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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
The state is so tied into high tech that 100-percent
reliability is critical in whatever energy is decided upon, Morita
“So, we need to relook at how we deliver power,” she
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
“It’s just basically quality-of-life issues,” she said.
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
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
“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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org