Can Hawaii Shake Its Addiction to Big Oil?

Because sharky waters aren’t Hawaii’s only downside.

Welcome to the Aloha State, friends. Enjoy the lush Oahu mountains, the hidden inland waterfalls, the paddle boarding before picturesque sunsets. Enjoy it while you can, that is — because paradise has a problem. We’re thinking of that old saying: Come for the hula, stay for the carcinogens.

Melodramatic as that sounds, Big Oil may be as big a part of Hawaii as the surfing and the volcanic beauty. Sure, air pollution is low — the state consistently ranks among the lowest in per-capita pollution. And no major oil spills have recently damaged local wildlife (in fact, a spill of 1,400 tons of molasses a few years back wreaked much more havoc). But on the oil front, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that:

Hawaii is the most petroleum-dependent state in the nation.

In fact, more than four-fifths of Hawaii’s energy still comes from petroleum. The price is steep: Hawaiians pay the highest electricity costs in the nation, and the state spends roughly $5 billion per year to import so-called black gold.

President-elect Donald Trump has previously implied that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, and he picked noted climate denier Myron Ebell as the head of his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. But while Trump plans to resist the Paris climate deal — other nations have already said publicly they’ll go at it without the United States — and gut President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, many states are voluntarily setting high goals for alternative energy. Last year, Hawaii became the first to set a deadline for all electric needs to be met by renewable energy sources: 2045. “We have relied on foreign oil to meet our energy demand for far too long,” says U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, an original co-sponsor to a similar federal bill that would aim to have half of electricity nationally come from alternative energy sources by 2030.

hawaii graph

Source Hawaii Department of Business

From an energy standpoint, Hawaii suffers from its remote location that leaves it inaccessible to pipelines or railroads. And it has no petroleum sources of its own, though it does have two crude oil refineries. Transportation costs are the biggest gas guzzler, but electricity is the second-largest. There’s been progress. In 2014, net electricity generation from big bad oil dipped below 70 percent for the first time — impressive considering that number was 90 percent in 2003. By leveraging solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal sources, the state is trying to flip its usage, and in 2015 there were five dozen renewable projects churning away. There were hopes that a 2006 ethanol blending bill would spur an industry based on locally grown feedstocks, but this year the state eliminated its requirement after no ethanol refineries were built. Of course, simply using less energy would dramatically reduce dependency.

Which is why you should make sure to switch the lights off during your next luau-inspired holiday.

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