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Organic Consumers Association

For Hawaii, Big Push to Go Green is Natural

Take a ride in Ron Baird's pickup truck along the volcanic shore of Hawaii's Big Island and he'll show you an inventor's wonderland.

On one parcel of this government-created energy laboratory, rows of mirrors shine white-hot in the sun, turning heat into energy. On another, brown water tanks harbor strands of algae that will be made into fuel. Nearby is a wind turbine whose blades spin parallel to the ground.

"It's an awesome amount of things going on here," said Baird, chief executive of Natural Energy Research Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, which is helping to nurture 42 green private-sector businesses on 877 acres of land in Kona.

Watch out, California.

Tiny Hawaii is gunning for the title of the nation's green energy capital. It's aiming to obtain 70% of its total energy needs from clean sources within 20 years.

That ambitious target blows the solar panels off California's mandate to get a third of its electricity from renewables by 2020. But Hawaiian officials have concluded their state has little choice.

This tropical paradise is an energy beggar that depends almost solely on oil to fuel its vehicles and stoke its power plants. That's left the state, which doesn't produce a drop of crude, vulnerable to spills, price swings and geopolitics. Hawaii residents already pay the highest pump prices and electricity rates in the country. The state imports around 51 million barrels of oil, costing billions annually, according to government figures.

"We really are the canary in the coal mine," said Jeff Kissel, chief executive of the Gas Co. of Hawaii. "What's happening to us with oil is going to happen to the rest of the country as . . . supplies diminish."

More worrisome still is global warming. The threat of rising seas and pounding storms linked to climate change has put Hawaii on a collision course with Mother Nature.

Although Hawaii's efforts to green itself won't make much of a dent in the world's total carbon emissions, environmentalists hope the state can prove what's possible. The goal is to transform the nation's most energy-dependent state into its cleanest and most sustainable. 


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