Mayor wants to increase LED street lighting as city struggles with energy costs

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Feb 24 2014 07:16:00 PM HST

Honolulu's energy costs have gone up by millions in just the past two years, and if they don't come down you could see higher property taxes and fees on your power bills.

HONOLULU -

Oahu residents aren't the only ones who hate getting that energy bill at the end of the month, city government hates it too.

Click here to watch Andrew Pereira's report.

In just the past two fiscal years, Honolulu's energy costs have increased 20 percent, from $76.4 million in 2011 to 91.8 million in 2013, a difference of $15.4 million. Currently, the cost of energy ranks 10th in the city's budget for non-discretionary spending, while labor costs rank first.  

Despite using 9.9 million kilowatt hours less of electricity in 2013 compared to 2011, the city's electrical costs rose $12.1 million, mostly due to climbing electrical rates. And although the current price of regular unleaded gasoline is 15 cents less per gallon than it was in 2011 according to AAA Hawaii and its Fuel Gauge Report, the city used nearly 300,000 gallons more in fiscal year 2013.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the surging price of electricity and fuel places a drain on city funds that could be used elsewhere.

"I think it's incumbent on us as an island community to do better with our energy resources, not shipping our short capital out off of this island, but keeping it here," the mayor said in an interview with KITV4 last Wednesday.

Getting the city's rising energy costs under control will be one of the major themes in Caldwell's State of the City speech Wednesday at McCoy Pavilion. The mayor's spokesman says Caldwell will propose creating a public-private partnership to change 45,000 to 50,000 street lights on Oahu from sodium-vapor lamps to LED lamps, which cost more but use 40 percent less energy.

That's welcomed news to members of the Honolulu City Council who have been frustrated by the city's lack of progress with conservation efforts.

"I'd like to hear that we are moving forward on a lot of the projects that should've been done a while ago as far as parking lots, street lights (and) wherever we can put in solar," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who chairs the Budget Committee. "If our expenses are going up then our revenue has to increase, which means increased fees (and) taxes. So, let's do it the other way and start cutting and conserving."

Last summer, a pilot project that replaced 180 street lights with LED lamps at four locations across Oahu was deemed a success, prompting the mayor's initiative.

"The best way to save on energy costs is just conservation," said Caldwell.

To date, the city has installed 627 kilowatts of photovoltaic energy generation as it moves toward the goal of one megawatt of renewable energy. The Department of Design and Construction is currently working on a 75 kilowatt PV system at the Kapolei Corporation Yard, but at present there are no PV projects under design and construction.

On Wednesday, Caldwell is expected to announce how much of a projected budget deficit the city is facing in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The mayor has stated previously the city was facing a deficit of $156 million, but a 9.9 percent increase in residential property tax assessments has helped the situation.

"We knew going into the year that it's going to be very challenging," said Council Chairman Ernie Martin. "Fifty million alone in collective bargaining agreements, that's the additional costs, so we're just starting with that."

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