Author Gathering Place

Adam Browning

Do the planet a favor
on Earth Day --
pass solar bond

There is one item on the Honolulu City Council agenda tomorrow that makes the meeting's scheduling on Earth Day particularly appropriate: a bond to install solar and energy efficiency technologies on city-owned buildings, run city government on clean, renewable energy and pay for the systems with the energy savings.

The case for aggressive deployment of renewable energy becomes clearer every day, and this piece of legislation merits passage. There is near universal consensus in the scientific community that the climate is changing due to human activities. And almost every day we read new reports of the effects of global warming, from polar ice caps melting to sea levels rising, with potentially devastating consequences.

Of particular concern for Hawaii is a recent report published in Nature magazine that estimated that a rise in temperature of 3 degrees would likely result in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, raising sea levels by around seven meters. Even the Pentagon is taking the threat seriously, with new reports treating the issue as one critical to national security.

As energy generation is one of the largest contributors to global warming, it is clear that switching to clean, renewable sources of electricity is critically important for the continuance of life on this planet. Honolulu, with some of the highest energy costs in the country, is in a perfect position to lead the nation on this issue.

There are three reasons why a solar bond makes sense for Honolulu:

>> First, it saves the city money. An analysis by Vote Solar, a nonprofit that helps municipal governments do large-scale and cost-effective solar projects, shows that a $10 million investment in solar and energy efficiency for Honolulu's public buildings could provide electricity savings well in excess of projected bond repayments, meaning that the city would be saving money from Day 1, and up to $1.3 million over the life of the project. The technologies are proven, and this model is working well in other cities, such as San Francisco.

>> Second, about 92 percent of Hawaii's electricity is generated using fossil fuels, shipped in from out of state. Hawaii's reliance on imported fuel sources leaves it vulnerable, especially in these uncertain times. A solar bond would be a step toward energy independence, and provide a hedge against future energy cost escalations.

>> The final benefit is for public health and the environment. The effort would save about 6 million kilowat hours of electricity a year, and prevent annual emissions of 10.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that causes global warming; 32,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides, a smog-creating pollutant that is associated with pulmonary and respiratory disease; and 28,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, a significant contributor to respiratory and pulmonary problems, as well as acid rain.

While these emission reductions are helpful, the bigger picture is that this measure should be considered as a part of a larger, collective effort to help build the economies of scale necessary to bring down renewable energy's costs and take this country in a more sustainable direction. The price history for solar, for example, shows that costs come down about 20 percent for every doubling of demand. With consistent government support, efforts in Japan and Germany are resulting in a solar industry that is nearly self-sustaining.

The city of San Francisco passed a $100 million solar bond two years ago (the first project to be implemented, a 675 kW solar roof and energy efficiency retrofit for the Moscone Convention Center, is saving about $640,000 worth of electricity every year, while annual bill payments are only $430,000, resulting in annual net savings of $210,000), and other cities are gearing up to do their share.

With an ambitious effort, Ho-nolulu has the opportunity to show leadership in devising cost-effective solutions to the nation's energy problems, and would help jumpstart a national transformation to renewable energy.

It saves money, advances energy independence, cleans the air and fights global warming. If these sound like good things to you, let the City Council know at the public hearing at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Honolulu Hale. And while you are at it, ask them to fund the effort at the mayor's requested $10 million level, not the $7 million that the budget committee approved.

More information on the bond and Council hearing can be seen at .

Adam Browning is director of operations for The Vote Solar Initiative based in San Francisco.


E-mail to Editorial Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --