Hawaii Needs Energy Independence

News that has huge ramifications for Hawaii: Tesoro, one of the state’s two oil refineries, is planning to shut down its operations. It will retain its storage facilities and keep its gas stations open and count on other companies to import refined fuel to sell to Hawaii consumers.

This will leave us with Chevron as the sole refinery to make fuel for electricity, for automobiles and for the jets that make it possible for us to fly to Vegas once or twice a year.

This does not mean Hawaii is imminently powerless. We import fuel that is already refined and are in no danger of going dark. We don’t have to abandon our cars or refrain from flying. It would be wrong to press the panic button.

But it would be shortsighted and foolish to ignore the “what ifs.”

What if something happens to our sole remaining refinery?

What if natural disasters wreak havoc with worldwide oil pricing? We’re already paying nearly three times more for fossil fuel-based energy than our counterparts on the Mainland, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

What if political volatility or war limit supply?

What if there’s a shipping strike?

What if the world runs out of oil? (That’s a long way off, but there are smart, respectable people who believe we are on the downward slope.)

And what if we bury our heads in the warm tropical sands and fail to act until it’s too late?

The good news is we are already moving in the right direction. The Clean Energy Initiative has goals, set into law, of 40 percent renewables and a 30 percent reduction in energy use by 2030. That, however, is quite a way off.

And who knows if it’ll be enough?

It’s clear we also need backups to plug the gaps in the meantime. There’s talk of using liquefied natural gas, and that could be one part of the solution. But it, too, is a fossil fuel and also emits carbon when it burns. The extraction process, called “fracking,” is controversial and possibly harmful to ground water supplies. The upside is that it is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel and is abundant in the U.S.

This is a public discussion we need right away. We have so much to learn and so much to do when it comes to fueling our isolated island state. If nothing else, the imminent closure of our largest refinery is yet another wake-up call. We need alternatives, we need clean renewable energy – and we needed it yesterday.