Standing in the state Capitol basement is a new symbol that times have changed: an electric vehicle charging station.
Hawaii may have only a few electric cars so far, but state law requires large public parking structures to have at least one charging station. As many as 320 of the 2-foot-tall systems are expected to be installed across the state.
It is part of the answer to the looming crisis of peak oil, which is defined as the time when global oil extraction reaches its maximum rate and the rate of extraction declines.
Of course, like those who resist the idea of global warming, there are those who scoff at the fears of peak oil. But we aren’t making dinosaurs anymore, and even bellowing "Drill baby, drill!" doesn’t magically make hydrocarbons appear.
For some, the idea of peak oil is still too hard to swallow, but the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its October 2010 "Annual World Report" stated that peak oil actually "arrived in 2006."
Richard Ha, a Big Island farmer and environmentalist, says the Earth is likely approaching or already at a state of peak oil. Yes, he says, there will always be a lot of oil in the ground, but extracting it will cost as much as the oil is worth.
"There will come a time when producing one barrel of oil will cost the same as one barrel is worth," Ha said.
He owns Big Island Hamakua Springs Farms, which produces bananas, lettuce and hydroponic tomatoes. After attending three national conferences on peak oil, Ha is positioning his farm to adjust to the coming changes. For instance, he is considering installing a hydroelectric generator on his farm to produce the power it needs.
Ha is also co-chairman of the legislative-mandated geothermal working group, which earlier this year published an interim report urging the development of geothermal energy here.
"Geothermal is one of Hawaii’s main energy building blocks," Ha writes, noting that it compares favorably with solar and wind energy.
Another energy expert, Fereidun Fesharaki, East-West Center petroleum expert and a senior fellow, predicts $200 barrel gallon oil within five years. At that price you will be paying $6 a gallon at the pump.
Fesharaki puts $400 worth of gas in his car every month to power his commute from Mililani. The rational driver should expect to pay between $800 and $1,000 as oil prices continue to rise, he says.
In much of Europe, where gas is already more than $6 a gallon, much of the price is taxes. In fact, Fesharaki suggests that one way to trim our oil addiction is to tax it out of us. Somehow I don’t see that happening, although taxing us into an "oil scared straight" program does have its local supporters.
Meanwhile Hawaii has to come up with the answer to peak oil and its unbending truth that we are just running out of the cheap and affordable oil.
Fesharaki says that the electric car isn’t really the solution because, at least here in Hawaii, charging stations like the one in the Capitol basement are wired into the HECO grid, which gets its power by burning hydrocarbons.
That’s where Ha comes in with his hope that someday we will power our island state with a clean and responsible geothermal program.
It is a tough sell, but one that will become easier the first time it costs you $100 to fill up.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.