Late last month, renewable energy advocates scored a huge win in Hawaii, where Governor David Ige announced that the state would not be using natural gas as part of its plan to replace the state’s petroleum-powered electricity plants by 2045.
The bold announcement excites the clean energy crowd, as it goes beyond many other plans by rejecting natural gas as a “transition fuel.” Natural gas, while widely perceived as an improvement over coal and petroleum (as it produces roughly half as much carbon dioxide as coal, per unit), still produces a fair amount of carbon dioxide.
Advocates of natural gas have argued that the energy represents a substantial improvement over petroleum and coal. Furthermore, natural gas advocates claim that swithing to natural gas is more affordable than switching to renewable energies (like solar, wind, and hydro). While this is (at least arguably) true, Gov. Ige made an important—and often overlooked—point about why investing is renewable energy sources makes sense.
“LNG [liquefied natural gas] is a fossil fuel. It is imported. And any time or money spent on [natural gas] is time and money not spent on renewable energy,” Ige said.
In addition to noting that natural gas still emits significant levels of dangerous greenhouse gases, Ige combatted the notion that natural gas is more financially responsible than renewables. Natural gas would not, he said, save the state money over time, given the increasingly falling prices of renewable energies. Furthermore, Ige argued that any money spent retooling electric plants to run on gas would be money better spent on long-term solutions, not a short-term band-aid.
This matters because instead of kowtowing to common “wisdom,” Ige is taking Hawaii on a bold, comprehensive path that puts the state on the forefront of the renewable energies movement.
I don’t live in Hawaii. Why does this matter to me?
Alright—that’s all well and good, but why should non-Hawaiians care?
It’s important to note that that Hawaii is currently the largest user of oil for energy in the United States. For a state with that distinction to make serious moves toward dumping its reliance on petroleum sets a substantial example for the rest of the country.
More importantly, however, Ige’s announcement is an important step in creating greater equity in renewable energy usage.
Currently, many government approaches toward cultivating renewable energy usage involve incentivizing installation by private citizens and companies. This puts the onus (and the price tag) of going green on individuals, meaning that only relatively wealthy people can reap the benefits of renewable energy.
The upfront costs of renewables (such as installing solar panels on your home) are high, making them unattainable for many people.
When local, state, and national governments make concerted efforts toward greening the grid, on the other hand, they can power the whole the whole grid in a more sustainable way. This way, everyone experiences the benefits of renewable energy, regardless of their ability to pay for renewables out of their own pockets.
It’s great that people want to—and can afford to—reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, but larger-scale action like what we’re seeing in Hawaii helps to bring the benefits of renewables even to those who can’t afford them.
Canton Winer is a recent graduate of Fordham University and is currently based out of West Palm Beach, Florida. He has worked as a Collegiate Correspondent for USA TODAY and is the former Managing Editor of The Fordham Ram. Check out his digital portfolio, or follow him on Twitter: @CantonWiner.