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March 14, 2018

Maui Energy Conference powers up for its 5th year

Categories: Energy | Featured | Transportation | Sponsorships

If Hawaii’s energy sector needed a bit of a boost, it received a significant one in the form of the Maui Energy Conference and Exhibition, which kicked off its fifth year today at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. The two-day event brought together leaders, experts and innovators to discuss and facilitate progress toward the state’s energy goals, and Ulupono Initiative is pleased to be sponsoring it once again.

Ulupono Initiative is proud to be a top “GIGAwatt” sponsor of the Maui Energy Conference and Exhibition. To keep attendees energized, Ulupono hosted a special lounge for individuals to plug-in, relax and recharge in the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s Castle Lobby.

The event may be hosted by local government – specifically, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) – but presenters largely attributed progress achieved over the last decade to the private sector, demonstrating not only private entities’ commitment to renewable and clean energy alternatives, but also recognition that such technologies are viable and even essential to Hawaii’s future self-sufficiency and resilience.

Following welcome messages from MEDB and conference organizers, Rep. Chris Lee, chair of the state House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection, provided the keynote address. He explained that island communities are especially vulnerable to natural and manmade disasters with the potential to disrupt access to electricity and damage critical energy infrastructure.

“Puerto Rico is a perfect example of what we need to think about in terms of our own vulnerability,” said Rep. Lee, referring to the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Maria.

That was consistent with a unique perspective provided by Ulupono Initiative General Partner Kyle Datta, recently named by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to a Transformation Advisory Council assisting in the development of a long-term vision and transformation execution plan for Puerto Rico’s power system following the storm.

During the first panel session of the conference, Datta shared his insights on “Business Opportunities Created by HCEI (Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative),” moderated by Luis Salaveria, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. Datta was joined by Dawn Lippert, CEO of Elemental Excelerator, and Wren Wescoatt, principal of 7 Generation Consulting. 

Today’s Maui Energy Conference panel discussion on “Business Opportunities Created by HCEI, featured (from left) DBEDT Director Luis Salaveria (facilitator), Ulupono Initiative General Partner Kyle Datta, Elemental Excelerator CEO Dawn Lippert and 7 Generation Consulting Principal Wren Wescoatt.

With HCEI marking its 10th year in 2018, the group gave its perspective on what the agreement accomplished and the stage it has set for the future.

“HCEI changed the game over what was possible and what was desirable,” Datta said in the panel discussion. “Consensus attracted interest and put the state on the map. It helped to galvanize large landowners to commit resources, getting not only the energy sector but the land sector to say we are going for work with this.”

Wescoatt added: “Progress is largely because of private interest, but HCEI set a direction” providing an overarching policy that aligned government agencies. He explained the state does not necessarily need to drive but can be helpful by setting the conditions for progress.

“It’s enormously important,” Datta agreed. “Investors only invest if it’s a fair playing field. The investors and utilities need consistency of policy. One of the great things HCEI did was to really make the PUC independent.”

The availability of local expertise and a qualified, skilled workforce is also vital. “From an innovator perspective, it’s a really competitive market for innovation,” Lippert said. “The more aligned we are and the better leadership we have locally, the greater chance we have to attract talent.”

As for next steps, Wescoatt said: “What we need is a plan to bring large and small projects online over the next 20 years. That creates some commercial opportunity.” 

That plan must include how the state manages its data, according to Lippert, as accurate, empirical data is essential to providing decision-makers, public and private, the information and reassurances they need to take action. “From the perspective of innovators, that means how we deal with data. There are ways other jurisdictions have solved this. The whole issue of how we share data in this state is a huge question.”

Looking ahead to Day 2 of the Maui Energy Conference, the program will include a presentation by Alice Madden, executive director of Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources and former principal deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as a case study presented by Ulupono Initiative Managing Partner Murray Clay on “Balancing EVs (Electric Vehicles) and the Highway Fund.” For more information on the conference and the full program, visit: mauienergyconference.com

Visit this section tomorrow for another recap on the day’s activities as well as links to related news coverage of this important convergence of energy leaders, innovators and experts.