Achieving what many once thought impossible, Hawaii is the first state requiring electric utilities to generate 100 percent of their power from renewable energy. Governor Ige has signed the new bill into law triggering a 30-year countdown to 2045, by which time Hawaii utilities must eliminate their use of fossil fuels.

Locally, this dramatic shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy will mean big savings for Hawaii consumers, a boost to our economy, and a cleaner future for our next generation. But perhaps equally important, an entire state abandoning fossil fuels may signal to the rest of the nation that the climate debate is over and the time for action is now.

Representative Chris Lee before Governor Ige's press conference signing some energy bills into law. 8 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Rep. Chris Lee, left, was the chief architect of the renewable energy bills signed into law this week by Gov. David Ige.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Residents know Hawaii has relied on imported fossil fuels more than any other state just by checking their electric bills. Just 10 years ago imported fossil fuels accounted for 90 percent of our energy, contributing to electricity prices three times the national average, stifling business and raising the cost of living.

Since then, we have already more than doubled our renewable energy production which has begun to boost the economy and save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. Beginning to replace fossil fuels with renewables saved $67 million, or about $150 per household, in 2012 alone.

Forcing the utilities to invest in renewable energy projects also created a booming new renewable energy industry. It has been the fastest-growing sector of Hawaii’s economy producing thousands of new jobs and accounting for up to a quarter of all building permits in recent years.

Over time these economic benefits will only grow. Renewable energy will inevitably beat the price of any fossil fuel because it’s a technology whose cost decreases as it improves, unlike fossil fuels whose cost increases as they become more difficult to extract from a shrinking supply. In fact, renewable solar and wind projects being built around the state today are already producing cheaper power than new fossil fuel projects.

The faster we transition to renewable energy the faster we will save more than $5 billion our local economy loses every year spent importing fossil fuels. But what’s surprising to many is realizing that burning fossil fuels has also been increasing costs to local taxpayers in another way.

Fossil fuel power plants currently pass on more than $330 billion in costs in the form of climate damages and negative health effects, according to one recent study. Hawaii taxpayers are already paying for those passed-on costs as our state and counties have been forced to spend millions every year fighting climate changes such beach erosion accelerated by rising seas, drought from diminishing rainfall, and warmer waters creating increasingly frequent storms and hurricanes. Over 5 inches of sea level rise in recent decades has been a contributor to the erosion of Waikiki Beach, which few realize is now artificial. Without costly sand replenishment, losing that beach would mean an estimated $2 billion annual loss to our economy. Adapting to these and other climate changes to protect our economy and way of life will end up costing Hawaii billions, so it’s common sense that we stop burning fossil fuels which is contributing to the problem.

Here in the islands we have been among the first to feel the effects of climate change and understand the urgent need to take action. In a single decade we have evolved from the state most reliant on fossil fuels to the nation’s most aggressive renewable energy producer, now on track to be 100 percent renewable in just 30 years.

Our state’s progress demonstrates to the rest of the county that the inevitable transition to renewable energy is technologically achievable and is becoming increasingly economically beneficial. However, at the national level Congress remains divided on our nation’s energy future. What’s needed now is bold leadership.

Hawaii’s 100 percent renewable bill passed the legislature 74-2 in an unparalleled demonstration of bipartisan political support. It’s time for our national leaders to join us in setting partisan politics aside and take action to move our country beyond fossil fuels. It is an unprecedented opportunity to save consumers money, create new jobs, and protect our next generation from the growing costs of climate change. With leadership and political will it can be done. Hawaii is already proving it.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author