Ever so slowly, Americans are realizing that dependence on fossil fuels might not be a great long-term plan. Even if some members of Congress aren’t too excited to hop aboard the green bandwagon.
People in the Aloha State are taking renewable energy very seriously, though. Hawaiians have seen enough rising seas, diminishing rainfall and increasing storms, and they’re doing something about it. The state could very well be a window into the future of energy in the United States.
The isolated archipelago has good reason to examine its policies. It has seen the toll of dependence on fossil fuels.
Hawaii has some of the highest electric bills in the country (two to three times the national average in some cases) because it relies overwhelmingly on imported oil for energy. It isn’t cheap, either. As the most oil-dependent state in the nation, Hawaii spends more than $4 billion a year on foreign oil to meet energy needs.
Perhaps more startlingly, It has also seen one of its most iconic beaches start to vanish.
Though few realize it, the famous Waikiki Beach has been thoroughly eroded due to rising sea levels. The sand that tourists are so eager to feel between their toes is artificially replenished. If the beach is lost for good, it could lead to millions, or even billions, in lost economic revenue.
Recently, Hawaii Governor David Ige took a bold step in addressing these issues. Ige signed into law an ambitious measure, one that aims to replace fossil fuels completely with renewable sources by 2045.
One hundred percent clean energy.
Furthermore, there are other benchmarks to meet. They include: 30 percent usage of renewable sources by 2020 and 70 percent usage of renewable sources by 2040. The law is the first of its kind in the country, and accordingly, is the most aggressive green initiative in recent memory.
But is it possible?
It will be a difficult transition, but Hawaii has many advantages due to its location. The islands are home to plenty of sun, wind, water and geoactivity. For that very reason, it is already becoming a center of green research and innovation. In fact, it may be the state best equipped to deal with solar panels, wind turbines and water turbines, as they provide important sources of energy moving forward.
Unfortunately, it’s not simply a matter of having enough sun or waves or geothermal steam. The more concerning problem is the infrastructure needed for these new sources of electricity. A key priority, and necessity, in the renewable energy measure is grid modernization and an inter island connection between separate grids.
Upgrading the islands’ electrical grids would increase efficiency and storage potential. Meanwhile, a link between the Oahu and Maui Island grids would reduce electricity rates and potentially save more than $400 million over a 30-year period.
Still, Hawaii’s initiative should be an example to the rest of the country.
The state’s politicians looked beyond party lines and accepted the environmental and economic problems facing them. The state’s citizens also refused to stick their heads in the sand, or what’s left of it. A 2014 report estimates 97 percent of the public supports expansion of renewable energy.
If a small state in the middle of the ocean can do it, there’s no reason other states can’t follow suit. Studies have already shown that wind power and solar power could provide viable and significant sources of energy for the country. Some researchers believe every state in the union could supply 100 percent of its energy via renewable sources by 2050.
Those of us in the contiguous 48 must ask, what are we waiting for?