Energy Policy Modernization Act Of 2015

Floor Speech

Date: Jan. 27, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. HIRONO. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the Energy Policy Modernization Act. Along with a broad, bipartisan group of my colleagues, I supported this bill as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I thank Chairman Murkowski, Ranking Member Cantwell, and their staff for their commitment and hard work in producing a bill that could earn a strong bipartisan vote in the committee.

There were other proposals that I would have liked to have seen included in the bill, such as the national Renewable Electricity Standard introduced by Senator Udall, which I cosponsored, and there were other proposals included in the bill that I would not have supported on their own. However, I was willing to support a compromise that provides positive direction for our country in the midst of an energy transformation.

Now that the full Senate is considering the bill, I would like to remind my colleagues of the effort that went into reaching this compromise. We should not squander the opportunity before us with amendments that will simply erode bipartisan support for the bill or draw a Presidential veto.

So much has changed in how energy is produced and consumed since the Senate passed its last energy bill in 2007. Our country is in the middle of a transformation toward cleaner sources of energy and greater energy efficiency in our vehicles, homes, and businesses. Hawaii is leading the way on many fronts in this transformation. Hawaii has already set the most ambitious electricity standard of any State, and that is 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045. Our State has already more than doubled its use of renewable electricity in 6 years to 21 percent.

Making sure that we have clean and affordable power for families and businesses will require a more modern and reliable electricity system. The Energy Policy Modernization Act tackles research, job creation, and innovation on a number of fronts. Let me highlight some of the bill's important provisions.

This bill includes provisions from my Next Generation Electric Systems Act that would establish a Department of Energy grant program for projects to improve the performance and efficiency of electrical grid systems. These grants could assist efforts in Hawaii and around the country to make greater use of renewable energy, energy storage systems, electric vehicles, and other innovative energy technologies.

The bill also provides $500 million over 10 years to support the energy storage research, demonstration, and deployment program from Senator Cantwell's Grid Modernization Act, which I cosponsored. Energy storage will help smooth the delivery of power from renewable sources so that it is available even when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Greater use of energy storage systems could help cut energy bills by reducing the need to build expensive powerplants that operate only at times of highest demand and avoiding blackouts.

Thanks to Chair Murkowski, the bill also promotes the development of microgrid systems for communities that are not connected to the grid, so that isolated communities in places like Hawaii and Alaska can also use alternative energy and energy storage to secure more reliable and affordable sources of power.

The bill includes my amendment to ensure that the U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia can join Hawaii and other States in being eligible to participate in a Department of Energy loan guarantee program to help States support new investments in clean energy projects. For instance, Hawaii could expand its Green Energy Market Securitization--or GEMS--Program to make rooftop solar systems and other clean energy improvements more affordable for renters and other underserved consumers.

The bill authorizes research and development in promising renewable energy technologies like marine and hydrokinetic energy, which harness the power of the ocean's waves, heat, and currents. In partnership with the U.S. Navy, the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Hawaii-Manoa is one of three federally funded centers for marine energy research and development in the Nation, including a wave energy test site at Kaneohe Bay on Oahu.

The bill will help people find well-paying jobs in the energy and energy efficiency fields by establishing a $10 million grant program for nonprofit partnerships that train workers to earn energy efficient building certifications. It also creates a $20 million energy workforce training grant program for colleges and workforce development boards. This program will focus on helping workers earn industry-recognized credentials. I will be offering amendments to ensure that our veterans can take full advantage of these programs to speed their transition into the civilian workforce.

The bill will also help boost energy efficiency. Hawaii set a goal requiring a 30-percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. According to the Hawaii State Energy Office, that standard has resulted in the equivalent of $435 million in energy savings for Hawaii's homes, farms, and businesses.

Finally, the bill strengthens our protection of public lands by permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund--LWCF--a fund that, throughout its 50-year history, has financed over 40,000 projects across all 50 States and protected public lands that support our Nation's $646 billion outdoor recreational industry. In Hawaii alone, the LWCF has directly provided $195 million to our local conservation efforts, and, as most people know, we in Hawaii go to great lengths to protect and conserve our native ecosystems. LWCF funds will support Hawaii's ``Island Forests at Risk'' proposal. These funds will expand Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge by a total of 12,000 acres. These two locations host a total of nearly 2 million visitors each year and protect some of Hawaii's most beautiful and sensitive habitats. The bill also permanently reauthorizes the Historic Preservation Fund and creates a new National Park Maintenance and Revitalization Fund. The new national park fund will help reduce the backlog of $11.5 billion in repairs and maintenance needed in our national parks, including the $127 million backlog of maintenance at Hawaii's national parks. This much needed new fund will ensure that people can enjoy the beauty of our parks for generations to come.

In addition to improving energy usage in our homes and businesses, we must ensure that government takes full advantage of new energy and energy efficient technologies. For the fourth consecutive year, the State of Hawaii led the Nation in per capita use of energy performance contracting for State and county buildings, resulting in the creation of over 3,000 jobs and an energy savings of over $989 million.

I would like to expand the use of energy contracting at the Federal level to save taxpayer dollars and support the use of cleaner sources of energy. I will be offering an amendment to allow all Federal agencies to use long-term contracts to reduce their energy bills, as the Department of Defense is allowed to do under current law.

I also plan to offer an amendment to establish a pilot project to expand the use of Federal energy savings performance contracts to mobile sources such as federally-owned aircraft and vehicles. The guaranteed energy savings will mean taxpayer savings.

With oil accounting for 80 percent of the energy needs of our State, the people of Hawaii are acutely aware that there must be new alternatives to the volatile prices and vulnerable supply of the global oil trade. Hawaii, which for too long has been paying the highest electricity rates in the country, recognizes that we have renewable resources in our own State that should be developed so that we keep at home more of the $5 billion per year we currently spend to import oil. That is more money circulating in Hawaii's economy, creating jobs, raising wages, and helping families make ends meet.

For all the reasons I have mentioned, I urge my colleagues to support this bill and those amendments that will be offered that move our country forward, not backward, to a future with affordable, clean, and reliable energy.