May 05, 2022

Amid Rising Gas Prices, Hirono Questions Energy Secretary Granholm on Efforts to Lower Energy Costs, Expand Clean Energy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy, questioned Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the Department of Energy’s efforts to lower energy costs for families and expand access to clean, affordable, and reliable energy in a full Committee hearing on the Department of Energy’s (DOE) budget request for Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23).

In her question line, Senator Hirono asked about DOE’s efforts to lower gas prices and expand access to affordable electric vehicles. With Hawaii paying some of the highest gas prices in the country – currently $5.27 a gallon – lowering energy costs is a top priority for Senator Hirono.

“Putin’s gas price hike is hurting families across the country—and across Hawaii. The price of gas right now can mean the difference between someone being able to get to work or not. And in Hawaii, it can also mean the difference between keeping your lights on or not,” said Senator Hirono. “Hawaii faces one of the highest prices in the country for a gallon of gasoline – around $5.27 per gallon. That’s the highest in the country. And skyrocketing oil prices in 2008 solidified Hawaii’s commitment to move toward renewable power so we are now at about 38% toward our goal of 100% renewable power by 2045. But that doesn’t include gasoline. We’re talking about electricity. How will the President’s budget help us to accelerate the transition to renewable power, electric vehicles, and other zero-emission transportation options so that we are not dependent on the whims of Russia, OPEC, and the global oil markets?”

The Senator also asked about DOE’s Energy Transition Initiative (ETI) program, which supports islanded and remote communities, like those in Hawaii, transition to clean, reliable energy sources, and highlighted the fact that the ETI program is currently supporting efforts to expand resilient micro-grids in Oahu and develop an electric vehicle charging network on Kauai.

“Island and remote communities like those in Hawaii face unique barriers to accessing affordable, sustainable, and clean energy. DOE’s Energy Transition Initiative program supports these communities’ energy transition efforts by facilitating the sharing of best practices and providing important technical support,” said Senator Hirono.

A link to download video of her exchange with Secretary Granholm is available here and a full transcript is below.

Senator Hirono: There is a lot of concern about the price of gas at the pump and it is impacting all of our families. Hawaii faces one of the highest prices in the country for a gallon of gasoline – around $5.27 per gallon. That’s the highest in the country. And skyrocketing oil prices in 2008 solidified Hawaii’s commitment to move toward renewable power so we are now at about 38% toward our goal of 100% renewable power by 2045. But that doesn’t include gasoline. We’re talking about electricity. How will the President’s budget help us to accelerate the transition to renewable power, electric vehicles, and other zero-emission transportation options so that we are not dependent on the whims of Russia, OPEC, and the global oil markets?

Secretary Granholm: We know that for example, people can’t afford today – not everybody can afford today an electric vehicle.  And so we want to make sure that we bring down the price of that vehicle. And the reason why that vehicle in many models is expensive  is because of the price of the battery. And so we are all in at the Department of Energy in bringing down the price of the battery both through technology, making sure that we are building out the supply chain for that battery inside of the United States so we can control the inputs for it. So that’s one thing. And the second thing I’m hopeful that this Congress do is to extend and expand upon the tax credits that will reduce the price of the electric vehicle at the dealership. And that is something that I think would be a great assistance for folks who are paying over $5 a gallon today.

Senator Hirono: Does the President’s budget include any tax credits for electric vehicles?

Secretary Granholm: No the President’s budget does not include the tax credits. We’re hopeful that Congress will include them in the very near future.

Senator Hirono: Why didn’t he include that then? Never mind. I think that’s a rhetorical question. Thank you for saying that we need to do more to encourage the lowering the price and affordability of electric vehicles I agree with you. So Island states – Hawaii – and remote communities in our country, we face unique barriers to accessing affordable, sustainable, and clean energy. DOE’s Energy Transition Initiative program supports communities’, like those in Hawaii, energy transition efforts by facilitating the sharing of best practices and providing important technical support. I know you are well aware that places like Hawaii and remote areas are vulnerable to severe weather conditions and there’s disruptions to our energy as a result. Construction of micro-grids in places like Hawaii and remote areas is really important. The ETI is currently helping assess which communities on Oahu could most benefit from micro-grids. And on Kauai, it is doing much the same thing. Can you explain more about how the Energy Transition Initiative is helping remote and island communities address high energy costs and unreliable energy infrastructure, and what additional funding for the program would have on communities in states like Hawaii?

Secretary Granholm: The 2023 budget is requesting an additional $34 million to be able to support that program in the theory that no community should be left behind and islanded communities are often overlooked. We want to make sure we take advantage of the natural assets they have to be able to move toward green energy. So for example in Hawaii, you’ve got so much geothermal which is a huge opportunity. It’s one of the reasons why Hawaii has such a robust renewable portfolio standard. But there are other issues related to that – how do you get access to that power and micro-grids are one solution. Offshore wind, solar, there’s so many renewable solutions. But you also have to add battery technologies. So the point is you have to have technical assistance for these communities to be able to see what the options are based upon their comparative advantages and that’s what this program does.

Senator Hirono: Thank you. I just want to note that with regard to geothermal there are very important cultural issues that exist in Hawaii with regard to resorting to geothermal. I know that you were already asked about the investigation that is being conducted by the Commerce Department relating to solar components and the possibility of additional tariffs that is part of our industry is facing. So my question is what resources could the DOE make available to address short term impacts on solar projects and address longer term issues relating to the solar supply chain.

Secretary Granholm: Well it does beg the question of building out the full supply chain for solar inside the United States so we don’t have to worry about the import issue. That’s why one of the President’s requests of Congress is the, for example, Solar Manufacturing Energy Act, which would help to bring down the cost of manufacturing solar in the United States and all the components included. We’re very supportive of that. We’re also supportive of course of being able to use the advanced manufacturing tools that have been provided through the bipartisan infrastructure act to accelerate solar. We’ve got a request in our Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy budget for a solar accelerator to advance solar manufacturing in the United States. That’s $200 million we’re requesting in this budget for.

Senator Hirono: Mr. Chairman all of that is going to have to happen pretty fast because the solar projects are coming to a screeching halt as a result of the potential outcome of the Commerce Department’s investigation. So I hope that your department can figure out how you can be of help right now. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

###