Hawaii has made halting progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the four years since pledging to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2045.

However, transportation needs remain a major stumbling block to that goal, given the islands’ heavy dependence on fuel-powered cars, buses and planes.

“There is certainly more that needs to be done on transportation because it’s been such a big piece of our carbon emissions locally,” said Melissa Miyashiro, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “We need to go further and we need to go faster.”

Rising seas and increased flooding has affected Hawaii’s coastal highways. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2019

Bills On The Governor’s Desk

While new technology has made electric vehicles cheaper and more accessible, the lack of infrastructure such as charging stations is a problem. The state also faces challenges in converting larger vehicles like school buses, public transportation, planes and ships to zero emissions.

Hawaii remains dependent on petroleum products – one of the state’s main imports – for energy needs, according to a 2020 report from the Hawaii State Energy Office. In 2018, petroleum products made up 84% of the state’s energy consumption.

The Legislature passed several measures during this year’s session aimed at addressing those issues and achieving the 2045 climate goal. The governor must now approve or reject the bills.

Miyashiro and other advocates called it an important step but stressed the challenge is the need to implement the policies.

“I’m hopeful that these conversations will see more and more clean transportation bills being considered every year,” Miyashiro said.

Clean Transportation Commitment

The centerpiece of the clean transportation legislation passed this year was Senate Bill 3311, which commits the state to eliminating greenhouse gases across the transportation sector — on the ground, at sea and in the air.

Ige has until June 27 to declare his intent to veto legislation.

If the bill becomes law, it would create working groups tasked with developing plans to achieve zero emissions for interisland transportation and to increase sales of electric vehicles in the state.

Sen. Chris Lee, who introduced the bill, said it was designed to help Hawaii reach its 2045 goal, although there’s no deadline for when the transportation sector should make the switch to clean energy.

“Before we didn’t have a framework for how transportation is going to get there, and it’s important because transportation is still the single largest source of emission in the state and the fastest rising element of the cost of living for local residents,” said Lee, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.

A bill awaiting Gov. David Ige’s signature would commit Hawaii to eliminating greenhouse gases across the transportation sector, including planes. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2020

Lee also said that the bill is designed to bring together the private sector, the state and other stakeholders in developing “cleaner and cheaper” transportation initiatives.

The interisland transportation working group will include the director of the state Department of Transportation, the Hawaii State Energy Office chief energy officer, the county mayors and representatives from the cruise line industry, an entity involved in developing sustainable transportation solutions, the Honolulu harbor users group and other stakeholders.

The electric vehicles sales growth working group will include the transportation department director, the Hawaii State Energy Office chief energy officer, the county mayors and representatives from the automobile dealers association, public utilities, the electric vehicle industry and the ground transportation industry.

Dave Rolf, executive director of Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, said the measure comes at a “pivotal time” as EV registrations in the state have increased.

More than 19,200 electric vehicles registered in the state in April – up 33.7% from the same month last year, according to a monthly energy trends report from the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism.

“It brings stakeholders to the table, and the Hawaii auto dealers, because they work with customers, have an enormous amount of data about electric vehicle uptake and what customers are looking for,” Rolf said.

Another measure set an even more ambitious goal to help achieve the state’s 2045 goal. House Bill 1800 would create a limit to statewide greenhouse gas emission to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. It also appropriates funds for the state’s energy office to conduct a study for determining pathways to decarbonization.

Moving Forward

Hawaii must focus more on “decarbonizing the transportation sector” in order to reach its clean energy goal no later than 2045, according to a 2021 report from the Hawaii State Energy Office.

“In 2017, emissions from transportation activities were 8.98 million metric tons CO2 (carbon dioxide) equivalent, accounting for 51% of energy sector emissions,” the report said. “Ground transportation accounted for 47% of those transportation emissions.”

Other measures that are awaiting the governor’s signature would create a rebate program for electric mopeds and bicycles and allow new electric vehicle charging stations with a single port to qualify for rebate.

EV Electric car charging at Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Some advocates have questioned if Hawaii will provide enough charging stations for electric vehicles. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Hawaii’s Chief Energy Officer Scott Glenn said it’s important for the state to make clean transportation accessible to residents.

Transitioning to clean transportation involves a holistic and thoughtful approach to address all forms of transportation, ranging from avoiding using energy to travel in the first place, such as by walking or bicycling, to the best, cleanest, and most efficient fuel sources for all vehicles ranging from electric bicycles to passenger cars and trucks, and even ships and aircraft,” Glenn said in a written statement.

When it comes to transportation it’s not an isolated issue, according to Kathleen Rooney, director of transportation policy and programs at Ulupono Initiative, a Hawaii-based organization that advocates for renewable energy and reducing waste.

“Electrification of transportation, which is historically where a lot of the state focus has been, continues to move along,” Rooney said.

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