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Despite Hawaiʻi's clean energy strides, oil keeps its grip on the islands

Carsten ten Brink

Everything we eat, drink, drive, or otherwise use requires power. While Hawaiʻi has made strides to transition its electrical grid to renewable energy, the economy still overwhelmingly relies on fossil fuels.

"When you look at Hawaiʻi's total energy mix, and that's everything, talking about electricity, transportation, all the stuff we use energy for, about 85% of our total energy use comes from petroleum-derived products," said Scott Glenn, the state Chief Energy Officer.

Each year, Hawaiʻi imports roughly 30 million barrels of oil to meet its energy needs.

"There's a pretty regular rhythm of every two weeks, 10 days to two weeks, we have an oil tanker pulling up off the shore of Oʻahu and unloading oil," Glenn said.

Without those regular shipments, life as we know it would grind to a halt. The price tag for this oil dependence? Glenn says the floor is $3 billion.

"Every hotel room, rental car, tourist and a restaurant, all that economic activity adds up to about $17 billion a year. So if you compare that to our energy bill for the state, for our economy, we're spending two or three months of tourism," Glenn said.

"All the tourism in the state is turning around and going to Libya and some of these other countries to bring oil to Hawaiʻi," he added

So how does Hawaiʻi reconcile its dependence on oil with its goals as a leader in the fight against climate change?

"Hawaiʻi having the most aggressive, renewable portfolio standard goals, and being the most petroleum-dependent state in the country are two things that really go hand in hand," Glenn told HPR.

"We also have an obligation to live the ask we're making the rest of the world. We need the rest of the world to stop using fossil fuels so that we don't drown here in the islands. And should we continue using fossil fuels as well while we're asking the rest of the world to stop doing it?"

Listen to the full interview with Glenn below.

Chief Energy Officer Scott Glenn
The Conversation - June 15, 2022

This interview also aired on The Conversation on June 15, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast.
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