Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Slo-Mo or Fast Forward, Hawaii’s Economy Is in a Train Wreck, and We Owe Most of It to Cost of Oil

• May 14 Update: Hawaii foreclosure rate climbs by 218%

How urgent is the necessity to Get Off Oil here in the 50th State? The evidence is everywhere that it can’t happen fast enough.

Two airlines that ferried hundreds of thousands of tourists to Hawaii each year have stopped operations. Passenger arrivals in April were 11.3 percent lower than a year earlier and are projected to be 3 percent lower this year. Hotel bookings were down in March and are expected to nosedive in April and May.

Two of the three major passenger liners that cruised the islands have pulled out. Nordstrom has laid off employees after only two months of operating its only full-service store in the state. AAA reports that Honolulu is the most expensive vacation destination in the country.

And oil hit another new record today -- $126.98 per barrel.

We’re no more an economist than a scientist, but connecting the dots isn’t difficult. The most isolated society on the planet is also the most oil-dependent state in the nation, and Hawaii is succumbing to the effects of out-of-control oil prices.

$200 by Near Year’s?

The common denominator to all this downbeat news is the skyrocketing price of oil. We started this blog just two months ago because oil hit $111 on March 14th. It’s up $16 since then. At this pace, $190 by Christmas is possible.

Economists would say that won’t happen – that you can’t just straight-line the price for the rest of the year based on the past two months. But who’s listening to economists any more?

No amount of marketing Hawaii tourism will offset $200 oil. We’re in a developing train wreck that has injured many Hawaii residents already, with many more to come.

Resetting the Clock

The State government and the U.S. Department of Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding in late January called the Clean Energy Initiative. Its goal is to achieve 70 percent reliance on renewable resources here by 2030.

That goal already may be too conservative, based on what Hawaii’s crippling dependence on oil is doing to our economy. What’s needed is a sense of urgency and cooperation among all the stakeholders to facilitate renewable energy development on an unprecedented scale.

Environmental concerns must be respected…. and (not but) ….developing Hawaii’s abundant renewable resources will in the long run enhance the environment in spectacular ways.

OTEC – the More Equal Resource

A senior advisor to Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle told the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunrise yesterday that the Administration is “neutral” on renewable technologies and is expressing no preference of one over the others.

This blog argues that ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) technology will be the key to getting Hawaii off oil, and we therefore urge government officials here to recalibrate their sights on OTEC’s potential. There’s just not a sense of official urgency we'd like to see as our economy tanks.

For example, although the State will participate in the EnergyOcean 2008 conference in Galveston, TX in June, its posting on the conference website on the Exhibitors page has a “hanging back” quality to it:

“Energy from the ocean is one of the many alternative sources being considered to realize this goal.”

Hawaii is well beyond the “consideration” stage for OTEC. It’s past time to hasten OTEC’s development so it can contribute to base-load electrical generation and thereby loosen oil’s grip on this critical component of our economy.

We have to take that first step to reduce and eventually eliminate oil as the fuel to generate power here. The ocean itself can be that fuel. Finding a replacement for oil to transport people and goods to and from Hawaii will take longer, but first steps are important.

Some train wrecks are worse than others, and we have to stop this one before it becomes a full-blown catastrophe.
• Please visit the Blue Planet Foundation website and view the videos there from the Blue Planet Summit in April 2008.

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