Every Hawaiian island has its own treasure trove of renewable energy. Maui has magnificant waves; Lanai and Molokai receive those pleasant Pacific winds; the sun bakes both tourists and solar panels in Oahu; biomass from crops and sugarcane grow fast and green in rainy Kauai. And on the Big Island, there's a little bit of everything, including immense geothermal resources.
Combined with the incredible costs of having to import oil and coal resources from afar, Hawaii has every motivation to become energy independent, and do it with its own clean sources. Now under a new agreement between the federal government and the Hawaiian Electric Company, the state is well on its way to leading the entire nation by setting the goal of generating 40% of its power from renewable energy by 2030.
The plan is progressive and optimistic, but it does have its obstacles. For one, the urban sprawl around Honolulu consumes most of the state's energy, and the city's expanse also means that potential renewable energy sources are far away. Currently, each of the state’s six electric grids belongs to its own island and is unconnected to the others, so the plan must involve a comprehensive project to connect via cable all of the islands' energy grids into one.
But most Hawaiian officials believe that they don't have any other choice than to go green and independent. "We don’t have anywhere else to go," Ted Peck, the point man for the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, told the New York Times. Importing fossil fuels from elsewhere would be economic suicide for a state which sits isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When oil prices hit $147 a barrel a year ago, electricity rates on the islands skyrocketed to about five times the national average.
The profound import of becoming energy independent is part of the reason why Hawaiian legislators on all sides are in agreement about the need for generating their own clean energy. The state's governor, Linda Lingle, a Republican, is one of the project's biggest advocates.
Because of its small size and isolation, the pressing need to ween itself from foreign fossil fuels is more pronounced in Hawaii, but ultimately the state, despite its isolation, can be seen as a microcosm of the United States as a whole. The plan could be looked at as an experimental model for the entire nation, especially from the political standpoint of coming together.