Abercrombie said in a speech to a Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon June 24, as reported by the Hawaii Tribune Herald: “The Big Island has the best possibilities in the entire world for alternative energy.”
Is the governor right about the Big Island‘s potential?
In 2008, Hawaii formed a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy creating the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which “aims to transform Hawaii into a world model for energy independence and sustainability.”
By 2030, the goal of the initiative is to improve energy efficiency by 30 percent and produce 40 percent of needed energy from renewable sources.
The initiative describes the Big Island’s alternate energy possibilites: “The Hawaii’s Big Island has significant energy-efficiency potential, including capacity for additional solar water heating installations to reduce the island’s electricity demand. It also has the highest renewable energy potential of any of the islands.”
The initiative says that the biggest potential for alternate energy on the Big Island comes in the form of geothermal energy.
Rick Rocheleau, director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, lauds the Big Island’s alternative energy potential, but said there’s an open argument as to what place has the most potential.
“The Big Island certainly has a diversity of resources which makes it an excellent site for alternative energy,” Rocheleau wrote Civil Beat in an email. “Whether it is the best or not is a judgement call and I am sure you could line people up on either side of the argument.”
Rocheleau said the Big Island currently has commercial alternative energy installations including “wind, geothermal, solar (thermal and PV), and some small hydro.”
But he says there is opportunity for more forms of alternative energy yet to be utilized.
“Biomass and biofuels obviously has potential and various developments have been announced,” Rocheleau wrote. “Large scale use of bioenergy is not easy so it will be interesting to see the results of these efforts.”
Lawmakers are aware of alternative energy potential in Hawaii.
Hawaii Revised Statute 196-1 reads: “The State of Hawaii, with its near total dependence on imported fossil fuel, is particularly vulnerable to dislocations in the global energy market. This situation can be changed, as there are few places in the world so generously endowed with natural energy: geothermal, solar radiation, ocean temperature differential, wind, biomass, waves, and currents, which are all potential non-polluting power sources.”
Forbes published an article in 2008, titled, “America’s Best Places For Alternative Energy.”
“In Hawaii, the Puna Geothermal power plant sits about 21 miles south of Hilo on the Big Island on the Kilauea Volcano,” according to the article. “The geothermal plant provides roughly 30% of the Big Island’s power.”
However, nowhere in the article is Hawaii included as the best place, or even among the best places, for alternative energy.
For wind power, Forbes lists Alaska as number one. “The wind is wild in Alaska, and the wildest of all are those whipping over the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula,” the article says. “These unique climatic features make this area the Saudi Arabia of American wind power.”
Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Montana were also included as best places for wind energy.
Despite Hawaii’s mention in the article for geothermal power, it didn’t make Forbes’ list for the best places for geothermal. Nevada took the top spot, followed by Utah, Idaho, Oregon and California.
Solar Energy was a similar story. Forbes ranked Arizona first, New Mexico second, and followed with California, Nevada and Texas. Same with biomass energy, which refers to “any organic feedstock, such as wood, yard waste and agricultural and forest residues, that can be converted into energy through combustion, or converted into a liquid fuel that can be combusted,” according to the article.
Iowa, North Dakota, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina were considered the best places in America for biomass.
The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism claims Hawaii leads the nation in at least one aspect of solar energy.
“Hawaii is the nation’s recognized leader in solar water heating, accounting for over one-third of all systems installed in 2008, according to a study by the Solar Energy Industries Association,” according to DBEDT’s website. “Hawaii’s significant renewable energy resources include: solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, ocean wave and ocean thermal energy.”
But DEBEDT is referring to the state of Hawaii, not the individual island.
Iceland is the place that raises the most questions about Abercrombie’s claim.
“The tiny nation of Iceland is often cited as a model for the world in its use of renewable energy,” Kate Galbraith wrote for The New York Times in 2009. “Virtually all of its electricity comes from dams or geothermal power plants.”
In 2008, Newsweek reported that Iceland produced 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources. It has the goal being carbon neutral and fossil free by 2050, according to the website Nordic Energy Solution.
Hawaii is aiming to reach 40 percent alternative energy — in two decades.
There is a great deal of potential for alternative energy on the Big Island. That’s a fact. But it appears the governor is overreaching when he says it has the best possibilities for alternative energy on Earth.