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TWO U.S. STATES MOVE TOWARD ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND YOU CAN TOO

When most of us write about survival and survival situations, we tend to focus on the belief that we will be on our own or in small groups. We stress the need of having food, water, shelter and ways to make power, but we tend to think small scale.

What would it be like if we could take what we know about survival and apply it on a larger scale? Perhaps an entire neighborhood, town or even state?

The best means of survival is to prepare for it, to anticipate the worst and then be able to deal with it. This goes not only for the individual but also for large communities and states.

There are local governments on city and state levels that are doing just that.

“HAWAII RELIED UPON OIL FOR 67.3 PERCENT AND COAL FOR 15.1 PERCENT OF ITS ELECTRICITY IN 2015. THAT MADE IT ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE TO THE VOLATILITY OF PRICES AND AVAILABILITY OF THESE ENERGY SOURCES WHENEVER THERE ARE GLOBAL SUPPLY ISSUES.”

How good would it be to not lose power during an ice storm, hurricane or other natural disaster because your home would have its own self-sustaining power source?

How about not having foreign politics dictate if we would have energy or not, or how much we would pay for that energy, because you are no longer dependent upon it?

How nice would it be to not have to pay extremely high prices for energy because you didn’t have to (in fact, they may even pay you for excess power)? This is all possible.

These solar panels over a parking area on Maui, Hawaii, serve two uses: to protect from the sun and to generate electricity. Photo courtesy of David Schoonover

Anticipating potential problems and putting plans into action to mitigate the issues that will arise will go a long way to assuring our survival. Our day and age is unlike anything that past generations have ever faced.

Today our problems are much more complicated than just a possible nuclear attack. Our reliance on carbon-based fuels has put us all in danger. Sea levels are rising, with places like Key West, Florida, and New Orleans, Louisiana, being in very real danger of finding themselves underwater.

We have forest fires caused by drought in some areas of the country and intense flooding in others. Then there are the earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and blizzards. The bottom line is that if we are to survive, then something needs to be done, and I mean right now.

All states are doing something to this end, some more than others, but there are a few making some serious progress toward the goal of becoming self-sufficient and bettering the odds for their residents’ survival. Two that I’ll discuss are Hawaii and Vermont.

Why? First, both states are at the forefront of addressing the need to wean themselves off foreign oil and other carbon-based products. Second, these two states are very different when it comes to population, economics, environment and climate. In this article, my main focus is on electric power production.

VERMONT

Vermont was one of the few states that were green long before being green was a social or political theme. Green living has always been a way of life in Vermont.

Vermont has never been a place of big cities or international airports, and that is the way the people want it. Instead, small towns and villages dot the countryside.

People make their living from the land, with hunting, fishing, forestry, maple sugaring, farming and tourism being big businesses.  The lives of Vermonters depend on the health of the land.

Local citizens tour a solar installation on a Vermont farm. Photo courtesy of Vermont Department of Public Service

In 2011, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin saw the effects that energy and, more important, the environmental impact and dependency on foreign oil had on the energy and economic security, and the very lifestyle of Vermonters. To lessen the impact, energy had to be a top priority.

The goal of supplying 90 percent of the state’s total energy needs from renewable resources by 2050 was just a dream. As of 2016, Vermont expanded its in-state renewable energy sources program by more than 250 megawatts (MW).

Over 100 MW of wind generation was also added. According to the Vermont Department of Public Service, “…the greatest growth has been in solar…”, with 95 MW being generated by private homes, farms and businesses.

Solar panels at a Vermont dairy farm integrate new technology and thinking within the established culture. Photo courtesy of Vermont Department of Public Service

Besides the reduction in the dependence on foreign energy, Vermont’s move has been a boost to the economy. As of 2016, over 16,000 jobs in the clean energy sector were created.

That is not counting businesses in supporting roles, to include construction, as people build new homes with energy conservation in mind or retrofit existing homes.

These newly constructed duplexes in Vermont come complete with solar panels. Reducing the number of external walls by one and generating some of their own electricity reduces their dependence on the traditional energy grid. Photo courtesy of Vermont Department of Public Service

Due to these efforts, the electricity rates in Vermont, as of 2016, had increased only 3.7 percent since 2011. By comparison, the New England average rose 12.3 percent and the U.S. average increased 5.6 percent over the same period.

