Hawaii’s path to renewable energy needs everyone’s input

David Keali`i MacKenzie

HONOLULU—To many in the United States, our islands may seem like just a blip on the radar screen, as compared to the other 49 states.

But when you factor in that Hawaii has more people (1.36 million total, according to the 2010 Census) than Washington D.C. (601,723) and Alaska (710,231) combined and spread across an area of just about 6,420 square miles, then it starts to be come clearer why Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in the nation.

We’re an island chain in the middle of the Pacific trying to feed the energy needs of over a million people—and the millions more who visit Hawaii each year.

We rely on imported petroleum for about 90 percent of our primary energy. Most of this oil comes from foreign nations, with a growing percentage from the Middle East. To top things off, Hawaii residents pay among the nation’s highest prices for electricity and fuel.

Hawaii’s energy issues were the focus of a CNBC news story back in March after Japan’s nuclear crisis returned alternative energy issues to the front of national discussion. The story highlighted the need for community involvement in how Hawaii transitions into renewable energy.

However, when alternative energy initiatives by Hawaii’s government take precedence over the concerns of the people, as Lanai and Molokai residents have described with the island-changing effects of the Big Wind project, the initiative has already failed.

It’s important to keep Hawaii’s people involved in the transition to renewable energy. If our islands are to meet the goals aimed at beating a potential threat to our supply lines and rising oil costs, we need to be able to listen to our communities in order to properly weigh the costs.

In addition to supply disruptions, Hawaii is also vulnerable to climate change. Henery Kwong writes in an essay for Perspectives on Global Issues: “Like many islands across the world, Hawaii is susceptible to sea level rises, coastal flooding and a whole host of other impacts caused by climate change. According to the global climate change report on the United States, islands have been experiencing rising air temperatures and sea levels in recent decades. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that these trends are very likely to continue into the foreseeable future.”

Kwong says that Hawaii has at its disposal a plethora of renewable energy options to transition to a renewable energy economy and stop contributing to climate change. He points to Hawaii’s potential for biomass, hydro, wind, geothermal, ocean waves, and solar. In its favor, Hawaii emits only 0.4 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Hawaii isn’t alone in its struggle to make the change, and we should keep our minds open to the fresh ideas and time-tested concepts of other nations.

Energy Saving Secrets, a British environmental website, posted a Europe-wide survey indicating that “57 percent of those surveyed supported the idea of the Government introducing environmental health warnings on products that are not energy efficient. Almost half believe that more information about saving energy and education—explaining how energy affects both our bills and the environment—is needed from the government, and that this would help to reduce CO2 emissions.”

There’s a wealth of ideas worldwide for shaping the way toward renewable energy and it’s important that we keep up with those ideas as individuals.

The Natural Resource Defense Council has a list of basic tips for energy conservation such as: unplugging unused electronics, setting computers to sleep or hibernate, turning off lights in rooms that are not in use, and more.

The Blue Planet Foundation also has tips on how Hawaii residents can make their homes more energy at blueplanetfoundation.org.

To see the State of Hawaii’s reports on energy technologies, resources, policies, plans, and projects of interest, click here.

And to see exctly what the State has in mind for clean energy, including policy, visit the Clean Energy Initiative website.

What informational resources do you recommend for Hawaii? Please post them in the comments section below.