Friday, September 17, 2010

Selecting Your ‘Lens’ To Evaluate Honolulu Rail

What you perceive in life depends on where you’re coming from in life. Isn’t that how it works?

If Honolulu rail is viewed through the political “lens” or filter, it looks one way (as we’re seeing played out during this political season). It’s hard to believe the Governor’s insistence on a financial review of the Honolulu rail project – a review that goes beyond her legal responsibilities – isn’t somehow tied to the election cycle and other political considerations.

But if the lens is energy and environmentalism, the Governor surely sees the value in building Honolulu rail. She has highlighted renewable energy and conservation growth more than any other issue. The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative may be her legacy in office, and she’s certainly emphasized it and numerous other energy-related issues in the past few years.

So What about Energy?

Spend some time with rail’s Final Environmental Impact Statement – please. It’s available at the project’s website. Spend enough time there and some facts start jumping out at you; if you’re concerned about reduced energy use and a cleaner environment, here’s one of them:

The net effect of building Honolulu rail will be to reduce daily transportation energy demand by approximately 3 percent compared to the No Build Alternative.

Something else: Assuming all electricity is generated on Oahu from the combustion of oil, the daily 2,440-million-BTU energy savings will result in a daily reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of approximately 171 metric tons of carbon dioxide. But if the 2030 goal is reached to achieve 40 percent of electricity production in Hawaii from renewable sources, daily emissions would be reduced by an additional 47 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Choosing Your Lens

Hawaii is more dependent on fossil fuel use than any other state – by far. We currently generate about 78 percent of our electricity by burning oil. The next highest rank among the states is about 10 percent.

Our electricity rates are the nation’s highest – by far. Our percentage of solar water heaters on residential homes leads the nation. Our relatively short driving distance for most commuters is attracting electric car manufacturers to launch their products.

It’s not a stretch to imagine that Hawaii citizens are among the most energy conscious in the country. And judging from the low percentage of eligible voters who actually cast ballots, it looks like we’re among the most jaded when it comes to politics.

So which lens are you going to use to evaluate the Honolulu rail project – politics or energy and the environment? It’s a legitimate question as we slog through the remaining weeks of this year’s political season and stand on the sidelines as the State spends $300,000 to do a rail financial viability study that's not even called for.

Just remember as you choose your lens that Honolulu rail is designed to serve generations of Oahu residents yet unborn for the next 100 years. Decades from now they’ll either thank our generation for taking one giant leap for energy conservation and environmentalism or falling backwards into a 20th century mindset that valued the car above everything else.

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