The state’s Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) of 2016 emphasizes the  importance of efficiency and conservation.

“THE BEST MEANS OF SURVIVAL IS TO PREPARE FOR IT, TO ANTICIPATE THE WORST AND THEN BE ABLE TO DEAL WITH IT. THIS GOES NOT ONLY FOR THE INDIVIDUAL BUT ALSO FOR LARGE COMMUNITIES AND STATES.”

To make nontraditional power options work, no matter what they are, takes changing the infrastructure. The Vermont CEP recognized this aspect by pointing out that, “When compared to legacy infrastructure, clean energy infrastructure tend towards options that reduce operating costs, but cost more to construct or purchase up front.”

When faced with the alternative if they didn’t make the changes, Vermonters stepped up to the plate.

A common sight in Vermont, where the lifestyle is close to the land and the interdependency between humans and their environment is readily apparent.

This Hawaii Energy office exhibit demonstrates a data visualization platform to local citizens in hopes they will become more interested in adding solar panels to their homes. Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Energy Office

Citizens gathered at a meeting regarding the importance of making the big step of going green. Photo courtesy of the Vermont Department of Public Service

Vermont’s approach is multipronged. It is not enough to change the source of the power. Consumption needs to be addressed as well. Vermont’s plan emphasizes the importance of efficiency and conservation.

By 2020, the state’s goal is to have 80,000 of the existing homes fully weatherized and 30 percent of all homes getting their heat by renewable sources by 2025.

By 2030, due to advanced technology, the plan is to have all new construction being net-zero outside energy consumption. Vermont is willing to invest the time and the resources to secure the most up-to-date and reliable technology to see that these goals are met.

The money spent now will pay off in years to come by reducing the chances of large power outages.

HAWAII

Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Blue-green waters, tropical breezes and plenty of sunshine. There is no question why it is a top tourist destination; and that is part of its problem.

“ANTICIPATING POTENTIAL PROBLEMS AND PUTTING PLANS INTO ACTION TO MITIGATE THE ISSUES THAT WILL ARISE WILL GO A LONG WAY TO ASSURING OUR SURVIVAL.”

Ever-present tourists, combined with the large military presence, has exacerbated problems that come with island life, such as generating electricity. In information provided by the Hawaii State Energy Office, Hawaii is more dependent on petroleum for its energy needs than any other state.

Hawaii relied upon oil for 67.3 percent and coal for 15.1 percent of its electricity in 2015. That made it especially vulnerable to the volatility of prices and availability of these energy sources whenever there are global supply issues.

Prospective customers in Hawaii inspect several electric car models. This technology has advanced significantly in the last decade. Almost 200,000 electric cars were sold in the U.S. in 2017. Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Energy Office

Economically, this drains billions of dollars annually from the state for imported fuel. One has to remember that being a series of islands, Hawaii has had to import virtually everything it needs.

Data show that Hawaii’s electricity prices are more than double the U.S. average and that all prices follow closely with the price of petroleum. Even when the price of crude is low, Hawaiians still pay more, due to the cost associated with importation.

Starting in 2014, a plan was worked out and set into motion to have Hawaii’s energy needs met 100 percent by self-reliant means by 2045, and they are well on their way. Taking the economy, culture and environment into concern, Hawaii realizes that it will require bold commitments and hard work by all concerned to get it done.

The Hawaii state government passed HRS 269-96, which mandated a 4,300-gigawatt-hour reduction in electricity use by 2030. In 2015, Hawaii surpassed its yearly goal through conservation measures and energy performance contracts.

In conjunction, HRS 269-92 mandated 100 percent renewable energy production of electricity by 2045. In 2017 the state was at 27.6 percent, well ahead of the goal of 15 percent.

Wind turbines dot the landscape on Maui, Hawaii. These and other steps are making the islands more self-sufficient. Photo courtesy of David Schoonover

This reduction was a result of commercial and residential power users working together and getting onboard with the plan. Solar panels are being installed partially to meet the goal of being self-sufficient and partially to reach the goal of saving money.

