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Mark Glick – The state’s energy administrator must balance public and private interests to move Hawaii toward a 70 percent-clean-energy future

Posted on Dec 2, 2011 in Dept. of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), Honolulu Star-Advertiser, State Energy Office

“We’ve made a commitment to move toward clean energy and a clean energy economy for a variety of important policy reasons, and we need to use all our levers at our disposal,” says Mark Glick, administrator of the State Energy Office. CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM [Honolulu Star-Advertiser]
(Honolulu Star-Advertiser) Mark Glick moved to Hawaii from Texas in 2000 in search of a “higher quality of life.”

Now, as administrator of the State Energy Office — part of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism — he’s trying to help the entire state achieve a higher quality of life by implementing policies aimed at Hawaii achieving 70 percent reliance on clean energy by 2030.

In the post since October, Glick’s new job is a civil service position, not a political appointment. However, he was involved in politics in Texas as an aide to 1998 gubernatorial candidate Gary Mauro, a Democrat and the state’s land commissioner who was defeated by George W. Bush. From 1987 to 1991, Glick had been a senior adviser to Mauro at the land commission, and worked on amendments to the Texas Clean Air Act and the federal Clean Air Act. He also was president of a business, GANA Inc., that focused on reducing air pollution in urban areas and securing contracts and grants for clean fuel and emissions reductions projects, from government agencies, nonprofits and corporations around the country.

With the political climate in Texas changing, and Glick’s private-sector work affording him some flexibility regarding where to live, he decided to move to Hawaii. Influential in his decision, he said, was Hawaii businessman Angel Maehara, a shareholder in another company Glick was managing, Global Environmental Technologies.

“He always encouraged me,” Glick said of Maehara, who died in 2002 at age 83. “We became really good friends. He was like a mentor.”

Prior to his current post, Glick had been energy project manager and senior adviser at DBEDT, since July 2010. Previously, he had headed economic development and, before that, operations for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs. He also established the Hawaii Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

Glick also is a past chairman of Sierra Club Hawaii; he was in charge of the group when it succeeded in halting the Superferry for not complying with the state’s environmental review process. Glick said he has always supported ferry transportation, but also believes “we need to follow a clear and understandable process and be consistent with that.”

Glick has a master’s of science degree in public management and policy from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Lamar University, in Beaumont, Texas. He lives in Palehua with his wife Hitomi and their 14-year-old daughter Selena.

QUESTION: Where did this goal of achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030 come from?

Answer: If you go back to the intial reports, which were in the mid-’70s, there were always goals about moving in this direction, really high percentages of renewal energy, so that Hawaii could be self-sufficient and we could move ourselves away from imported oil.

In the mid-2000s, there were a series of energy forums and meetings that took place to try to gain consensus for acting, and this led to a mememoradum of understanding between the U.S. Department of Energy and the DBEDT to pursue this path of reaching 70 pecent clean energy by 2030. Those goals were split into two parts — the renewal energy portfolio and the energy efficiency portfolio …

Q: What is so magical about 70 percent?

A: I really can’t say why 70 percent was chosen. But there is a strong belief that we can go beyond that.

Q: If oil is so cheap, relatively, why not just keep using it?

A: Well, the issue with oil, and coal to a lesser extent, is that first you have enormously high carbon content, which is undesirable and in conflict with our environmental policies, our global warming policies. But more important, it’s all about our vulnerability — the sources of our oil and the price fluctuations. You can see in the last several years the harmful effect that increasing oil prices had on our GDP.

Q: What do you mean by renewable energy sources?

A: Renewable energy means energy produced from a variety of sources: wind, sun, falling water, biogas, geothermal, ocean water — and that’s currents and waves and thermal energy conversiton — biomass, which has been part of our picture for a long time, biofuels …

Q: What kinds of things are being promoted as energy efficiency measures?

A: Well, like rate-funded energy efficiency programs. So when you create an efficiency, like, let’s say, through Hawaii Energy, which is the public benefits fund administrator, they take part of the electrical fees and use it for rebates …

Q: That’s the agency that allowed for decoupling?

A: That was done to separate the utility from being involved in pushing for energy efficiency. It was thought, you know, at least before decoupling, that that was a conflict for them (the electric utilities).

Q: Does decoupling mean Hawaiian Electric can spending any amount of money it wants on so-called clean energy projects and still be assured of a profit, even if it means higher rates for its customers?

A: No. The Public Utilities Commission still has the responsibility to ensure that the rate payer is protected.

Q: What is net metering?

A: Well, net metering gives consumers the opportunity to generate electricity for their own use, and that energy would offset what they are paying in their electricity bill.

Q: Is that what the feed-in tariff regulations are about?

A: Well, the feed-in tariff is a whole different scenario, and that’s really for independent power producers. There are different classifications based on amount of energy you generate. And there are specific rates that are assured under those particular volumes.

Q: And right now they are limited to 15 percent?

A: I believe you’re referring to the limit on Oahu of renewable energy that can be put into the (distribution) system before an interconnection study takes place. The engineers at HECO have concerns about the reliablity and stability of the system if more than 15 percent of the energy is coming from what is considered, in many cases, if it’s wind or solar, intermittent sources.

