Hawaii must become national leader in sustainability

By Virginia S. Hinshaw and Stephen E. Meder

Hawai‘i must lead the way in sustainability and the reasons are many.  Hawai‘i is more dependent on electricity generated by fossil fuel than any other state in the nation. We have the highest cost of electricity in the country. We are dependent on a fuel that is dwindling in supply, escalating in cost and requiring transportation over long distances.  In essence, our reliance on fossil fuel undermines the local economy, threatens the environment and harms the health of the planet—conditions that create an unacceptable liability for the people of Hawai‘i and all humankind.

We must change.  The need is great and the time is now.

In response, the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa has committed—through research, teaching, building design and campus operations—to turn the tide of fossil fuel dependence to clean energy independence for Hawai‘i in the 21st Century.

Energy costs have hit UH Mānoa especially hard.  Our 300-acre campus, including facilities on other islands, represents 6 million square feet of occupied buildings. According to HECO, all 10 campuses within the UH system, of which Mānoa is the largest, ranks second only to the U.S. Department of Defense in energy consumption.

The cost of that energy is climbing precariously and unpredictably, to the point that Mānoa is now paying over $23 million annually for electricity.

Several years ago, the campus adopted the ambitious goal of cutting energy use by 30% by the year 2012—a goal that we are on target to achieve.  We want to further reduce energy use 50% by 2015; convert to 25% renewable energy sources by 2020; and become energy, water and waste independent by 2050.

These goals are compelling for several reasons. We are motivated to optimize every taxpayer dollar that comes to our campus. Additionally, as the leading research university in the Pacific region, we have an obligation and opportunity to create models of sustainability in our buildings, curricula and overall campus operations that can be replicated by others. These goals are becoming institutionalized by our policies, advanced by our research and embraced by our campus ‘ohana of students, faculty and staff.

We were one of the first campuses in the country to set and achieve goals like this.  This is why we were invited last month to attend a White House ceremony led by President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, who announced their commitment to such energy reduction initiatives at the national level.  We join a small, but growing, group of selected leaders to advance energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies in both public and private building sector.

As part of the White House Better Buildings Challenge, Presidents Obama and Clinton endorsed nationwide efforts such as UH Mānoa’s goal of renovating our half-century-old Kuykendall Hall into the first zero net energy (non-fossil fuel dependent) retrofitted building in the State of Hawaiʻi.

This exciting initiative cuts energy use, while also creating green job training and employment opportunities in Hawaiʻi.  Design work on the Kuykendall Hall renovation, as one of only three national models of net zero energy usage, was performed by experts chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy.

To make the greatest impact, UH Mānoa must continue to transform from energy user to energy generator.  We’ve begun by installing photovoltaic panels on the roof of Sinclair Library in 2011 and are pursuing solar energy generation on Coconut Island. Our next plan is to invest $35 million in additional solar rooftop systems on campus that would generate renewable energy representing 10-15 percent of our campus electricity needs.

We have also embarked on a campus-wide lighting retrofit to replace old incandescent fixtures with more high-quality, low-energy lighting and are undertaking a number of other aggressive energy conserving and energy efficiency projects that will reduce our costs.  These campus programs support the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative and other State sustainability objectives.

Accomplishing our goals is a team effort requiring sustained commitment by campus and community partners—particularly the State Legislature—to continue this momentum toward greenhouse gas reduction and energy independence for the university and State.  By working together, we will light the way toward energy solutions for our Islands.

Virginia S. Hinshaw was Chancellor of UH Mānoa.   Stephen E. Meder is Assistant Vice Chancellor for Physical Environment and Long Range Planning at UH Mānoa.

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