July 13, 2022

Hirono Leads Energy Subcommittee in Examining Way to Reduce Energy Prices in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy, convened a subcommittee hearing to discuss ways to reduce energy prices in the United States. During the hearing, the Subcommittee heard testimony from experts, including Kauai Island Utility Cooperative President and CEO David Bissel about the long-term cost-savings offered by renewable power and electric vehicles. Additionally, Senator Hirono emphasized the importance of advancing legislation to accelerate the adoption of more affordable and cleaner sources of energy.

“Different states and regions will have different energy mixes, but Congress should provide individuals and businesses with long-term incentives to speed up the transition to cheaper, cleaner sources of power, higher energy efficiency, and more affordable transportation options,” said Senator Hirono in her opening remarks. “Congress should also support clean energy manufacturing and supply chains right here in the United States. As we deal with high oil and gas prices now, we need to keep our eye on how we can accelerate the transition to more affordable options while making our country much more energy self-reliant in the long term, like Hawaii is doing.”

Senator Hirono also highlighted Hawaii’s leadership in the transition to renewable energy, including the state’s clean energy initiative, the first in the country to set a goal of 100 percent renewable power by 2045.

“Record oil prices in 2008 solidified Hawaii’s commitment to stop being held hostage by global oil markets and move toward renewable power. The state established the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative with the help of the Department of Energy, eventually setting a goal of 100 percent renewable power by 2045,” Senator Hirono continued. “Hawaii is leading our nation’s transition to clean energy, and creating a blueprint that others can follow.”

In addition to Mr. Bissell, witnesses included Commissioner Julia Fedorchak, Chair of the North Dakota Public Service Commission; John Larsen, Partner at Rhodium Group; and Ron Ness, President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

As Chair of the Energy Subcommittee, Senator Hirono is focused on lowering energy costs for communities in Hawaii and across the country. In May, Senator Hirono 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. Earlier this year, Hawaii received over $3.6 million in federal funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which provides grants for households with low incomes to save money by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes.

Video of Senator Hirono’s opening statement can be found here and a transcript is below. Video of her question line can be found here.

The subcommittee will come to order. I would like to join with Senator Hoeven, the Ranking Member, in welcoming our panel of witnesses.  Today’s hearing will examine pathways to lower energy prices in the United States.

As we meet this afternoon people across the United States and around the world are dealing with high energy prices. Many families are struggling to afford the groceries they need while paying the cost of driving to daycare and work.  Small businesses are trying to figure out if they can afford to expand, given the rising cost of making deliveries and paying power bills. Rising oil and natural gas prices are driving inflation in the rest of the economy.

Fortunately, average prices at the pump have fallen 39 cents per gallon nationwide in the last month. But prices remain far too high in Hawaii and elsewhere.

In the past year, the American people have faced the disruptions from the pandemic recovery and the consequences of Putin’s horrific war against Ukraine. In April, all 100 senators voted to end imports of Russian energy, even though it meant higher oil and gas prices.

The President continues to engage with our allies and partners on how to move away from Russian oil and natural gas and stabilize global supplies. The United States is the largest producer of oil and gas in the world and it was a net exporter of petroleum in 2020 and 2021. Our reliance on fossil fuels, even when we produce it here, means we will be stuck paying the prices set in the global market, subject to OPEC and affiliated producers like Russia.

We are still going to be using fossil fuels in cars, power plants, and industrial plants. But there are cheaper and cleaner alternatives now and in our future. We already know from the International Energy Agency that renewable energy sources like wind and solar are the cheapest sources of power available. And electric vehicles are already cheaper over their lifetime than comparable gasoline models, with more affordable hybrid and electric vehicle options on the way. The question for Congress is how do we help states and individuals achieve the benefits of those cheaper and cleaner alternatives? 

Hawaii has charted an ambitious course. Because of Hawaii’s unique geography, it is the most petroleum-dependent state in the country. Record oil prices in 2008 solidified Hawaii’s commitment to stop being held hostage by global oil markets and move toward renewable power. The state established the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative with the help of the Department of Energy, eventually setting a goal of 100 percent renewable power by 2045. Hawaii is now at 40 percent renewable power statewide.

But Hawaii’s continued reliance on oil for the majority of its power is why electricity rates jumped 34 percent in April from a year earlier and electricity costs almost triple the U.S. average. Each island in Hawaii has its own electric grid, unconnected to other islands. We’re going to hear today from Mr. Bissell about how the electric cooperative on the island of Kauai reached 70 percent renewable power and avoided the worst impacts of the global oil shock.

Hawaii is leading our nation’s transition to clean energy, and creating a blueprint that others can follow. Different states and regions will have different energy mixes, but Congress should provide individuals and businesses with long-term incentives to speed up the transition to cheaper, cleaner sources of power, higher energy efficiency, and more affordable transportation options.  Congress should also support clean energy manufacturing and supply chains right here in the United States.

As we deal with high oil and gas prices now, we need to keep our eye on how we can accelerate the transition to more affordable options while making our country much more energy self-reliant in the long term, like Hawaii is doing. I’m looking forward to hearing from our panelists this afternoon about the path forward for affordable, reliable, and increasingly clean sources of energy across the nation.

With that, I will turn to the Ranking Member, Senator Hoeven, for his opening statement.

###