June 12, 2015

Governor Signs Bill Setting Hawaii’s Renewable Energy Goal At 100%

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June 8, 2015 | Duane Shimogawa | Pacific Business News

Earlier this week, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to adopt a 100 percent renewable energy standard. Governor David Ige signed four renewable energy-related bills into law, establishing a 100 percent renewable goal by 2045, with increasingly aggressive intermediate goals in 2020, 2030 and 2040. The other bills address a community-based renewable energy program, hydrogen power projects, and the University of Hawaii’s goal of becoming a net-zero campus by 2035.

Duane Shimogawa wrote for Pacific Business News, “Formerly, the state’s renewable energy goal called for 40 percent clean energy by 2040. Hawaii currently produces about 21 percent of its power from renewable energy.”

There’s a lot that has to happen between putting a renewable energy standard into law and putting it into practice, however, and much of the coverage of Hawaii’s plans have focused on how difficult this could be.

GOOD Magazine, while discussing the legislation when it was initially introduced, noted that, “the state is banking on the as-of-yet nonexistent energy collection, and storage technologies in order to achieve their 2045 goal.”

And in an opinion piece in the New York Times, Lawrence Downes notes that the bill itself contains some important loopholes:

Hawaii deserves credit for trying, but my eyes fell on what seems like an escape hatch in the bill. While the bill calls for punishing utilities that fall short of the green energy requirements, it does not specify any penalties. It also outlines broad reasons the requirements may be waived. Among the many reasons the public utility commission may let a utility off the hook is this:

“Inability to acquire sufficient renewable electrical energy to meet the renewable portfolio standard goals beyond 2030 in a manner that is beneficial to Hawaii’s economy in relation to comparable fossil fuel resources.”

That there is a legislative paraphrase of a well-known Hawaiian pidgin saying, an eloquently condensed version of the serenity prayer, which goes:

“If can, can. If no can, no can.”

While Hawaii is the first state to put a 100 percent renewable standard into law, it’s not the only state with ambitious goals. To see what your state’s renewable energy policies are, check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE).

For background on some of the the technology and policy issues surrounding renewables, see Inside Energy’s series “The Solar Challenge.” Learn more about the electric grid itself, and the growing role of renewables, in our latest series, “Blackout: Reinventing The Grid.”