Climate

Hawaii’s Going 100 Percent Renewable, And It’s Not Using Natural Gas As A ‘Transition’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Caleb Jones

One out of every eight homes in Hawaii has solar.

Hawaiian Gov. David Ige said this week he opposes plans to use liquefied natural gas as a “transitional fuel” for the island state as it moves to 100 percent renewable electricity. Ige said investment in infrastructure for LNG — or any fossil fuel — was misplaced, and he expressed doubt that there would be any monetary benefits to LNG proposals.

“LNG is a fossil fuel. LNG is imported. And any time or money spent on LNG is time and money not spent on renewable energy,” Ige told the audience at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit and Expo in Honolulu on Monday night.

The governor’s remarks are especially significant because Florida-based NextEra Energy is trying to purchase Hawaii’s major utilities. NextEra is an electric utility that also produces natural gas, which makes up a large portion of its generation mix.

Hawaii’s public utility corporation (PUC) is currently reviewing NextEra’s bid, after the board of the Hawaiian Electric Companies, which serve most of Hawaii between three providers, approved the deal. Hawaiians have voiced concern that NextEra will transition the state’s power fleet from oil to natural gas. Hawaii gets more of its electricity from oil than any other state — and it has the highest electricity rates.

Natural gas has long been touted as a “transitional” fuel — a lower-carbon option than burning coal that can be used until even lower-carbon options such as wind and solar ramp up. But methane emissions from LNG development, especially fracking, are even more potent than carbon in terms of trapping heat. Many environmentalists argue that the switch to natural gas is not an effective means of addressing climate change. And volatile prices can make installing new natural gas infrastructure risky.

But moving to natural gas might not help lower costs, said State Rep. Chris Lee, chair of Hawaii’s Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection.

“When you factor in infrastructure to make LNG available, it may not pencil out,” he told ThinkProgress. And when you look at LNG’s cost “both economically and environmentally both here and at the source, then it definitely doesn’t pencil out.”

Instead, Lee said, the state should be investing in more renewable energy sources.

“There’s all kinds of new technology and offshore renewables that we can integrate into our grid right now,” he said.

Hawaii is already home to the first grid-tied wave power device, installed earlier this summer. This week, the state added its first modern ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) project, Lee said. OTEC is the process of using the temperature difference between warm and cold ocean water to generate electricity. At the launch of the project, the operators connected houses and charged a Tesla car.

“For the first time, we were watching a car being powered by the ocean,” Lee said. “It was really exciting. This is really the kind of stuff we should be focusing on.”

Hawaii is arguably the most renewable state in the nation. One out of every eight homes has solar power, and the state’s commitment to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 is the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the country.

“We have crazy high penetration with PV,” Lee said. “And there is still so much headroom above that.”

Apparently, the governor agrees.

“When it was first proposed, I was willing to support it as a ‘transitional fuel’ because it had some clear advantages for Hawaii,” Ige said. “Much has changed since then. LNG will no longer save us any money. Meeting EPA rules, even assuming the rules do go into effect, can be handled in other ways without huge cost. And the capital plans of those wishing to import LNG are anything but small.”

The PUC is expected to rule on NextEra’s bid in the first half of next year. But first, all during September and October, the commission will hold “listening sessions” across the islands, testing the public’s appetite for an out-of-state, natural-gas affiliated utility.