Governor David Ige on Monday signed into law four bills he says will advance Hawaii's position as a leader in renewable energy.
House Bill 623, one of the measures signed into law by Governor Ige, focuses on what's being called the most aggressive clean energy goal in the country: Hawaii seeks to become completely energy self-sustaining, using 100 percent renewable sources, by 2045.
"As the most oil dependent state in the nation, Hawaii spends roughly $5 billion a year on foreign oil to meet its energy needs," Governor Ige said. "Making the transition to renewable, indigenous resources for power generation will allow us to keep more of that money at home, thereby improving our economy, environment and energy security."
The law greatly expands the state's previous mandate of being 70 percent self-sustaining by 2030. Legislators say the law was passed, in part, to help eliminate Hawaii's high-priced reliance on oil, more than 40 million barrels of which are imported every year for energy production alone.
Sustainable energy advocates say law will help Hawaii transition from being the most oil dependent state in the U.S. to one of the greenest.
"100% clean energy. No more importing fossil fuels," said Richard Wallsgrove, the program director for the Blue Planet Foundation. "No more paying for that through the nose when the price goes up, no more inflicting environmental damage around the world on climate, on ground water, and on those sorts of things."
Hawaii is the first state in the country to set such an ambitious target, though officials say achieving it will require considerable effort.
"It's not going to be easy. It's going to require sacrifices," said Randy Iwase, Chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. "It's going to be asking a lot of communities where solar farms are located, wind farms are located, geothermal production is located, that these are important for us if we're going to move forward toward that goal."
Despite the challenges, it's a goal that is attainable with the cooperation of all key players, including the state's energy utility, which supports the legislation.
"The great thing about what the state has done to help set this up is a regulatory principle called de-coupling," said Jim Alberts, Senior Vice President of Customer Service for the Hawaiian Electric Company. "We no longer earn based on the energy that we sell. It's a function of the investments that we make, so for us, we're really in this just as much as everybody else."
"The law sets benchmarks that require the state to be at 30 percent renewable within five years, and 70 percent renewable by 2040. Clean energy advocates say the law revolutionizes clean energy initiatives.
"It's going to be a filter on all kinds of energy policy making decisions from the government, from utilities and from consumers," said Mark Duda, Hawaii P.V. Coalition President. "Until we actually reach this goal, it's going to start eliminating bad choices quickly and drive everything towards these good choices."
Hawaii residents typically pay between two and three times the national average for electricity, but officials believe the addition of new renewable energy resources will help stimulate price decreases, reducing the state's reliance on the more than $4 billion spent annually on imported oil.
In addition to the 100 percent renewable energy measure, Governor Ige also signed into law measures that provide for community-based renewable energy farms and set net-zero energy goals for the University of Hawaii System.