Hawaii Setting a High Bar for Renewable Energy

A bill approved by the Hawaii legislature has set the island state on its way to becoming the first in the nation to adopt a 100-percent Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). It’s a heady goal that just a few years ago, may have seemed overly ambitious. But the growth and advancement of renewable energy resources and technologies makes the vision more than achievable.

The bill, which was approved this week and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. David Ige, increases the current goal from 15 percent by the end of this year, then 25 percent by 2020 and 40 percent by 2030, to 30 percent renewable by the end of 2020, 70 percent by the end of 2040 and 100 percent by the end of 2045. The state started out with a 10-percent goal in 2010, and currently meets 21 percent of its energy needs with renewables.

Sponsors of the bill rightly point out that not only will the new RPS boost the security and stability of the state’s energy industry, but also save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in years to come.

With its mild tropical climate, Hawaii has one of the nation’s lowest per capita energy users. Yet, an estimated 46.3 million barrels of petroleum were imported for the state’s total energy use in 2014, with some 11.3 million barrels burned by Hawaii utilities. That means $5.09 billion left the state last year to pay for imported petroleum; that’s $4,000 for every person living in Hawaii.

The average residential meter in Hawaii uses 615 kilowatt hour per month and currently ranks first in the nation in energy costs, at nearly 30 cents per kilowatt hour (kWH). That compares to the national average of 11-12 cents per kWH.

As pointed out by the sponsor of the bill, Hawaii is proving to the rest of the country that renewable energy can be cheaper and cleaner, and can help consumers cut their electric bills down to near zero. Not only will the more ambitious RPS accelerate the savings to Hawaii’s consumers that other ratepayers around the country are already seeing, but it will also speed the growth of jobs in the local renewable energy industry. Local renewable projects are already cheaper than liquefied natural gas and oil, and the state’s progress toward meeting its renewable energy standards has already saved residents hundreds of millions on their electric bills.

There is nothing “pie in the sky” about Hawaii’s new RPS. A report released last month by the Hawaii Environmental Council shows the state can support a goal of generating all of its electrical power and transportation fuels from renewable energy.

It’s not surprising that given its geographical isolation, Hawaii is the largest consumer of fossil fuels per capita in the United States. But the state also has wide access to renewable energy, including solar, wind, geothermal and wave. The report says that together, they give Hawaii the opportunity to lead the nation in the global movement toward renewable energy.

Still, the road to a renewable future does not come without its bumps. The Hawaii legislature just adopted another bill lifting a state-level E10 gasoline blend mandate after several years in which there was no in-state ethanol production, despite the availability of tax credits.

The E10-repeal legislation is a setback, but it does not take anything away from Hawaii’s commitment to a 100-percent renewable energy future. It’s an exciting development – one of several of late, including the pursuit of a 50-percent goal by 2030 in California, and the serious debate over expanding the renewable portfolio standard in six other states..

The path forward to a clean energy future can be fraught with obstacles – many put up by vested fossil fuel-based energy interests who would maintain the status quo. Hawaii’s 100-percent renewables goal is a massive step forward in the policy arena. But we are still in the early stages of our pursuit of an energy strategy that makes broad use of sustainable alternatives. It is critically important for stakeholders to keep reminding policy makers and regulators of the variety of economic, security and environmental benefits available from renewable energy.

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