Morita hopes state becomes energy exporter

Make and sell our own power, she saysBy PAUL C. CURTIS

TGI Staff Writer

LIHU’E — With advances in technology, competition for oil

from developing countries and other developments, state Rep. Mina Morita sees a

future when Hawai’i is an exporter rather than importer of energy.

Morita,

46, of Hanalei, plans to make energy a major issue in the 2001 Legislature if

successful in her bid for re-election in the 12th District.

The Democrat’s

only opposition on this fall’s ballot is Dr. Ann E. West-Tickle, a Natural Law

Party candidate. West-Tickle has not responded to repeated requests by The

Garden Island for interviews and reportedly is having second thoughts about

running.

Morita sees a switch to a hydrogen-based economy versus a

petroleum-based economy, with solar and wind power transformed into hydrogen

which can be stored and transported.

“We could become exporters of energy,

instead of importers,” said Morita, chairwoman of the House Energy and

Environmental Protection Committee.

In 1998, residents of Hawai’i spent

over $700 million on fuel. With the price of a barrel of oil doubling and fuel

costs increasing, it’s feasible that the state will spend $1.4 billion on fuel

in the next two years.

That’s a lot of money leaving the state, Morita

observed.

The vulnerability of Hawai’i to disruptions in the supply of oil

makes it all the more important that the state become non-dependent on imported

fossil fuels, she said.

With micro-generation (small machines capable of

generating enough power for, say, a hotel) technology advancing rapidly, fuel

cells, hybrid cars on the market (which run on gas and electricity) and the

potential deregulation of the energy industry, the time is right to at least

begin exploring the goal of energy self-sufficiency, she said.

There are

big private companies, like General Electric, willing to invest money in these

types of emerging technologies, she commented.

State legislators, she

feels, must figure out how to facilitate the changes and “position ourselves to

take advantage of new technologies instead of being saddled with old

infrastructure.”

The state is so tied into high tech that 100-percent

reliability is critical in whatever energy is decided upon, Morita

said.

“So, we need to relook at how we deliver power,” she

said.

Decentralization, competition, renewable energy sources and other

issues need to be thoroughly examined, she continued.

In Chicago, Ill.

recently, Morita went to a McDonald’s restaurant that has a natural gas

generator. During the town’s peak electricity usage periods, the restaurant

generates its own power, freeing up electricity the utility can sell to other

users.

There, customers pay higher rates during peak periods, and lower

rates during non-peak periods, Morita said.

In Hawai’i, Morita sees such

generating as potentially eliminating the need for future generating plants

burning fossil fuels. Also, should utility-supplied power become unavailable,

businesses would be able to continue operating without missing a beat, using

their own power, she said.

Further, she wants the state’s electric

companies to switch to a “net metering” system, allowing homes with solar

systems and other alternative power sources to sell excess electricity to

utilities.

Net metering, used in many states on the mainland, involves

electric meters which spin in both directions — one way when using utility

electricity, the other when giving surplus power back to the utility.

“How

many rooftops on Kaua’i are without solar panels?” she asked. If all homes and

businesses had solar panels, the island could reduce its dependence on Kaua’i

Electric for power, she said.

“We have to do something about electrical

rates,” said Morita, repeating what has become something of a mantra for the

island.

As her legislative committee name implies, Morita finds energy and

environmental issues tied together, if for no other reason than how energy is

used and developed has much to do with environmental impacts, like air

quality.

Morita, born and raised on Lana’i, got into politics in 1996

largely by accident, when a candidate she had been recruiting backed out of the

race at the last minute.

Encouraged by friends—who figured her Maui County

roots and connections would help out—and buoyed by a distaste for just about

every position the incumbent (current Kaua’i County Councilmember Billy Swain)

espoused, Morita took the plunge.

Morita, the only representative whose

district crosses not only ocean distance but county boundaries (two-thirds is

in north Kaua’i, ranging from Kapa’a to Ha’ena, and the rest is in east Maui),

has lived in Hanalei since 1976. Two brothers and a sister live on

Lana’i.

Formerly business manager for the Kilauea Point Natural History

Association and Kong Lung Co., she and husband Lance Laney have two grown

daughters—Misha, 20, and Mindy, 19.

Laney is a drywall and plaster

contractor. The couple has been together 22 years.

In school, it’s the

three Rs — reading, (w)riting, (a)rithmetic. In politics, it’s the “three Es”

— education, environment, economy, according to Morita.

Education, roads,

taro and other forms of diversified agriculture, and Native Hawaiians’ health

are among issues shared by the Maui and Kaua’i portions of her district, she

said.

“It’s just basically quality-of-life issues,” she said.

Education

is a strong concern in every community, as is the environment, she noted. The

economy, or the need for a variety of good-paying jobs, is another given, she

added.

Her “canoe district” is an expensive one to campaign in, with jet

travel between the two portions of her district.

The state’s biennial

budget, which legislators will approve in the 2001 session, stands to be a

major work. And Morita openly acknowledges that she isn’t a budget

expert.

“It’s something I haven’t mastered yet. You master the budget, you

have power,” she said.

Morita lamented the continued problem of getting

funding for state Department of Land and Natural Resources programs, especially

for state parks.

She wouldn’t rule out a fee system to raise money for

parks maintenance, and “I welcome any ideas” for other ways of funding

environmental and natural resources development and protection.

Morita also

hasn’t ruled out a strategy to limit the numbers of users for various

high-traffic parks. For example, if a paved parking lot is constructed at Ke’e

Beach at the end of Kuhio Highway in Ha’ena, where the Kalalau Trail begins,

and all the paved parking stalls are taken, vehicles would have to leave the

area and find other legal parking elsewhere, she explained.

She finds it

“sad” that the counties come before the Legislature every year to “beg” for

money. But she said she is also frustrated by the lack of clear direction from

the county in solid-waste matters.

Staff writer Paul C. Curtis can be

reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) and pcurtis@pulitzer.net

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