Hawaii Closes Its Last Coal-Fired Power Plant

The state plans to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2045

A city with skyscrapers on the coast
Honolulu, Hawaii, on the island of Oahu Photo by Daniel Slim / AFP via Getty Images

Hawaii has closed its final coal-fired power plant in a push to switch to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The AES Hawaii Power Plant, located on Oahu, supplied about 11 percent of the state’s electricity in 2021, before it was closed for good on Thursday, per the New York Times’ Elena Shao. It was also a major contributor to the state’s climate-warming emissions, releasing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas contributing to climate change

“It really is about reducing greenhouse gases,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige tells Caleb Jones from the Associated Press. “And this coal facility is one of the largest emitters. Taking it offline means that we’ll stop the 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses that were emitted annually.”

The closure comes after the state passed legislation in 2020 that banned coal-powered electricity production by the start of next year, per The Guardian’s Hallie Golden. But the end of coal power plants in Hawaii doesn’t mean the state will switch to renewables right away—initially, oil will cover some of the energy needs created by this coal plant’s closure, Shannon Tangonan, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric, the state’s main electricity distributor, tells the publication. 

“It is really unfortunate that we are having to rely on oil for a short period of time to transition from coal to the solar and battery projects,” Scott Glenn, Hawaii’s chief energy officer, tells The Guardian. “[But] it underscores the whole reason we need to make this change. Because oil is incredibly volatile. And we have to pay for it in a way that you don’t have to with solar battery.”

Before the AES plant closure, the price of electricity in Hawaii was already triple the U.S. average, per the Times. Now, the typical person in Oahu will see a 4 percent increase—about $9—on their bill in October, according to a statement from Hawaiian Electric. The company originally predicted a 7 percent increase, but they revised their numbers because of dropping fuel prices. 

AES supports closing its coal power plant and is working on six different renewable energy projects in the state, says Sandra Larsen, the company’s market business leader, to The Guardian. “The coal plant was needed to help stabilize Oahu’s electricity rates and the economy… 30 years later, it’s time to move on,” she tells the publication. 

But Democrat and State Senator Glenn Wakai criticized the closure, telling the Times the short-term consequences would be “disastrous” for Oahuans. “We made a transition that we were totally unprepared for,” Wakai tells the newspaper.

Hawaii is the first state to implement a complete coal ban, though other states have passed laws that will transition away from the power source in upcoming years, per the AP. Additionally, over 20 states as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have set goals to switch to entirely clean energy. New York aims to make the transition by 2040, and D.C. plans to run on all renewables by 2032

Burning coal to create electricity is more carbon intensive than other methods, including burning natural gas or petroleum. In 2020, coal only accounted for 20 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S., but it contributed about 54 percent of the carbon dioxide from the electric power sector. 

The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that climate change will lead to flooding and coastal erosion in Hawaii, displacing vulnerable populations and destroying structures of cultural value. 

“We are already feeling the effects of climate change,” Glenn tells the AP. “It’s not fair or right to ask other nations or states to act on our behalf if we are not willing and able to do it ourselves. If we don’t, we drown.”