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Interisland power cable bill clears Hawaii Senate

Treena Shapiro, Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) -- A proposal to connect Hawaii's Oahu and the neighbor island power grids with an undersea cable has cleared a legislative hurdle.

The state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow the state to establish regulations for development of a high-voltage electric transmission undersea cable.

Proponents of the cable say it would allow power sharing between islands, which could increase the reliability of electricity and stabilize power costs.

Hawaii households pay about $200 a month for electricity, three times the national average.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee, told his colleagues that the state spent $5.09 billion on imported oil last year.

"This is, in a word, stupid," he said.

Gabbard, D-Kalaeloa-Makakilo, pointed out that the idea of an interisland cable has been entertained since 1881, during King David Kalakaua's reign. "This is not a new concept," he said.

Sen. J. Kalani English, D-East Maui-Lanai-Molokai, emphasized that the Legislature isn't approving a cable, and in fact has no proposal to consider at this time.

He also assured his constituents on Molokai and Lanai that it was unlikely that they would be included in the cable system.

"The production is on the Big Island and Maui. The need is on Oahu," he said.

However, English noted that the neighbor islands wouldn't simply be feeding power to Oahu. The cable proposal has benefits for Maui wind farms and Big Island geothermal plants, as well.

"The Big Island and Maui have an overabundance of renewable energy," English explained. "This makes the grid unstable."

A number of senators expressed reservations, but the bill ultimately passed 22-3.

The bill, which already passed the House, now goes to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Abercrombie said in his State of the State Address that there is no legislation more critical to Hawaii's future than the undersea cable bill. Nevertheless, he has 45 days to review the Legislature's draft before deciding whether to sign the bill into law.