Hawaii is a Postcard from the Future...and the Future is Green

By Maile Kuyper - Taft School

The Green New Deal has been a controversial topic in the news recently and many believe that what it proposes seems impossible given the time frame. But, surprisingly, it is already being done and there’s hardly any controversy surrounding it.

The Big Island is the largest island in Hawaii – similar in size to the state of Connecticut. The island is rural with a total population of only about 180,000 residents and an economy focused on agriculture and tourism. In the small town of Waimea lies the largest ranch and oldest private business in Hawaii known as Parker Ranch, founded in 1847. In 1992, the last Parker family member to control the ranch left it to a trust with four beneficiaries – the local hospital, a foundation, and two schools in the community. With this trust, economic growth produces additional benefits that support local health care and education. Parker Ranch has an active presence in the town and they pride themselves on trying to promote a more sustainable and resilient community.

Many news outlets have labelled aspects of the Green New Deal as a “ban on cows”. While cattle produce a large quantity of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, commercial production of livestock in feedyards are arguably unsustainable due to their use of corn as their primary feed. Corn requires large amounts of fossil fuels to produce by use of machinery on the farm and transportation of the corn to the dairy and feeding operations.

In fact, the Green New Deal directly proposes to “[work] collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible,” with no mention of cows nor a “ban” of them. Parker Ranch has already been pursuing sustainable agricultural practices by producing grass-fed beef. While corn requires nonrenewable energy to commercially grow, grass only needs sun and rain. The cows create an ecosystem with the land in a restorative way by turning up the soil to bring new nutrients and fertilizing the grounds with manure. It is a mutually beneficial relationship which requires no human use of fossil fuels. The natural beef that Parker Ranch produces is desirable by consumers, environmentalists, and community members alike.


Due to the mountainous geography, Parker Ranch needs to pump water to certain parts of the island, requiring electricity from the Hawaiian Electric Company. The local economy including the ranch was suffering greatly from very high fuel and electricity prices. Renewable energy technology is a cheaper and more sustainable threat to the old-style electric utilities who depend on fossil fuels. Parker Ranch noticed that the increased prices of the utility began to affect their profit margins, but the electric company wasn’t efficiently utilizing the cheaper renewable energy found across the state. Instead, they were continuing to import oil from Asia, adding on costs for residents across the state. Soon, the ranch realized that they possessed enough wind energy to power the whole island. They threatened the utility to move faster in its effort to become more sustainable or else they would provide power to the community by building a microgrid powered by wind energy which they later named “Paniolo Power.” Paniolo, meaning cowboy in Hawaiian, is an ingrained part of the culture across the state originating back in the 19th century when cattle, and later cowboys, first arrived.

The State of Hawaii passed a law requiring that the utility generate 40% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2040, but many were left unsatisfied. Parker Ranch aggressively advocated for increasing this target for renewable energy generation from 40% to 100%.  The ranch’s threat of creating a new sustainable utility and advocating for 100% renewables disrupted the industry. A law was finally passed in 2015 demanding that the utility move faster in adopting renewables, requiring it reach 100% by 2045. Similarly, the 2019 New Green Deal proposed “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy source,” which is exactly what the state of Hawaii had planned. Hawaii is ahead of the proposed congressional deal, setting an example for other states across the nation. Martha Symko-Davies, program manager for NREL’s Energy Systems Integration Facility and partner of the HCEI, said: “If this can be done in Hawaii, it can be replicated anywhere else.”

While many see the Green New Deal as controversial, it is shining a light on the issue of climate change that seemed to have been forgotten in the chaos of our current political climate. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal of a 100% renewable energy by 2050 for the entire United States is a stretch for a country with such a large economy dependent on its developed industries. There are 48 other countries who participated in the Climate Vulnerable Forum in 2016 and vowed to become 100% renewable by 2050, but none are as dependent on fossil fuels as the United States. The list includes Afghanistan, Philippines, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Marshall Islands, Morocco, Nepal, Ghana, Lebanon, Palestine, Samoa, and many others. The vice president of strategy at Siemens Smart Grid and a partner of Paniolo Power, Ken Geisler, said: “Hawaii is on the leading edge of the issues that everyone will have at some point.” Hawaii is an image of the future of the United States and eventually the rest of the world. The future is green.


Sources:

1) Friedman, Lisa. “Nine Key Questions About the Green New Deal.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Feb. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/climate/green-new-deal-questions-answers.html.

2) Fialka, John. “As Hawaii Aims for 100% Renewable Energy, Other States Watching Closely.” Scientific American, 27 Apr. 2018, www.scientificamerican.com/article/as-hawaii-aims-for-100-renewable-energy-other-states-watching-closely/.

3) Shimogawa, Duane. “Hawaii's Parker Ranch Explores Possible 200MW Renewable-Energy Project.” Bizjournals.com, The Business Journals, www.bizjournals.com/pacific/blog/morning_call/2014/08/hawaiis-parker-ranch-explores-possible-200mw.html.

4) Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.” Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative Hawaii Is the Most Fossil Fuel Dependent State in the Nation Comments, www.hawaiicleanenergyinitiative.org/.

5) Matt Payton. “48 Countries Just Agreed to Go 100 per Cent Renewable.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 9 May 2017, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/renewable-energy-target-climate-united-nations-climate-change-vulnerable-nations-ethiopia-a7425411.html.

6) “Microgrid on the BIG ISLAND - How a Hawaiian Cattle Ranch Is Taking Its Energy Future into Its Own Hands.” 2014 Case Study MODERNIZING THE GRID, Utility Drive, http://paniolopower.com/wp-content/uploads/Parker-Ranch-Case-Study.pdf.

7) United States. Cong. House. Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal. H.Res.109. Library of Congress. Web. 21 February 2019, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-resolution/109/text.