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Newsletter: A play-by-play from the frontlines of Hawaii’s race to replace coal

Plus, a new twist on our newsletter.

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Welcome to Canary Media’s free newsletter, which explores trends in the clean energy transition and highlights the best of our news coverage. Sign up today.

Hello Canaries!

A quick programming note for you: In the weeks to come, I’m going to shift more of my time to reporting and writing stories. I’ll focus my newsletter energies on the Monday edition, weaving together threads of knowledge from the previous week’s news and prepping you for the week ahead. 

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On other days, the newsletter will feature the freshest writing from myself, my colleagues and our soon-to-arrive new reporters. And you’ll enjoy special columns like Mike Munsell’s consistently fascinating Friday Social, which has already taught me a ton about how people grapple with the climate crisis in the far-flung corners of the internet.

I’m having a blast writing this missive to you and sharing what I’m seeing at the cutting edge of real action to build a society powered by clean energy. And it’s been heartening to see all the feedback from you when you enjoy an edition, chuckle at a pun, or argue a point you think I got wrong.

Please keep that conversation going. And if you enjoyed my writing here, I hope that you’ll also check out my reporting, starting with something very special this very day…

A special report on Hawaii’s energy transition crunchtime

This summer I went to Oahu for work, and that raised some eyebrows. Is he really working? How much time did he spend on the beach? 

This creates an obligation to produce some work, and now I’ve got an epic feature and a short-form documentary based on all the interviews and exploration I did on that trip.

Here’s the setup: 

  • Hawaii was the first state to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity. 
  • It faces its first major hurdle in that journey when the state’s lone coal plant shuts down in September 2022
  • Now we’re in the crunchtime when Oahu must build enough clean power to ensure a smooth exit from coal.

The original purpose of my trip was to report on the massive stand-alone battery that will replace the coal plant’s capacity on a one-to-one basis.

What I learned on the ground is that construction of the large solar plants expected to fill up the big battery has fallen behind schedule. That created risk that the island grid will have to burn more oil to replace coal power, which would be both dirty and costly.

Rather than cruise into that mess, Hawaii’s regulators jumped in and rapidly approved a bunch of programs that clean and distributed energy advocates had long hoped for. 

While the big projects work their way through permitting and construction delays, Oahu is asking for more residential and community-scale solar to rush onto the grid. Individual homes are being asked to help, and they’ll get paid for their services.

Hawaii is unlike anywhere else on earth (I verified this when I went there for my work trip). But this story is vitally important for any other place contemplating a wholesale shift to clean power (which is pretty much anywhere, at this point). 

  • Hawaii is learning, in real time, what it takes to actually deliver on lofty decarbonization promises. There’s a lot of moving pieces, and not everything goes as planned. Success depends on timely and thoughtful intervention when things veer off track.
  • Hawaii is turning to small, localized clean energy out of necessity when the big power plants fall behind schedule. Anyone arguing for distributed versus centralized energy has a crucial case study to look at here.
  • The challenges in locating large renewables plants on Oahu are a warning for elsewhere. Renewables development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It must contend with the historical forces that shape a place, while finding ways to help the community thrive in the future.

There are all sorts of other fascinating tidbits to discover and characters to meet, so please give the full article a read. If you like your news short and sweet, watch the video. 

And if you have any suggestions for sunny, gorgeous places where one may investigate the cutting edge of clean energy adoption, by all means, let us know at [email protected]​canarymedia.​com.

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.