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Our Energy Future

July 2, 2009
Chris Mentzel, CEO, Clean Energy Maui LLC

There is a growing agreement on Maui that it is time to shift our island’s economy away from oil toward clean energy sources. Global warming is threatening our way of living and the very survival of our civilization. Oil imports are draining Maui’s economy—this money could be put to better use by letting local companies install wind and solar. Many also think that Maui could benefit greatly by being known to the world as the “Green Island.”

The movement to completely replace oil with clean energy must overcome some serious hurdles, but they are not insurmountable. We have to ask ourselves these questions: “Do we have enough natural energy sources? Can we handle their variability? Who can handle the cost?”

We use a lot of energy. Maui Electric sells 1,300 million kilowatt (kWh) per year and Maui’s cars drive a total of 1.4 billion miles. If we switched to electric cars, 1,800 million kWh would be needed—a lot more than the 120 million kWh currently provided by the wind farm. Can we do it?

Yes we can! With sufficient political will, we can achieve our goal to make all our electricity from clean sources within seven years. A larger wind farm in Ma‘alaea and one in ‘Ulupalakua would produce one-third of the energy. Solar, wave and geothermal technology could provide another third. The remainder would come from transforming sugarcane into energy.

Using such a mix of energy sources is essential to stabilize the grid when winds are variable or at a lull. This has been a problem for Maui Electric’s generators thus far, but with a new system designed from the ground up, energy stability would be built in.

The cost is estimated to be over $1 billion. While this seems like a lot, consider that Mauians are spending over $500 million a year on oil imports. Oil money simply leaves our island. Clean energy is (surprisingly) much cheaper. After federal and state subsidies, a clean energy system as described above costs less than two year’s oil bills.

Powerful electric cars will be introduced into the market in 2010 and are already supported by the Hawai‘i Legislature. It will take a while to replace our gas guzzlers, but with every electric car, we will save money and keep that money on the island.

One last question has to be asked: “Who will lead Maui into the age of clean energy? Next week we will examine this issue in greater detail and describe how we need a new era of cooperation to make such exciting changes.

Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy Maui LLC, consults with county and state governments in Hawai‘i to secure a quick transition to a clean energy future. He is also the chairman of South Maui Sustainability’s renewable energy committee. His goal is to end oil use on Maui by 2020. He can be reached through or at 214-7678.



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