POSTED: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Recent passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Clean Energy and Security Act is a reminder of the threat posed to Hawaii by climate change: more frequent, stronger tropical storms threaten to erode beaches, submerge beachfront properties, and alter Hawaii's tourism and agricultural economies. Fortunately, Hawaii can do its share to combat global warming and in the process, help ameliorate its dependence upon imported oil for electricity generation.

Hawaii depends upon the burning of imported oil to generate over 80 percent of its electricity, far more than any other state. Tightening oil markets are raising household and business costs and in any event, oil supplies will be insufficient to satisfy global demand in 50 years time or less.

Fortunately, Hawaii is endowed with tremendous resources with which to successfully manage its energy future. The answer lies in increasing energy efficiency and tapping Hawaii's prodigious renewable energy resources.

On energy efficiency, a positive step being taken is time-of-day pricing (TOD), under consideration by the state public utilities commission. Under TOD, a higher electricity rate is charged during peak early-morning and mid-evening hours than during off-peak hours. This accords with the need for electric utilities to generate more expensive power during peak than off-peak periods.

TOD encourages households to shift appliance use for laundry, dishwashing and other chores to off-peak hours. This is a very effective method of reducing peak energy demand.

More progress arrives next year, when all newly constructed homes will need to have rooftop thermal solar panels installed. The water these heat reduces the need to burn oil to generate electricity. Taking this to the next level, existing homes could be required to install these panels when they are sold, since preexisting homes will continue to account for the overwhelming majority of the islands' building stock for many years to come.

Commercial office, hotel, retail and apartment buildings utilize one-third of electricity consumption in the U.S. and generate an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Honolulu already requires new publicly owned buildings to be built to high performance LEED standards. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) can reduce buildings' energy consumption by up to 50 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent.

LEED in private buildings could be encouraged by enacting a fee-bate system similar to that being considered in Portland, Ore., under which buildings that exceed certain LEED standards would receive a rebate on their building permit fees.

At the end of the day, however, Hawaii will still need to confront its dependence upon oil for electricity generation and here again, progress is forthcoming. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative seeks to generate up to 70 percent of Hawaii's electricity from

renewable wind, solar, marine and geothermal energy resources. Hawaii can attain this goal, but it will require investments to upgrade and expand electrical transmission systems, including waterborne transportation of electricity from islands where renewable energy potential is greatest to Honolulu, where most of the demand is.

Wind turbines are easily interspaced upon agriculture land, but large-scale solar farms require expansive footprints. Concerns about interrupting view corridors and NIMBY attitudes on islands that would export their renewable energy to Honolulu are problems. One solution lies in HECO's application to the Public Utilities Commission for permission to install up to 16 megawatts of photo-voltaic cells on the roofs of flat-topped warehouse buildings.

Hawaii is doing the right things. Continuing down this path can help ensure that as the tide of global warming washes ashore, Hawaii is positioned to have its boat lifted and become the most energy independent state in the nation.

Matt Slavin is a Portland, Ore., based sustainability and clean energy consultant. He recently visited Hawaii to research his book “;The Triple Bottom Line: Sustainability Principles, Practice, and Perspective in America's Cities,”; to be published next year.