places that are a part of our lives. Directly or indirectly, we're paying for all of that.

Another third is your family cars. That $50 you pump into your tank every week? Hello! That, and the fuel for barges that haul our supplies here from the Mainland, and then inter-island.

The other third? That trip your neighbor took to Vegas? A really big proportion of that airline ticket was the price of jet fuel. Your inter-island trips to visit auntie, or to shop, or to see a UH football game—a third of fuel use in Hawai'i is for air transport.

It adds up to huge money, huge addition to our global climate change load, and a huge security risk--a couple of tankers don't show up for whatever reason, and Hawai'i goes dark. Whether you're an environmentalist wacko, a national security nut or a suburban homemaker, that's a spooky scenario.

To change the dynamic, the Hawai'i-based Blue Planet Foundation has outlined some recommendations in its Clean Energy 2010 report.

The foundation would implement a $5/barrel tax on oil. Somewhere slightly north of 10 cents a gallon (42 gallons in a barrel). In theory, the increase would encourage efficiency and conservation, and the $150 million the tax would raise would be used for energy programs and to add some cash to the strapped state general fund.

Blue Planet says a December survey indicated two-thirds of residents support a tax of this kind.

One of the issues with getting your own house in energy order is the up-front cost—the few hundred bucks for efficiency improvements, several thousand bucks for solar hot water, the tens of thousands for photovoltaics, as examples. Blue Planet recommends Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE funding. The government gets a bond to pay for such improvements, and to the degree that you borrow some of it, you pay it off through your property tax bills.

The Blue Planet energy plan would pump up the state Public Utilities Commission with some extra cash, so it can hire the resources to better study and manage the state's move toward improved energy security.

It would put an immediate ban on new fossil fuel power plants. It calls for more energy efficiency built into new homes, including wiring them to ease the installation of photovoltaic power.

And a tax credit for biofuel plants. And a tax credit for electric vehicle charging stations.

Used to be, every service station had free air right next to the gas pump. Often today, there's no air available, or you need to pump coins to get air. The Blue Planet plan calls for free air and gauges at all gas stations. The theory: Car tires that are properly inflated have less resistance, and reduce gas consumption.

The plan would place a Public Benefits Fee on electric bills to pay for more aggressive energy efficiency. The theory: “Energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest, and most effective method of reducing Hawaii’s dependency on imported oil.”

One final step: Blue Planet calls for a state constitutional amendment on energy security. Here's the proposed language:

Energy Security
For the benefit of present and future generations, the State and its political subdivisions has the obligation to ensure the provision of clean, indigenous, and renewable sources of energy and shall promote the development and utilization of these resources in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the energy self-sufficiency of the State. It shall be the goal of the State to become energy independent.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

1 comment:

Carol Bain said...

As an owner of an electric car, I agree electric car recharging stations should be encouraged. Lot's of good ideas in HCEI.