Former Vice President Al Gore and other national environmental leaders will be scuttling around Honolulu this week. But don’t expect the glitz and glamour that surrounds most other visiting dignitaries.

No slick black, gas-guzzling SUVs for this crowd. The headliners of Tuesday’s “Ascent: Energy and Sustainability” conference will be getting around in electric and hybrid vehicles, according to Gordon Grau, director of the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, which is hosting the event with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.

And when it comes to speaking fees — Gore is known for raking in $100,000 a speech — there will be none.

“None of the speakers are charging anything for their participation,” said Grau.

The relative austerity underscores the theme of the conference: to help build a secure water and energy future for Hawaii in the midst of global warming and threatened natural resources.

“The idea is that we are facing a number of major challenges toward living sustainably in Hawaii, and the world today, for that matter,” said Grau. “But with hard work and creativity we can address and solve the challenges so our children and grandchildren can have a world worth living in.”

“This is not a pessimistic enterprise. It’s identifying the challenges and coming up with means to address those challenges.”

Schatz and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, are slated to give the opening speeches at UH Manoa’s Mae Zenke Orvis Auditorium. Up to 400 people, half of whom are high school and college students from around the state, are expected to attend the event.

“We didn’t want this meeting to be the same old people,” said Grau. “Obviously, many of the leaders are active in our community, we certainly wanted them to participate. But one of the prime foundation stones was to invite students.”

The senators’ opening remarks will be followed by a roundtable discussion that includes both local and national experts in sustainability issues.

Local participants include Kyle Datta, co-founder of Ulupono Initiative, Hermina Morita, chair of Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and Stephen Meder, assistant vice chancellor of physical, environment and long-range planning at UH Manoa.

They’re expected to be joined by Bruce Karas, vice president of environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola’s North America operations and Geoffrey Anderson, president of Smart Growth America.

The roundtable will be moderated by Schatz.

In the afternoon, conference attendees plan to join working groups focused on issues of energy and water resources, building and designing sustainable communities and financing public-private partnerships.

Hawaii’s stature as a hub of renewable energy and innovation has been rising in recent years, in part because of the 2008 Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. The state boasts a geothermal plant, six wind farms and biodiesel facilities, and leads the nation in the amount of solar installed per capita. The state has also been a center for research into more cutting-edge technologies, including ocean thermal energy conversion and wave energy, as well as advanced biofuels.

The conference will draw on Hawaii’s expertise in this area, but also in the area of water resources, which UH’s Sea Grant program has excelled in nationally, said Grau.

He said threats to the islands’ water resources are becoming increasingly serious with overdevelopment and climate change. For instance, water levels in some of Oahu’s aquifers are down significantly, and there are signs that salt water is contaminating the fresh water supply.

“On Oahu, we’re much closer to limits on the water supply than most people realize,” said Grau. “We are writing checks on a bank account that we don’t know the size of.”

Gore is scheduled to speak at the end of the day, at the Stan Sheriff Center, where more than 9,000 people have reserved seats for the event. Event organizers say all the tickets — which were free — have been taken.

Since his vice presidency and failed presidential bid, Gore has become an international leader on issues of global warming and renewable energy, winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A darling of the left, Gore has also been criticized by conservatives as a “carbon billionaire,”, a dig at financial success he’s seen from investments in green technology companies that were helped along in part by federal grants.

Gore’s speech is being sponsored by the Stephen and Marylyn Pauley Seminar in Sustainability.

On Wednesday, Schatz is set to end the conference with a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Schatz is a member of that committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Water and Power. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the East-West Center.

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