HONOLULU (CN) — As one of the states consistently ranked at the top of lists for highest cost of living, Hawaii is not much of a paradise to those at risk of being priced out. The rising costs of living in Hawaii are an indicator for how often residents are subject to the whims of foreign markets, supporting the state’s push toward sustainability. Clean energy in particular has seen significant efforts.
Hawaii’s only coal-fired energy plant shut down permanently Sept. 1, as part of the state’s ongoing commitment to clean renewable energy. The closure is a big step toward mitigating Hawaii’s contribution to climate change, but to Oahu residents’ dismay, the shuttering coincided with a concerning rise in electricity costs. Many have struggled to balance doing right for sustainability and the environment and their concerns over the added financial burden on a population already struggling.
The AES-run coal plant, which had supplied one-fifth of Oahu’s electricity since 1992, was the island’s top source of greenhouse gases, with 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per year. A bill passed in 2020 aimed to ban coal for energy production by 2023 and ensured that the plant would not continue to operate past its 30-year contract.
Its closure is a significant part of the state’s pledge to transition away from fossil fuels entirely and to 100% renewable energy by 2045. States like Oregon, which passed the nation's first law banning coal in 2015, and Washington state have also committed to eliminating coal plants within 15 years. Hawaii is only the first of these several states that have also passed similar laws prohibiting or restricting coal burning energy plants to fully implement the ban.
“Coal plants are old, inflexible, outdated technology that you can’t do anything with. It just provides power at the amount it does until it breaks. Whereas solar and batteries are more dynamic, flexible. They don’t have to be 24/7,” said Scott Glenn, the Aloha State’s chief energy officer. “We’re moving toward a portfolio of technologies and resources. We’re not looking to replicate the fossil fuel system with our renewable energy system. We’re looking for a renewable energy system to not only provide power and capacity, but to do a better quality of it. We get higher quality power, more reliable power from renewables than we do from coal.”
A slate of solar and other clean energy projects is in the works too, with estimated completion dates within the next several years.
In the meantime, however, Hawaii remains reliant on other fossil fuels for its electricity needs. Although closure of the coal plant means a significant reduction in harmful emissions, the islands are not yet able to move away from its dependence on foreign oil. Oahu's main electric utility, Hawaiian Electric now relies primarily on imported petroleum to power the island.
Hawaii holds the distinction of being, according to U.S Energy Information Administration data, the most petroleum-dependent state in the nation. Although a cleaner burning fossil fuel than coal, oil is more expensive.
In the month since the closure, Oahu residents have reported increases on their electricity bills, in a state that already claims the highest electricity rates in the U.S. Hawaiian Electric had initially predicted and warned for an $15 increase before the closure, amending that number to $9 as global oil prices dropped.
“This is a critical turning point in the long-term transition of Hawaii’s energy landscape. Unfortunately, the timing has converged with global events that are currently increasing the cost of electricity,” said Shelee Kimura, the president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric said in a statement released prior to the shutdown.