Most residential solar and wind sources store power in batteries, with the excess being put back into the grid. In return, the power customers are either given credits or actual dollars in their pocket.

Data show that in 2011 the state average for electrical power use was 584 kilowatt hour (kWh). In 2017, the number dropped to 482 kWh, all because of alternative power usage.

Events like this one, promoting electric buses in Hawaii, help reinforce the importance of adding this energy source to the state’s grid and the successes they have achieved so far. Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Energy Office

Besides the obvious sources of alternative power (wind and solar), Hawaii is tapping into a host of other energy sources. Some of these sources include biogas, geothermal, biomass and hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources.

Since Hawaii has to import most of its energy and other products, that also means they have to export most of the waste the state generates. When you think about not only the residents but also the military and the tourists, that is a great deal of waste.

Most of that waste can be turned into bio-energy for fuel production, to power vehicles, and electricity generation, which is just what Hawaii is doing. By using this biomass, Hawaii is cutting its use of petroleum products by leaps and bounds and lowering their vulnerability to service outages and fluctuations in the price and availability of energy supplies.

Hawaii is a land of volcanos, so why not harness that power? Well, Hawaii was well ahead of the curve in this game. In 1993 Puna Geothermal Venture began producing 25 MW of power. By 2011 they produced 38 MW.

In 2017 PGV produced 322.6 gigawatts per hour, which is enough to power 55,545 average Hawaiian homes per year. Sadly, PGV Poho’iki plant was shut down in 2018 due to the volcano eruptions, but work has begun to get it back online.

CONCLUSION

Survival is a mindset. Either you will, or you won’t, and the outcome is mostly dependent on the decisions you make, often well before the challenge arises. Either prepare now so you can do what’s needed later, or you suffer the consequences.

The issues we face today are unlike anything humankind has faced in recorded history. It is much more complicated than a few nut cases with their finger on the nuclear button, though that is still a real threat as well.

Installing home solar panels is a near-term expense for a longterm gain of energy self-sufficiency for residents in states such as Vermont.

Now is the time for you and those around you to decide whether you will reduce your dependence on a vulnerable grid you have no control over or if you will begin the process of declaring your own energy independence.

Thankfully, there are some good examples, like Hawaii and Vermont, that can help motivate you and provide some insights into the actions that need to be taken.

HOW THE SITUATION HAS CHANGED ME

While I have always considered myself environmentally conscious, the grave situation we find ourselves in has made me re-examine my energy usage and sources. I have been heating my home with a pellet stove for many years and I have changed the lightbulbs in my house to LEDs, but there was more that I could do. What follows are some of the changes I have made.

COOK OUTDOORS
Instead of using the stove or oven inside, I find myself using my propane stoves and grills, as well as my pellet-fired smoker/grill more and more. During the warmer months, this keeps the house cooler, requiring less energy to offset the extra heat.

USE RECHARGEABLE POWER TOOLS
As my gas-powered tools finally give up the ghost and need to be replaced, I’ve started opting for rechargeable battery-operated models. Battery power has come a long way and it is worth considering.

Today’s batteries charge faster, weigh less and last longer than they did even a decade ago. You can often find multiple tools that run with interchangeable batteries, making battery management much simpler.

In addition, battery-powered tools don’t require oil and gas or create the messes and hazards that they can, and they need less maintenance.

CHARGING ELECTRONICS USING PORTABLE SOLAR PANELS
The same solar panels that I use during emergencies are used on a regular basis to charge my electronics such as cell phones and laptops.

UNPLUG THINGS THAT ARE NOT BEING USED
Things such as televisions, stereos, computers, printers, microwave ovens, toasters and coffeemakers all consume electricity even when not being used. By unplugging them between uses, you will reduce your electricity consumption and your electricity bill.

S O U R C E S

Camp Chef
(800) 650-2433
CampChef.com

Hawaii State Energy Office
Energy.Hawaii.gov

Lodge Cast Iron
(833) 563-4387
LodgeMfg.com

Vermont Department of Public Service
PublicService.Vermont.gov

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.