“This is a matter of energy security for us,” Kaya said. “It doesn’t help that economic issues seriously affect the price of energy here, oil in particular. [However], our potential for clean energy and renewable resources is second to none.”
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz also told legislators and audience members at the Council of State Governments seminar that Hawaii is in a “particularly advantageous” position to innovate in the field of clean energy.
“We’re the most oil-dependent state in the nation,” Schatz said. “While other states are struggling to incentivize clean energy – as fossil fuels are so much cheaper for them – [Hawaii] has no such problem. We’re already paying too much.”
And Robbie Alm, the Executive Vice President of Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) stated that sticking with oil as a primary source of energy made no long-term sense, even for the utility.
“It’s incredibly expensive and not the best business model for us. And the import reality for us isn’t a dedicated pipeline or anything like that – it’s a string of tankers, which sometimes comes from halfway across the world. That’s not a secure energy future, even if it has worked for us so far.”
Hawaii is working closely with development companies and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop these clean energy technologies and infrastructure, which could potentially be used as a “roadmap” for other states (or countries) to follow.
One of the main contractors for construction and design is Boston-based First Wind, which has been responsible for several wind turbine farms across the state, including a facility in Kahuku, Oahu. Paul Gaynor, the CEO of First Wind, says that while clean energy development has been productive, there have been various challenges to address.
“The environmental community in Hawaii is very serious, and if a company doesn’t take it seriously, they won’t have a business here,” he said.
In part due to this pressure, Gaynor and First Wind have made efforts to offset damaging aspects of construction, which can involve having to cut away vegetation for new roads to construction sites and potentially harming native species populations. Gaynor said that they have developed a “Habitat Conservation Plan”, with a goal to provide a net benefit to affected animal species over the lifespan of a population, and also have made efforts to re-plant native flora around construction sites.
And though Hawaii is quickly emerging as a leader for clean energy, Gaynor says there also are a few buzz-worthy technologies that may not work on the islands – at least for now.
“Offshore wind turbine farms would be great, but the ocean here gets so deep so quickly – the technology to accommodate that just doesn’t exist yet,” he said. “That and wave-power harvesting [through buoys that capture kinetic wave energy] sound perfect for Hawaii, but it’s a long ways off.”