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Hawaii shuts down last coal-fired power plant

Hawaii closed its last coal-fired power plant on Thursday. This is an important milestone in the state’s ambitious efforts to move to 100% renewable energy by 2045.

The AES Hawaii power plant, located near Kalaeloa in southwestern Oahu, provided more than 11% of the state’s electricity in 2021, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

“It’s really about reducing greenhouse gases,” Democratic Gov. 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.”

Coal-fired power plants across the United States are being squeezed by cheaper natural gas, cleaner renewable energy, and stricter emissions regulations, and are unable to supply electricity. Fewer than 270 coal-fired power plants remain in the country. More than 600 people have retired in the last 20 years.

Hawaii has been working towards an energy sector powered entirely by renewable energy by 2045, a goal established in state law in 2015. Congress also passed an ambitious environmental measure in 2020 to ban the use of coal for energy production from 2023. In recent years, the state has turned to solar power, with nearly a third of the state’s single-family homes having rooftop solar panels.

But the transition to renewable energy is complicated by the challenges of the pandemic and global energy crisis.

Earlier this year, Hawaii’s electricity bill was already three times the U.S. average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. One reason is that the state relied heavily on burning oil, much of which was imported from Russia, for power generation. Transportation costs are cheaper than natural gas.

In the first months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, residential electricity bills rose nearly 62% year-on-year, according to data from Hawaiian Electric, Ukraine’s largest electricity company.

According to a Hawaiian Electric news release, the closure of the state’s last coal-fired power plant has increased customer electricity bills by 7% since October, with a typical customer using 500 kilowatt-hours per month of It will be about $15. Democratic Sen. Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism and Technology, criticized the decision to close the factory.

“We made a transition that we were completely unprepared for,” Wakai said. He added that the short-term consequences would be “disastrous” for the people of Oahu.

A combination of supply chain issues, permitting delays and other bureaucratic hurdles are slowing progress on renewable energy projects that could replace Oahu’s coal energy. Many of them could come online as early as the first half of 2023, officials said. Meanwhile, energy suppliers will become more dependent on oil.

While there will be negative short-term consequences, closing coal plants will move the state toward energy resilience and independence in the long run, proponents of the decision say.

Democrat Nicole E. Loewen, Chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee, said: “Then we are at the mercy of a global market that is beyond our control.”

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