Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sustainable energy sources from mostly rural Hawaii fuel the state's urban consumption

Felicity Barringer reports in today's New York Times from Naalehu, Hawaii, a census designated place with a population of 919, which Barringer characterizes as "the southernmost corner" of the United States. Naalehu, on Hawaii's Big Island, is home to one manifestation of the state's effort to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels: a wind farm. Barringer reports on other efforts on six of the the state's islands:

Every island has at least one energy accent: waves in Maui, wind in Lanai and Molokai, solar panels in Oahu and eventually, if all goes well, biomass energy from crops grown on Kauai. Here on the Big Island of Hawaii, seawater is also being converted to electricity.

Still, the state faces enormous challenges in delivering the power to the people who need it. While the urban sprawl around Honolulu consumes the bulk of the energy, most potential renewable sources are far from the city, 150 miles southeast or 100 miles to the northwest.
Barringer explains that each of the state's islands has its own electric grid. One of the goals over the next two decades is to connect these grids with undersea cables. Barringer references the spatial challenges associated with the state's physical geography, saying that "Hawaii's essentially rural nature," as well as "the scope of the challenge" of greater energy independence, are evident from "[h]opscotching around this brightly colored archipelago by plane."

Hmmm. I've been to the state just once and visited only two of Hawaii's islands (Kauai and Maui), and while one can drive long stretches along two-lane roads and visit relatively isolated nature reserves and parks, it's still difficult for me to think of the state as rural when its economy is so dominated by tourism, resorts and the sophisticated urban culture they foster.

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