Energy crisis looming for Asia-Pacific region

Asia-Pacific countries are facing critical energy challenges that threaten to undermine economic and national security in the region, according to leaders from China and Hawaii who spoke at an energy summit during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

More than 200 executives from local and Chinese energy companies convened at the Hawaii State Capitol in what Gov. Neil Abercrombie called an unprecedented opportunity to forge new business relationships aimed at promoting the development of clean energy technologies.

“All of us are united together in seeing to it that our friends from China realize that we have the opportunity for a new partnership that hasn’t existed previously anywhere in the world, as it could exist between Hawaii and China,” he said.

Whether that partnership actually materializes remains to be seen. But it could be an important step forward for a region who’s high energy demands rely on imported sources of oil and gas, much of it from the war-torn Middle East.

“Our economic futures cannot be hostage to a resource that is so volatile and unreliable,” said George Kailiwai, director for resources and assessment at the U.S. Pacific Command.

In China, where the economy is growing at a rapid pace, outstripping local supplies of energy resources, leaders said developing alternative sources was particularly critical.

The country is at “a crisis point in industrial development,” according to Hen Meiqing, deputy director general at the China Council for Promotion of International Trade.

Energy security was a major theme of the APEC conference that brought heads of state from 21 countries, including President Barack Obama, to Hawaii for the week-long conference.

The energy forum at the Capitol on Sunday focused on the connection between China and Hawaii, which are both turning aggressively to renewable sources of energy, and the potential to establish mutual business and investment opportunities.

Additional speakers included Gov. Neil Abercrombie, House Speaker Calvin Say, Sen. Kalani English, Richard Lim, director of the Hawaii Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism, and Wang Donghai, chairman of China’s Bestsun Energy Group.

Chinese officials spoke about the need for new energy sources to supply the country’s manufacturing base.

In Hawaii, millions of dollars have been invested in renewable energy in the past few years by both the military and the private sector. The state is viewed by many as a testing ground for the development of renewable energy technologies, with its abundance of wind, solar, geothermal, ocean and biofuel resources. Hawaii already pays the highest electric rates, on average, in the country.

China has become one of the largest exporters of wind turbine technology and solar panels, and Hew said that it’s green energy sector is expected to be a primary attraction for foreign investment.

In Hawaii, there are a broad range of projects moving forward as the state strives to meet its goal of 40 percent renewable energy by 2030, and major reductions in its overall electricity use. In 2009, the U.S. Pacific Command committed to meeting or exceeding the state’s energy goals for its military operations in Hawaii.

“We have the political will, the backing of our people and the backing our business community,” said Sen. Kalani English, vice chair of the Hawaii Senate Committee on Energy and Environment. “We as a society are committed to making renewable energy a reality in Hawaii and other parts of the world.”

Missing was any talk of the struggles that have plagued Hawaii’s transition to renewable energy during the past few years, including vocal protests on Molokai and Lanai against the state’s largest proposed wind project that could account for about 10 percent of the state’s electricity needs, community division on the Big Island about a biofuel plant that has been derailed and criticism about the Kauai electric utility’s attempts to promote hydroelectric development to power a significant portion of the island’s electricity needs.

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