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Hawaii. From tropical haven to green paradise
The U.S. islands are investing wholeheartedly in renewables, aiming to cover 100% of their electricity needs within the next 30 years.
Enough with coal, oil and natural gas. From now on Hawaii will only build plants that generate electricity using renewable sources and will cut all funding for fossil fuels. The aim: to be powered by 100% renewables by 2045. The announcement was made by state governor David Ige, electrical engineer, at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation summit in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital.
According to a law passed on the 8th of June, the US archipelago will not replace its oil-fuelled electricity generating facilities with plants running on natural gas but will instead aim to achieve 100% electricity production from renewable sources by 2045 as part of its $26 billion budget. Furthermore, the law mandates that Hawaii University should become carbon neutral within the next 20 years.
As a result of Governor Ige’s resolution, Hawaii will become the most important testing ground in the world for the fight against climate change.
Power supply is a significant challenge for Hawaii because as an archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean it can’t rely on importing power from its neighbours as continental countries do. These islands can only count on electricity produced locally, which makes every kilowatt of electricity very expensive to generate. Last year, before the drop in oil prices, domestic power prices were about 36 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) compared with a U.S. average of 12 cents/kWh. Given that Hawaii’s power stations were built before transport of natural gas by sea became cheap, most of its plants burn fuel oil. It is estimated that the high oil prices of the past 10 years have meant that Hawaii has spent about $5 billion over its energy budget.
The drive towards renewables originates at least in part in Hawaii’s need to emancipate itself from the volatility of fossil fuel markets. Hawaii has already made initial steps on its path towards a green energy future: 22% of its electricity currently comes from renewables sources, mostly solar and wind power.
Hawaii is thus taking a path outlined by Pope Francis in his Laudato si encyclical, in which he explains that “a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” caused for the most part by higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For this reason, according to the Pope, “humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming”. Even President Barack Obama, with his Clean Power Plan, has put himself at the forefront of efforts to reduce emissions and fight climate change, working towards a 32% cut in emissions by 2030 especially through the reduction of carbon dioxide produced by US power stations. In addition, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of “climate justice” and the importance of developing renewable energy in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Italy’s minor islands are facing similar challenges to Hawaii’s. According to a recent Greenpeace report (in Italian), Italians finance an oil-based energy system in the country’s small islands through their electricity bills, which amount to over 60 million euros (over $67 million) a year. The report analyses 20 idyllic tourist destinations – including Lampedusa, Pantelleria, Favignana, Giglio and the Tremiti archipelago – that still cover almost all their energy needs using diesel generators. These islands can also become 100% renewable, what is missing is the political will to do so.
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