By Barbara Kessler

And the greenest state could soon be… No, not California. Not Washington, or Oregon, or Colorado.

It’s Hawaii!

Or at least it could be. Maybe. The islanders have plantation-sized plans for moving off fossil fuels and into clean energy. Their goal: Meet 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs with clean energy sources like solar and wind power by 2030. That’s a bigger reach than any other state has taken, or feels able to take.

Across the country, 24 states have set firm goals for adding renewable power to their energy portfolio. Another four states have non-binding goals for their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), as they’re called.
Most of these look to increase the amount of  renewable energy to 10 to 30 percent of the total used by the state by 2015 or 2020.

Hawaii is leap-frogging those benchmarks as part of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, a partnership  between the state and the federal government to make Hawaii a model of clean energy usage. Announced early this year, the partnership was in the news again this week as Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, urged the project forward.

“It’s not going to be easy, but we must do it, because of all the 50 states in the union, our state is the most vulnerable,” Inouye told the AP this week. “We have no fossil fuels, so we have to manufacture our own energy.”

By vulnerable, he was referring to more than Hawaii’s isolation. If global warming continues apace, the seas are expected to rise not just by inches but by a couple feet over this century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC recently revised upward its estimations of how soon melting Arctic ice will forcing those rising sea levels, which are expected to inundate coasts from Florida to Hawaii to Indonesia.

In addition, the state’s electricity provider, Hawaiian Electric Co., is promising to not build any new coal plants – another rare move — that jumps it ahead on the green-meter by skipping lengthy debates about whether the coal plants can be converted affordably to “clean coal.”

Hawaii hopes to convert existing fossil fuel generators once used to process coal into biofuel producing machinery, using local crops to make biofuels.

Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standards are detailed on the website of the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. The program calls for development of biomass, geothermal and hydropower, as well as ocean thermal energy conversion, solar energy, wave power generation and wind power. The model project is expected to reduce Hawaii’s demand for oil by 72 percent, according to the US Department of Energy.

Hawaii, with its pounding surf, sunny climate and agriculture has access to a panoply of renewable energy options, and federal officials believe tests there will assist those stateside in moving to cleaner methods. The government has pledged to provide advisors to help start private-sector projects in Hawaii, but press releases do not say how many federal dollars have been appropriated for the partnership.

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