Sunday, March 1, 2009

Federal Help Needed To Speed Hawaii Renewables

Hawaii’s renewable energy industry is going to require major federal investment to realize its full potential.

Private investment has stepped up to develop wind farms and solar arrays primarily in Maui and Hawaii counties. But the ocean’s energy potential is still unrealized despite decades of commitment and research by private industry.

Federal funding for local initiatives is being touted perhaps more than ever in these early days of the Obama Administration, so now’s the time to focus on maximizing federal support. If ocean thermal energy conversion has as much promise as its backers suggest for Hawaii and later the nation, we can’t be satisfied with the slow pace of these private initiatives despite some indications of progress.

Among the states, Hawaii is the nation’s most dependent on fossil fuels – for electricity generation, to ship food and goods to the islands and to transport the millions of tourists who sustain the state’s economy.  (Jay Fidell assesses algae's potential, including as a replacement for jet fuel.)

Oil’s price has been fluctuating between $35 and $45 per barrel, but only eight months ago it was $100 higher. The rising price had already crippled Hawaii tourism, producing double-digit declines in tourist arrivals, and that trend has continued during the recession even as oil prices have fallen dramatically.

What Will You Do?

Hunter Lovins was a featured speaker at the Blue Planet Summit last April. The sustainable development promoter had this sobering challenge for the Hawaii residents in her audience:

"What are you, each one of you, going to do if oil is $300 a barrel? What is it going to do to your family, to your community, to your business, to the economy of these islands? I can guarantee you, you’re not going to have tourists coming here. So what are you going to do?"  

Hawaii must find the fast track to develop all feasible renewable technologies, and that includes the high-cost alternatives like OTEC and initiatives to develop renewable alternatives to jet fuel. We’ve come to believe that only a major federal commitment will put us on that track.

Our government leaders must dedicate themselves to making that happen. Governor Linda Lingle’s piece in today’s Honolulu Advertiser touches on these initiatives.

1 comment:

Jay's Blog said...

Anyone in Hawaii interested in tech or sustainability who misses this event would really be missing the boat. I can't remember seeing a speaker of the magnitude of any of these three appearing in Hawaii recently (if ever), and who knows when we'll get another chance to hear this kind of quality content from three outstanding individuals. Be there!