September 21st, 2020
Policy , Press Release
HONOLULU (September 21, 2020)—As wildfires ravaged the western United States and Hurricane Sally battered the southern U.S., Hawaii last week took another step to transition to a clean energy economy and address climate change from across the Pacific. Hawaii will be coal free by 2023. Senate Bill 2629 became law as Act 23 of 2020, committing Hawaii to a future free of climate-changing coal. The new law prohibits issuing or renewing permits for coal power plants after December 31, 2022, and calls for ceasing all coal burning for electricity generation by that date.
“For three decades, dirty coal has been a large part of Hawaii’s electricity generation mix,” said Melissa Miyashiro, Blue Planet Foundation’s Managing Director of Strategy & Policy. “This bill draws a line in the sand and is another step that solidifies Hawaii’s commitment to tackling climate change.”
Blue Planet Foundation—a local clean energy and community activation nonprofit—has advocated since 2013 to ban coal power in Hawaii. This legislative session, Blue Planet worked with Hawaii’s youth on the grassroots effort to pass the law. Blue Planet’s “Climate Crew”—a selected group of Hawaii high school students that develop expertise and civic engagement skills over the course of the program—submitted testimony and attended hearings to urge lawmakers to officially set an end date for coal.
Act 23 hardens Hawaiian Electric’s stated commitment to close down the last coal plant in the islands when its contract for the facility expires. The current power purchase agreement between the coal power plant’s owner, AES, and Hawaiian Electric is set to expire in 2022. Citing its dedication to Hawaii’s 100 percent renewable energy future, the utility has stated that it has no plans to extend or renew the contract.
Yet until last week, nothing in state law prohibited the continued use of coal for electricity generation until 2045, when the state’s electricity mix must be powered fully by renewable energy sources. While the increasing renewable requirements decreased the likelihood that coal will be considered for use in the future, existing laws did not—until now—expressly prohibit its use.
When burned, coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels and is the single largest contributor to the human-made increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Coal, which is primarily carbon, remains a major fuel in global energy systems, accounting for almost 40% of electricity generation and more than 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. In Hawaii, the coal-fired power plant on Oahu (the last remaining in the state) is the second largest point source of the state’s carbon dioxide emissions. In 2018, the coal power plant released nearly 3.1 billion pounds of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.
Carbon emissions from Oahu’s coal plant melt 1.5 square feet of arctic ice every second. What’s more, burning coal emits high amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin, that shows up in fish stocks. Over the last three decades, communities on the west side of Oahu have borne the brunt of the toxic coal ash waste that is dumped at the nearby landfill in Nanakuli. Inhaling coal ash has been linked to respiratory disease and other harmful health impacts.
“The legislature was faced with tough decisions this session, juggling economic recovery with setting the state on course for a more resilient and just future,” added Miyashiro. “We’re grateful that our elected officials are making this statement to the globe that carbon-intensive coal power is at odds with reviving healthy, thriving communities and our planet.” Among the policy’s champions in the legislature was Representative Nicole Lowen, who chairs the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection. Hawaii is one of just a few states in the nation with such a ban on burning coal for power.
Phasing out coal power is a crucial and needed element in humanity’s response to the climate crisis. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 “Special Report on 1.5 Degrees Celsius” found that limiting the earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—believed to be the catastrophic climate threshold—would mean a complete phase-out of the use of coal for electricity generation globally.
“The ban on coal is both symbolic and important,” noted Miyashiro. “As we’ve seen with our first-in-the nation 100 percent renewable energy mandate from 2015, our leadership in Hawaii can inspire action beyond our shores. With the coal ban, Hawaii is yet again sending a signal to the globe that we’re committed to a future without fossil fuels, for the benefit of our local communities and humanity as a whole.”
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