Hawaii quits coal to fight climate change

HONOLULU (AP) — The last bits of ash and greenhouse gases from Hawaii’s only remaining coal-fired power plant slipped into the environment this week when the state’s dirtiest power source burned its last fuel. rice field.

The last shipment of coal arrived in the islands at the end of July, and the AES Corporation coal plant closed Thursday after 30 years of operation. The facility produced one-fifth of his electricity for Oahu, Oahu’s most populous island with a population of about 1.5 million.

“It’s really about reducing greenhouse gases,” Hawaii Governor David Ige said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And this coal facility is one of his biggest sources of emissions. Taking it offline means stopping his 1.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.”

Like other Pacific islands, the Hawaiian Islands have experienced the cascading effects of climate change.State is experiencing coral reef destruction From bleaching due to rising sea temperatures and rapid sea level rise rising, more violent storms Drought Is Increasing State Wildfires dangerous.

In 2020, the Hawaii Legislature passed a law banning the use of coal. Hawaii has mandated a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045 and was the first state to set such a goal.

But critics say ending the state’s dirtiest energy source would ultimately be a good move, but doing it now would not. Renewable energy sources to replace coal energy are not yet operational due to supply chain issues. So states instead burn more expensive oil, which is slightly less polluting than coal.

“If you believe climate change is coming to an end now that we have closed this coal plant, today is a great day for you,” said the head of the Economic Development, Tourism and Technology Commission. said Democratic Senator Glenn Wakai. “But if you pay your electricity bill, today will be a miserable day for you.”

The demise of coal and the added cost of oil will lead to higher electricity bills for consumers already facing the highest energy and living costs in the country. The Hawaiian Electric Company had forecast that toll payer bills would increase by 7%, but revised it to 4% on Thursday due to lower oil prices.

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“What we are doing is … moving from the cheapest fossil fuel to the most expensive fossil fuel,” Wakai said. “And then you’re going to face geopolitical issues around oil pricing and access to oil.”

The closure of the AES coal plant means Hawaii joins 10 states without a major coal plant, according to data from Global Energy Monitor, a nonprofit advocating a global transition to clean energy. To do. Rhode Island and Vermont had no coal-fired power plants.

Hawaii is the first state to fully implement a coal ban, although several other states have passed laws before. Her 2015 law in Oregon, which first passed the ban, won’t go into effect until 2035. Washington’s 2020 coal ban begins in 2025. California, Maine, and Texas are among the states restricting the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

The number of coal-burning units in the United States peaked at about 1,100 in 2001. Since then, more than half have ceased operations, with most switching to more cost-effective natural gas.

By 2021, nearly two-thirds of Hawaii’s electricity will come from oil, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. This makes Hawaii the most oil-dependent state despite attempting a rapid transition to renewable energy.

Hawaii already derives about 40% of its electricity from sustainable sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Kurt Fevera has proposed that Hawaiian Electric Company and other energy companies should shoulder the additional costs of the transition to renewable energy.

“While Hawaiian homes are already doing what they need to do to reduce their energy use, the fact that they pay the highest household electricity bills in the country is unsustainable,” said Fevella. . “Utility companies like HECO believe they can do more to alleviate the energy burden that is passed on to Hawaii rate payers, but renewable energy project developers also have a greater share of transmission costs. I think we should pay for it partly.”

Hawaiian Electric Company, the state’s primary electricity distribution company, said it could do little to change prices to consumers.

“We are a regulated monopoly,” said Jim Kelly, Vice President of Government and Community Relations and Corporate Communications. ‘ So we don’t set a price. We do not profit from the fuel we use to generate electricity. ”

Hawaii’s last coal-fired power plant operator, AES has moved to clean energy creation and is working on large-scale solar power plants statewide, including one on West Oahu.

Leonardo Moreno, President, Clean Energy Division, AES Corporation, said: “I envision a future where energy is very cheap, abundant and renewable.”

Sustainable energy experts say getting rid of coal is key to curbing climate change. The current renewable environment isn’t perfect, they say, but the technology is improving.

Makena Coffman, professor at the University of Hawaii and director of the Institute for Sustainability and Resilience, said: “And these are available technologies that may improve over time, but let’s not wait 10 years.”

Profits from higher electricity bills to Hawaii consumers will go primarily to overseas oil producers, said Scott Glenn, Hawaii’s chief energy officer.

Hawaii’s oil is marketed by Par Pacific, a Houston-based company that has traditionally sourced the state’s oil from Libya and Russia. However, after the Ukrainian invasion, Hawaii stopped shipping oil from Russia and replaced it with products from Argentina.

Extending the operation of coal-fired plants would be complicated and costly, Glenn said, adding that the plants have been planning decommissioning for years and are now buying coal at market prices. pointed out that it was necessary.

“Coal is going up. It’s getting more expensive,” he said of the supply Hawaii gets from Indonesia’s clear-cut rainforests. not be a useful source of energy.”

Why would Hawaii, a small US state in the middle of the Pacific, try to lead the transition to sustainable energy?

“We are already feeling the effects of climate change,” Glenn said. “If we are not willing and able to act on our own, it is neither fair nor right to ask other countries and states to act on our behalf. .”


The story has been modified to show that HECO is the primary distributor in the state, rather than the sole distributor. Kauai County has its own co-op.


Associated Press data journalist Mary Katherine Wildman of Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.


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