Hawaii is one of the more stunning corners of the world and receives millions of visitors annually: over 8 million arrivals alone in 2014. And those guests, along with the 1.4 million residents of the nation’s 50th state, use a lot of energy. Powering all those homes, business and, of course, resorts is pricey.
The state is heavily reliant on energy imports as it has no conventional energy resources of its own. While the continental 48 states use oil for less than 1 percent of their total power generation, Hawaii uses petroleum to meet 70 percent of its energy capacity. That is down from 81 percent in 2002, and oil consumption for the state’s grid is on a downward trajectory. But Hawaii’s leaders realize the perils of dependence on a volatile and dirty source of energy.
To that end, a bill that would require Hawaii to generate 100 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2040 recently passed through committees in both branches of the state’s legislature.
Burlington, Vermont, became the first city in the U.S. to run entirely on clean energy. Can Hawaii do the same in 25 years?
Senate Bill 2181 follows up on Hawaii’s renewable energy portfolio standard that was established in 2009. The state has already made heavy investments in renewables, including wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. Hawaii’s utilities are on board: Hawaii Electric Light Co. has disclosed that, in 2012, clean energy accounted for 47 percent of its electricity sales. Maui Electric Co. reported its percentage as 21 percent for the same year. The state’s other two utilities are still in the single digits, but are boosting their portfolios. In fact, the Hawaii Electric Co. has stated that a 40-percent renewables goal by 2030 is entirely realistic. For now, the bulk of utility-scale electricity generation in Hawaii is generated by wind power — 42 percent in 2013. Solar, while still in its infancy, is catching on, especially in the residential market.
The bill has a strong chance of passing both houses of the state legislature this year, and appears to have the buy-in from newly elected Gov. David Ige, who during his primary campaign against his predecessor proposed his own general plan to reduce the state’s US$6 billion annual purchase of imported oil.
The devil of how Hawaii can achieve this goal, of course, is in the details. Burlington’s recent milestone, while impressive for a city of 50,000, attracted its fair share of criticism for relying on biomass, renewable energy credit purchases and hydropower. But setting such a goal can also drive innovation and investment — currently too much capital is leaving the state that could otherwise be put to use locally to build a more diverse economy. And with 25 percent of the state’s economy dependent on tourism, climate change risks and environmental protection have to be kept in mind if visitors will continue to come to Hawaii to enjoy the state’s spectacular landscape and natural beauty.
Image credit: NASA
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.