Hawaii should seize opportunity for new energy model
The state and federal government have signed an agreement to shift energy production in the islands to renewable resources.
Advocates for renewable energy who have envisioned Hawaii as an ideal laboratory for its development were intrigued when Gov. Linda Lingle talked about a "clean energy initiative" in a speech before lawmakers last week.
When unveiled this week, the initiative turned out to be a less than substantial "memorandum of understanding" with the federal government, basically a nonbinding document outlining goals without committed funds to support them. It vaguely describes how the U.S. Department of Energy will "serve as a conduit" to federal labs and research agencies, provide "technical assistance" and "facilitate participation of non-governmental entities," strings of bureaucratic jargon with as much weight as an unenforceable deal can be.
Despite this, state officials should exploit the partnership fully, using the memo as a playbook to free residents and businesses from the hold oil-produced energy has on Hawaii, a hold that separates the islands from a sustainable future.
As the initiative intends, Hawaii should become a model for expansive use of renewable energy, integrating as many resources as proved reliable and cost-effective. The islands can be a test ground for a combination of solar, ocean, biofuels, wind and geothermal energy production.
The memorandum drafts a course of action for reaching a goal of gaining 70 percent of energy needs through renewables by 2030. It sets deadlines for studying energy efficiency, power generation and delivery, transportation fuels and supply, current renewable technology, financial sources, pertinent regulations and other issues.
Plans need to be in place by June, an ambitious time frame. Nonetheless, a deadline will push officials to jump-start a process that is essential if Hawaii is to cut its 90 percent reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to economic instability and environmental harm.
While renewable transportation fuel and distribution will be most challenging, technology in ocean-wave generation is on the brink. Wind power is in full use in many parts of the United States and the world, and small- and large-scale solar generation are already crossing the grids.
The need is to figure out and establish new power structures. Though nominal, the backing of the federal government can be leveraged and the state should take full advantage of the memorandum.
The initiative appears to some as a vaporous promise from a soon-to-be-departing administration. However, the objectives are consequential for an island state rich in renewable resources and poor in conventional ones. The opportunity should not be ignored.