At the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit held in Honolulu, Hawaii, this week, Governor David Ige dropped a bombshell. His administration will not use natural gas to replace the state’s petroleum-fueled electricity plants, but will make a full-court press toward 100 percent renewables by 2045. Ige’s decisive and ambitious energy vision is making Hawaii into the world’s most important laboratory for humankind’s fight against climate change. He has, in addition, attracted an unlikely and enthusiastic partner in his embrace of green energy—the US military.
Ige said Monday that LNG (liquefied natural gas) will not save the state money over time, given the plummeting prices of renewables. Moreover, “it is a fossil fuel,” i.e., it emits dangerous greenhouse gases. He explained that local jurisdictions in Hawaii are putting up a fight against natural gas, making permitting difficult. Finally, any money put into retooling electric plants so as to run on gas, he said, is money that would better be invested in the transition to green energy.
Ige, trained as an electrical engineer, is leading his state in the most ambitious clean-energy program in the United States. On June 8, he signed into law a bill calling for Hawaii’s electricity to be entirely generated from renewables in only 30 years. He also directed that the University of Hawaii be net carbon zero in just 20 years.
As a set of islands, Hawaii faces special energy difficulties. Residents pay the highest rates for electricity of any state in the union. Last year, before the recent oil price drop, residential electricity averaged around 36 cents per kilowatt hour (the US average is 12 cents/kwh). On the mainland, states that do not generate enough electricity themselves can import it from their neighbors. Islands in the middle of the Pacific just have what they can make themselves. Because Hawaii’s energy plants were built before it was economical to ship natural gas as LNG, they for the most part use petroleum. The high oil prices of the past decade are estimated to have cost Hawaii some $5 billion extra that was not anticipated. Part of the impetus for the current drive toward renewables is to escape the volatility of fossil-fuel markets.
Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, also addressed the summit, insisting that wind, solar, and other renewables are now competitive with fossil fuels and no longer “alternative.” Rather, they are practical today, because of significant price drops in the cost of photovoltaic panels and of wind turbines. He argued that change comes only when it is demanded. Several years ago, he said, Hawaii set what seemed like unrealistic green energy goals at that time. The senator’s point is valid. By 2015, officials wanted 15 percent of electricity generation to come from renewables. In 2014, it was already 21 percent. At the federal level, Schatz said that the Senate is coming around on climate change issues, with all Democrats backing renewables and even a lot of Republicans privately admitting the climate-change crisis. He said that the United States must lead at the UN’s Climate Change Conference later this year in Paris, but that the real test will be in the implementation of the goals adopted there.