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State Rep. Chris Lee and Professor Mark Jacobson discuss Hawaii, the first state to legislate 100% renewable energy grid

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. When it comes to the environment and climate change, we in general must report on many gloom and doom stories. It is the nature of the topic, I suppose. But last week we reported on Pope Francis’ encyclical, and today we have another good news story: the state of Hawaii. It is the first state in the union to sign a bill with 100 percent commitment to renewable energy and to address and prepare for climate change head-on. Hawaii’s particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, but also have access to many renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. To discuss all of this we have two guests. The state Congressman Chris Lee. He represents the 51 District of Hawaii. He is currently chair of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. Also joining us is Mark Jacobson. He is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and the director of Stanford’s Atmosphere Energy program. Gentlemen, both of you, thank you for joining us today. REP. CHRIS LEE (D-HI): Thanks for having [inaud.] PERIES: So Congressman, give us a sense of the risks faced by Hawaii and why the governor and you, and of course the entire legislature, decided to address climate change head-on. And also, of course, switching to renewable energy the way you have described it in the bill. LEE: Well you know, this is something that is absolutely critical to the future of our way of life here, our economy, and how we’re going to proceed in generations to come. Because we are already–this isn’t, climate change isn’t something that’s coming. It’s here, and we’re feeling it right now. We’ve seen decreased rainfall, we’re seeing increases in sea level rise that are eroding our beaches faster and faster. And that’s the lifeblood of our economy. If we can’t continue the way we’re going we’re going to be stuck. And so we have to take action and we have to do it now. PERIES: And how are you planning to make this transition? I mean, this is something that a lot of people cannot get their head around, switching from fossil fuels into renewable energy sources. LEE: Well you know, it’s something that we’re already on track with. We’ve had on the books efforts to move toward more renewable energy, and right now we’re at about 22 percent renewable out of our entire electricity sector. And so moving to 100 percent I think it something that is, it’s common sense. And we have a lot of wind, we have a lot of solar. We have more solar penetration per capita here. Roughly one in eight homes have solar on their rooftops generating power. And it’s just the next step, the next necessary step, in order to get us not only to face and adapt to climate change as it’s coming but also to save our economy money. Because fossil fuels fundamentally are only going to be more and more expensive for us down the road. PERIES: And Mark, get in on this. Obviously Hawaii is very distinct here in terms of the rest of the country. You’ve done a report on this. Tell us about what you’re finding. MARK JACOBSON, PROF. OF CIVIL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, STANFORD UNIV.: Yeah. First, we’ve been developing energy plans for each of the 50 United States. And in fact, we just finalized those plans about a week ago, including Hawaii. And each state has its own unique set of resources. In the case of Hawaii it has a lot of solar and it has a lot of wind, and it has actually a lot of geothermal. Not a lot of hydroelectric. But maybe even tiny amounts of tidal and wave power. So we think for Hawaii that–first I want to mention that we’re looking at transforming not only electric power but all energy sectors to clean, renewable energy. So transportation, heating and cooling and industry, as well. So our plans are really also looking forward between now and 2050, doing a transition between then. And we found that transforming Hawaii’s energy infrastructure, first we would electrify everything. So we would electrify transportation. Maybe even some hydrogen, but that’s produced from electricity, too. Heating and cooling would be electrified. Well, cooling’s already electrified but heating. Instead of using gas heaters you’d use heat pumps or solar hot water pre-heating. For industry there are a lot of electric appliances, too. Even stoves you can use, like, induction stoves that are run on electricity. So we’d electrify everything. And it turns out when you do that you reduce power demands significantly. In the case of Hawaii you could reduce power demand just by electrifying all the sectors an aggregate of about 44 percent without changing [inaud.] PERIES: How do you reduce power demand? JACOBSON: Well, take–it’s mostly in transportation. So take for example an electric car, that plug–what’s called the plug-to-wheel efficiency of an electric car is about 80-86 percent. In other words, about 80-86 percent of the electricity going into a car goes to move the car. The rest is waste heat. In the case of a gasoline car, only 17-20 percent of the energy in gasoline that you pay for actually goes to move the car. The rest is waste heat. So you actually reduce your power demand by about a factor of four to five in transportation. In other words, 80 percent reduction of power demand in transportation. That’s where you get the best benefit. That’s why electric cars, for example, to drive them they only cost 80 cents a gallon equivalent, compared to like, three or four dollars a gallon for gasoline. So a consumer would save about $20,000 in fuel costs driving an electric car for 15 years, 15,000 miles per year. PERIES: What are the challenges in making this shift to using electricity? JACOBSON: Well, these are all with existing technologies. So I think the first challenge is getting information to people. Because once people realize that electricity is so efficient, that electric cars are so cheap to drive–I mean, right now the actual buying the car is more expensive, but the fuel cost saving outweighs that by far over time. And in the case of Hawaii you don’t have to deal with long-distance transmission. You have–well, except for when you’re going across islands you might need some transmission. So I’d say transmission is a challenge, but that’s more of a regulatory issue, not even a cost issue. But I should say in terms of our plan for Hawaii–this is in 2050. If we electrify everything we’re thinking about around 40 percent solar, 28 percent wind, almost half off-shore and half on-shore, and about 30 percent geothermal power, and then tiny amounts of hydroelectric tidal and wave power. That’s to power Hawaii for all purposes, for everything. In 2050 with growing population, and accounting for the energy efficiency improvements. PERIES: So Chris, I want to continue this discussion and have a greater, a longer discussion about the plans you’re proposing. And so I was hoping that Chris and you could join us for a second segment. It’s sort of like John Stewart’s green room, sort of in order for us to flesh out some of the things that are in the bill, as well as what is in your plans. Hope you can join us. LEE: Sure. PERIES: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Mark Jacobson is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, and the Director of Stanford's Atmosphere/Energy Program. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, and also a senior fellow at Precourt Institute for Energy.

Chris Lee a US Congressman representing the 51st District of Hawaii. He is currently the Chair of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection (EEP). He also serves on the Consumer Protection and Commerce (CPC), Judiciary (JUD), Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs (OMH), and Water and Land (WAL) committees. Born on January 28, 1981 in Honolulu, Representative Lee grew up in Kailua his entire life. He attended 'Iolani School, and later Oregon State University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in Political Science.