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Making Hawaii the first state to adopt 100% renewable energy grid in the United States, says State Rep. Chris Lee and Professor Mark Jacobson

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. This is segment two with 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. Thank you both for joining us again. REP. CHRIS LEE (D-HI): Thanks for having us. MARK JACOBSON, PROF. OF CIVIL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, STANFORD UNIV.: Yeah, thanks for having us. PERIES: So before we ended the last segment, Mark, we were speaking with you. And we were talking about the plans you have developed, derived, to address switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy across the United States. Here, Hawaii is a case in point. They’ve actually passed an act, a bill in order to make sure that this takes place. And so let me go back to you, Mark. If you could outline–in the first segment you were talking about how we are going to make this transition possible. Tell us more. JACOBSON: Well, the idea is to transform the energy infrastructure of all states and eventually all countries. We’re actually now working on plans for 139 countries of the world to entirely wind, water, and solar power for all purposes. That’s electricity, transportation, heating and cooling, and industry. And not only would this transformation eliminate air pollution, which in the United States is a whole, kills about 62,000 people prematurely each year costing the United States about 3 percent of the GDP. In Hawaii it’s not quite so bad, but it’s still about 200 premature mortalities each year in Hawaii. This will also eliminate all global warming-relevant emissions from all states in the U.S. which will cost in 2050 the world about $3.3 trillion per year just from U.S. emissions alone. We’d eliminate that. We’d create jobs. And this, in fact, across the United States we’ve found we create a net of about 2 million jobs more than we’d lose by doing such a transmission. There’s construction jobs and then there’s permanent operation jobs, and we’d create a net, over 40 [year] net creation of jobs. We’d stabilize energy prices because fossil fuels have high and rising fuel costs. I mean, in Hawaii the electric power cost right now is, correct me if, it’s around 38 cents a kilowatt hour, or so. And this would go down because, significantly with the wind, power, and solar system, we’d estimate in 2050 the cost of and use of electricity will be on the order of 11-13 cents per kilowatt hour. Because you have zero fuel cost. You stabilize energy prices. You have zero fuel cost. Whereas, you know–you have to transport, in the case of Hawaii you have to transport fuel across the ocean to get there, for the most part. And you create energy stability. You don’t have to rely on imports of energy from either foreign countries or in the case of Hawaii from the mainland. So there’s all these benefits to transition. And there’s a lot of details I could go into, but I’ll [inaud.] PERIES: Congressman, let me let you get in on this. How is the business community responding to this act and the transition you’re trying to make there? LEE: You know, I think the business community in particular responded really positively. In fact, everybody did. We had almost no opposition to this effort. And I think that’s largely because we do pay higher prices than virtually anywhere else in the United States, because we rely so exclusively on fossil fuels. So getting off of that is something that can not only save money for everybody, but in particular businesses that have a lot of energy consumption, whether it’s electricity or fuels or anything else, they know this is the way to go. And I want to point out too, I mean, we are I think collectively seeing really positive public response. Hawaii was the first place where we started measuring global atmospheric CO2, and now here we are, hopefully not just the first, but the first of many states and countries to take action, because our very livelihoods and our future depends upon it. And here in the state, and I’m really excited to see what Mark’s been doing and others who have come in to say there is a path forward, we can do this. Setting a goal–which has penalties here, if utilities don’t meet these goals, is important. And so we’ve got the geothermal, we’ve got wind and solar and everything else. But more than that, as Mark alluded to earlier, we have early plans right now that we’re working on to move over our transportation sector and address that, because that’s two-thirds of our energy usage here in the state. And so we’re exploring projects with hydrogen fuel cells which can produce power for vehicles off of solar and wind, and off of energy that’s not being used right now from large wind plants, which is just being curtailed and wasted. So there’s a lot of opportunity, and we’re really excited to get going. [Crosstalk] PERIES: Congressman, this is also a particular challenge for you. You have a number of islands you have to serve in terms of transporting energy. How are you going to tackle that? LEE: We have about four large island grids, and not all of them have the same resources. One island, the big island for example, has a lot of geothermal. One island has a lot of wind. And we’re going to have to figure out how in each place to take advantage of the resources that are there. Another option is potentially connecting the islands with an undersea cable so that you can use geothermal power from one island as a base load for power on Oahu, for example, where you have most of the demand. But any way we go, there’s I think really tremendous momentum. Because driving this all is, number one, rising seas and climate change which we have to face. And number two, making sure that we reduce our costs. And right now installing renewable energy, whether it’s wind, solar, or anything else is beating the price of fossil fuels already. And so there’s no reason why we should slow down and every reason why we should continue to make these investments. And this bill really pushes the utilities and forces them to plan ahead and invest in those renewable resources rather than investing in more fossil fuels. PERIES: Mark, one of the other issues you are looking at is the number of jobs that this kind of a transition could create in the renewable energy sector. Give us a sense of what Hawaii might be tackling here in terms of new jobs. JACOBSON: Yeah. Well, in the case of Hawaii we’d have on the order of 10,000 or so construction plus operation jobs that would–[I think]. It’s on the–well, 10,000-15,000 construction plus operation jobs that we think would be necessary. And there are, there would be job losses as well in the case of Hawaii. When we looked at the U.S. as a whole, there’s a net of around 2 million jobs gained. In the case of Hawaii it’s closer to an equal wash. But there’s still a slight net gain of jobs when we’re just looking at the energy, in the electric power sector. But there’s also, depending on whether Hawaii actually then takes up and starts manufacturing other components of this, like for example there’s, could be jobs in storage devices, or in electric cars if there was more manufacturing. Or appliances, electric appliances. There could be more job creation, it really depends on what path they go in terms of either creating jobs themselves or producing things themselves, or importing other things. LEE: I’ll add to that, if I can. Just to say that we’ve seen over the last five or six years tremendous job growth in, for example, our renewable energy, solar PV industry. Thousands of new jobs, and in fact, about a quarter of all building permits here in Oahu, in Honolulu in recent years, were for those sorts of installations. So there’s tremendous growth and I think a lot of people are looking forward to that. And even our legacy unions representing utility workers, they know that there’s a change coming and they’re being very proactive, trying to retrain to adapt to installing new storage, or doing whatever it is that’s going to come next on the utilities side. So I think we’re ready to go, and that’s another reason why the business community is so on board. PERIES: And Mark, last word to you. I’m very curious about the additional 2 million or so jobs you said net as a result of implementing such a plan, which will be very, I guess, important for people say in the mining sector or fossil fuels sector who argues that there will be such tremendous job losses in places like Pennsylvania. I’m glad to hear what you’re saying. But how would a mineworker, a mine family, entire town in a place like Pennsylvania expect to make this kind of transition? JACOBSON: Yeah. Well, there would be–there would have to be job retraining, certainly. But there are skills–like, there is a lot of, a lot of these are construction jobs. I mean, for example, installing solar on rooftops. And so I don’t think that’s that difficult of retraining for a lot of people who are used, for example, in mining, to be retrained for installation for example. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I don’t have all the answers in terms of how that transition would work. And certainly effort would have to be put into place. But it’s already occurring. I mean, there are already, job growth already in the solar industry and the wind industry. The wind is the, growing dramatically in the great plains. Their installation’s going up all the time. So these people are coming, being trained from somewhere. They’re already being, the jobs are already being created. So there will be a transition, and I can’t say it’s going to be easy, but I think it’ll happen. PERIES: Professor Mark Jacobson, Congressman Chris Lee, thank you both for joining us today. JACOBSON: Thank you so much. LEE: Thank you. PERIES: And 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.