The state of Hawai’i has broken new ground in the United States’ project to build a truly secure, sustainable energy economy. By a vote of 74 to 2, the State Legislature passed a first-in-the-nation bill, mandating 100% renewables by the year 2045. The binding target applies to electric utilities, and sets a steady increase in the rate of renewables that must be used, along the way to 100% carbon-free electricity 3 decades from now.
Hawai’i has been a leader in setting clear and aggressive standards for renewable energy production. The state currently supplies 22% of its electricity with renewable sources of energy. The newly passed 100% renewables target calls for 30% by 2020 and 70% by 2030. The clear mandate for a comprehensive shift to 100% renewable sources of energy sends a signal to businesses and investors: put money into renewables in Hawai’i, and you have a future market that can make you money.

Evan Weber, US Climate Plan Executive Director—himself a native Hawai’ian—released this statement in response to the historic legislation:

Hawai’i is leading the way towards a world powered by 21st century clean and renewable energy. As someone born and raised in the island state, and someone who still calls it home, it’s personally exciting for me to see Hawai’i lead, but this is an important victory for all of us fighting for a future free from the burdens and dangers of fossil fuels. Given Hawai’i’s many unique technical challenges and limitations in electricity generation because of its isolated island grids, the passage of this bill shows people everywhere that the obstacles to a renewable energy transition are not technological—they are purely political. With the right policies in place, we can make this transition in every state across the nation.

The significance of this policy change is real, far-reaching and historic. The United States puts a lot of leadership in the hands of the states, and often benefits from the hot contest of ideas that emerges from both local political efforts and from the competition between states as policy laboratories. Hawai’i is setting a new standard for ambition, optimism, and innovation. By committing to a 100% clean electricity sector, Hawai’i is committing to be a leader in building the future economy everyone around the world will be competing to build, lead and prosper from.

The state is also changing the landscape for future investment. Now, Hawai’i is a first point of reference when one thinks about where to aim investment that will go to future energy tech and low-carbon investments in the US. That means an indirect price signal on energy: it will become increasingly profitable to put money into alternatives in Hawai’i, making clean investment a better bet than before.

The move will also help Hawai’i achieve energy independence. As reported by Scientific American:

The state’s goal, according to the bill, is to stop importing fuel. The state imports about 93 percent of all its energy, making its residential electric power rates among the most expensive in the nation—about 175 percent of the U.S. average. Already, the state gets about 22 percent of its electricity from renewables, mostly from wind and solar.

Let’s see what other states will do to catch up and how the U.S. overall will increase its ambition, now that full decarbonization is happening within our borders. 

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Featured image by Kristin Schippert

Written by Joseph Robertson

Joseph is Global Strategy Director for the non-partisan non-profit Citizens' Climate Lobby. He coordinates the building of CCL's citizen engagement groups on 5 continents, leads the Citizens' Climate Engagement Network and represents CCL in the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, UNFCCC negotiations, and other UN processes. He is a member of the Executive Board of the UN-linked NGO Committee on Sustainable Development-NY and of the Policy and Strategy Group for the World We Want. He is also the founder of Geoversiv.net and the Geoversiv Foundation and the lead strategist supporting the high-level climate dialogue series Accelerating Progress, Advancing Innovation.

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