Hawaii closes its last coal-fired power plant to combat climate change


Hawaii recently shut down its last coal-powered electricity plant, a step forward in the state’s effort to adopt more renewable energy sources and use less fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

The plant, owned by AES Corporation, had operated for 30 years. It generated up to 20% of the electricity on the island of Oahu, which has the highest population in Hawaii. There are around 1.5 million people living in the state.

Hawaii’s Legislature passed a law in 2020, banning the use of coal for energy generation by the beginning of 2023. The state also set the goal to use 100% renewable energy by 2045. It was the first state to make such a goal.

“It really is about reducing greenhouse gases,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And this coal facility is one of the largest emitters. Taking it offline means that we'll stop the 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases that were emitted annually.”

People in the state said that the Hawaiian Islands have been impacted by climate change, including the destruction of coral reefs from warming sea temperatures, sea level rise, intense storms, and drought that is increasing the risk of wildfires in the state.

However, some people are against the idea of closing the coal plant. They say that Hawaii will have to burn more oil without the coal-powered facility, leading to more pollution to the islands. Moreover, the price of oil is currently more expensive than coal, which means that electric bills for Hawaii residents could increase.

Hawaii has the highest cost of living and energy in the U.S. Hawaii Electric Company estimated that consumers’ electricity bills will increase by 7% as a result of eliminating the usage of coal and the increased cost of oil. It later revised down the estimate to 4% due to a drop in oil prices.

Global Energy Monitor, an organization that promotes the use of renewable energy around the world, mentioned that Hawaii is now joining the other 10 states in not using coal to generate power.

There were about 1,100 coal plants in the U.S. in 2001 and more than half of them have stopped operating since then, with most switching to natural gas.

Although about 40% of Hawaii’s power is from sustainable sources including wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy, oil still provides more than half of its electricity.

Republican State Senator Kurt Fevella suggested that some of the increased costs of switching to renewable energy should be covered by Hawaiian Electric Company and other energy providers.

Being the state’s only electricity provider, Hawaiian Electric Company said it can’t do much to change the prices that consumers pay because it does not set prices. Jim Kelly, an official with the company, said, “We don’t make any money on the fuels that we use to generate electricity.”

Scott Glenn, Hawaii’s Chief Energy Officer, said he expects the end of coal and the state’s growing reliance on renewable energy will lead to lower energy prices and more stable and predictable costs, but also less money sent overseas.

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