Column: Use of fossil gas undermines Hawaii’s clean-energy goals
As hurricanes and record high temperatures remind us of the consequences of climate change, Hawaii Gas is advocating to keep Hawaii addicted to fossil fuel for decades into the future.
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As hurricanes and record high temperatures remind us of the consequences of climate change, Hawaii Gas is advocating to keep Hawaii addicted to fossil fuel for decades into the future. Its opposition to modernizing our building energy code could saddle future homeowners and renters with tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary monthly gas bills. Our planet, and Hawaii’s residents, simply can’t afford it.
Bill 25, currently before the City Council, is a long overdue update to Oahu’s 13-year-old energy code. Blue Planet Foundation strongly supports this common-sense measure to greatly improve the efficiency of new homes and buildings, helping us achieve our low-cost, low-carbon future.
Bill 25 is largely focused on energy efficiency, and ensures that new single-family homes will come equipped with renewable or smart water heaters. Solar water heating is the best option, which is why Hawaii leads the nation in its use.
But the proposed new code wisely recognizes that solar may not be ideal for everyone. In those cases, another renewable source (including renewable natural gas) can be used to heat the home’s water, or an energy-saving heat-pump or grid-interactive water heater can be installed. Either way, future homeowners and renters will be able to enjoy guilt-free showers.
Bill 25’s new efficiency standards will avoid 5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions while saving Oahu residents and businesses nearly $1 billion over the next 20 years.
Hawaii Gas — owned by international corporate giant Macquarie — objects to this, hoping that new homes will instead burn its polluting gas to heat water (“Hawaii’s energy goals have room for renewable natural gas,” Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, Sept. 3). The company’s marketing claims that natural gas is somehow a “clean” fossil fuel is not only absurd — it’s dangerous. Fossil gas has a significant climate footprint. Peer-reviewed research shows that natural gas has a worse climate impact than coal when methane leaks are considered.
It’s also expensive. Last year, island residents paid over four times the national average for residential gas.
Instead of fighting a policy to make living more affordable, Hawaii Gas could be innovating to remain relevant in our carbon- constrained future. Gas utilities around the world are exploring ways to replace their fossil gas with renewable feedstocks and hydrogen gas. In the United Kingdom, three natural gas distributors have detailed plans to convert the U.K.’s residential gas system to a hydrogen delivery system. Renewable hydrogen could be the key puzzle piece to store clean energy through long periods of cloudy or windless days. Hawaii Gas is well-positioned to provide this solution. By embracing innovation, it can ensure a healthy future for its customers — and its hardworking employees.
Hawaii Gas once understood this. One decade ago, the company set a goal to be 50% renewable by 2015. It was seeking to innovate and expand beyond selling fossil fuel. A 2009 Honolulu Advertiser article (“Gas Company Sets Plans to Turn Fat Into Fuel,” Nov. 22, 2009) discussed how the renewable gas proposal may actually lower prices for Gas Company customers, and how the company was looking into producing renewable hydrogen for transportation and fuel cells. This goal was later abandoned.
Unlike our electric utilities, Hawaii Gas today refuses to commit to any percentage of renewable gas, fighting such requirements at the Legislature. It shows. While renewable energy use for electricity grows by leaps and bounds, only 3% of Hawaii Gas’ supply is renewable, according to the company’s most recent annual report to the Public Utilities Commission.
That’s not good enough. Bill 25 is necessary to ensure that future homes aren’t stuck with fossil gas water heaters.
The race to solve our climate crisis will be won or lost on issues like this — small as it may seem. Blue Planet Foundation urges Councilmembers to support Bill 25 with its requirement for renewable and high-efficiency water heaters, for our families and for our future.
Jeff Mikulina is executive director of Blue Planet Foundation.