Q: What do you think about that?

A: Well, certainly we have to ensure that the systems are reliable and stable.

Q: Do you think there is any way to decentralize energy distribution itself, other than having a HECO monopoly over the grid?

A: Well … that’s an enormously big question. I think the real issue is that there is an important role for a central supplier of electrical energy, and there’s also a very important role — and these need to co-exist — for distributed energy that’s produced at the localized, local level. We’re really going to need both ways of introducing renewable energy into our electrical mix in order for us to meet our renewable energy portfolio standards.

Q: About the Big Wind proposal for Molokai: Are you involved with that?

A: Well, when we talk about the penetration of renewable energy throughout the state, we want to ensure it’s done in a way that will meet the long-term renewable portfolio standards. And in order for us to get to 70 percent by 2030, we believe we need to incorporate the amount of renewable energy that you find throughout the islands in order to get there. The key to that level of penetration and creating that type of stability in the overall grid systems, we believe, can best be done through an interconnected grid network …

Q: With the cables interisland?

A: That’s right, with interisland cables.

Q: Considering what I hear is the almost total opposition on Molokai to the Big Wind proposal for that island, do you really think that project is going to fly?

A: I think we’ve done a poor job articulating this, to be perfectly honest … The goal for the state is to have an interconnected grid network that will help stabilize prices statewide, and actually lower them on the neighbor islands.

Q: Yeah, but my point was about …

A: This opposition.

Q: Yeah. How can you do it if they don’t want it?

A: … We’ve long said that if there’s any individual project that has overwhelming opposition from the community, we don’t want to see that happen. So, clearly, there are fundamental issues on Molokai. We understand there’s … more openness on Lanai.

Q: You were head of Sierra Club Hawaii when it succeeded through court action in forcing the Superferry to shut down, and you said at the time that the takeaway should be that Hawaii is a bad place to cut corners. Is that a perspective you’re keeping in mind? I ask because a perception I have regarding this programmatic environmental impact statement that covers Big Wind and all these other potentials for renewable energy development is that it’s kind of a way to circumvent specific EISs. Is that a correct perception?

A: No. It isn’t. I mean, the Department of Energy, when it approves a programmatic EIS, has to take into consideration any EIS for a development under way. So there’s no way to not have that considered. In fact, the state process has to be fully recognized in any project that’s under development. Obviously you can’t answer all the questions in advance for other projects that may enter into that cable network.

Q: Yeah, about the cable. That could be a real problem, wouldn’t you say?

A: Yeah, with the cable, it truly … everything with the cable — where the cable will be laid, and where it touches and where it comes onto the land — all of that will be exhaustively analyzed for all of the cultural and environmental impacts.

Q: What is the Green Sun program, which was funded with $2.69 million in federal stimulus funds?

A: The Green Sun program is one that we’re very excited about. … Green Sun is targeted toward all forms of businesses, residential and nonprofits, to provide a means of private financing to pay these upfront costs of installing clean energy technologies.

Q: Does that involve a government guarantee of loans?

A: In this case it’s not a guarantee. But there is money in a loan-loss reserve to cover part of a potential default. The key thing here is that the banks, or participating lenders, will still follow their underwriting standards, and as we look to our major banks, in particular, we see very very low rates of default. Hawaii’s lenders have been very effective in managing losses.

Q: So the $2.69 million — that’s the loan loss?

A: That is the potential entire loan loss reserve. And, of course, basically you’re never covering more than 5 percent of all of the loans because (Green Sun is) only contributing 5 percent max for each loan. That means that it’s basically 20 times that number in this initial round of funding.

Q: You mentioned recently that there are federal tax credits along with new policies and financial incentives at the state level that will help Hawaii achieve its clean energy goals. What are some of those?

A: On the state level, there are tax credits across the board for insulation of energy efficiency devices, which would include solar water heaters as well as PV systems. There are also tax credits to install power-producing renewable energy, so as a producer there are also state and federal tax credits.

Q: At the federal level, there has been a lot of worry that President Barack Obama’s clean energy initiatives and federal stimulus spending have been overtaken by crony capitalism, as exemplified by the Solyndra scandal, and I think some other energy companies are involved now, too. Is that a worry locally? Is there any danger of all these subsidies and credits being gamed by companies?

A: Well, I think there’s a lot of demagoguery on the federal level, even regarding Solyndra, but at the local level, the benefits of tax credits and other incentives — rebates through Hawaii Energy, for example — are very clear as to the benefit to the public and the ratepayer. In the case of solar water heaters, the tax credit allows … particularly low-income homeowners to be able to install solar water heaters that may have a $6,000 or $7,000 price tag, to help them cover the up-front cost of that installation or to diminish the terms of repayment. And what we’ve seen through various studies is the return to the state, in terms of added tax revenue … is something on the order of magnitude of 1.8 for every dollar. So the return on that particular tax credit is extremely sound, and, clearly, we want to see that level of state investment in our clean energy future remain. That just gives you an example, I think, of how we want to separate from the demagoguery what the real impact can be at the local level, and we’ve made a commitment to move toward clean energy and a clean energy economy for a variety of important policy reasons, and we need to use all our levers at our disposal.