We need clean energy, and we need it ASAP. There are barriers to getting it done, including permitting, price, land-use issues, energy-water nexus issues, lobbying efforts by the fossil industries and the puppets they install in our government, and more. Capital projects can take years to develop as a result of these obstacles. On any given project, one of these barriers may be the biggest impediment or no impediment at all … it’s very case by case in renewable energy development.
Price is perhaps not the biggest challenge very often, as solar, wind, batteries, and even electric vehicles have all dropped enough in price that they can overcome polluting competitors in terms of cost per kilowatt-hour in most cases. But have you ever seen anything like 1 cent per kilowatt-hour?
The answer, of course, is efficiency. The cheapest kilowatt-hour is the one you don’t use, after all. But what does that mean, exactly, that there’s a price on something that doesn’t exist?
In Hawaii, we have a Public Benefit Fund (PBF), a small line-item surcharge placed on our electric bills. It might be a dime or a nickel on any given bill, but add it up across a state with more than a million residents and a whole lot of tourists on any given day, and the result is a pool of money big enough to do some serious good.
Hawaii Energy, the ratepayer-funded efficiency and conservation program funded by the BPF, conducts everything energy efficiency, from rebates to direct install programs to education. Having a program like this with educated and motivated energy professionals has proven to be a tremendous step forward for Hawaii’s goals of 100% clean energy by 2045. Here’s a look at the challenge facing Hawaii, an island economy largely powered (currently) by fossils.
Moving to 100% Clean Energy
According to the Hawaii State Energy Office:
“From July 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, the program invested over $22 million to deliver more than 1.8 billion kWh in estimated lifetime customer-level energy savings at a rough cost of one cent per kWh. This is equivalent to building a 92 MW solar farm, enough to power 288,000 homes for a year. In addition, this will reduce greenhouse gas [pollution] by nearly 1.5 million tons.” (emphasis mine)
The state is moving the needle on energy in a big way, and efficiency has a huge part to play in that. The primary beneficiaries are, of course, the people of Hawaii. 1.8 billion kWh at our regular electricity rates would cost us $612 million. Investing $22 million seems like a reasonably good idea, no?
Through a combination of Energy Performance Contracts (EPC), direct install efficiency programs, education, and incentives for things like Energy Star refrigerators, Hawaii Energy has helped the residents of Hawaii drop their household energy consumption from an average of 584 kWh per month in 2011 to 482 kWh per month in 2017, roughly a 17.5% drop. This has contributed to a drop in the average residential electric bill from $202 in 2011 to $145 in 2017, a 28% drop, and amounting to a savings of about $700 per year per household.
Saving residents that money means that less money leaves the state to make oil tycoons in Saudi Arabia richer, and more money can circulate (and re-circulate) inside the state’s economy, boosting overall quality of life and economic conditions.
Hawaii spent $22 million to save $612 million for its residents. So … why isn’t every municipality doing this?