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  • Veronica Rocha

Ten Strategies for Revitalizing Hawaii’s Economy Toward a Clean and Prosperous Future!

Did you hear? Consistent with 2019 which proved to be the second-hottest year in 140 years, the Earth scorched in the first 3 months of 2020. While COVID-19 has significantly slowed down our local and global economies and consequently reduced carbon dioxide levels, it will not be enough to reverse the Earth’s warming trend. Worst yet, there are concerns (check-out this article) that unless public and private sector entities are mindful of creating and implementing policies and strategies that will start-up our economy in a manner that curbs carbon emissions, we will encounter further increasing levels of emissions as global economies ramp back up.

No doubt, containing COVID-19, dealing with its human health impacts and economically rescuing those most impacted by the pandemic should be a first priority. That said, the health of our planet should also be prioritized. As Nathaniel Koehane of the Environmental Defense Fund pointed out in an interview by Goldman Sachs on Investing In Climate, “the only pathway to future prosperity is a low carbon pathway”. I was pleased to see that the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis is urging members of Congress to enact climate adaptation solutions and protect the clean energy sector in the upcoming stimulus legislation. (See the full letter to members of Congress here).

“the only pathway to future prosperity is a low carbon pathway”- Nathaniel Koehane of the Environmental Defense Fund

Hawaii has historically been a leader in fighting climate change and supporting the clean energy industry. This resolve is more important than ever. Let’s start Earth Day (April 22) on a positive note! As we navigate through these turbulent times, let’s remain resolute on our 100% renewable energy goal and committed to energy efficiency and clean transportation. We must also remember that the impacts of climate change (e.g. Sea Level Rise) are here, and the time to start addressing them is now. I applaud Alan Oshima’s economic recovery efforts (see presentation) which specifically noted new sustainability practices, energy independence and greater focus on resilience as part of Hawaii’s future “new normal”.

I am aware COVID-19 has created immensely challenging times as we contend with strategies to open our economy, an unprecedented 37% level of unemployment in Hawaii and drying-up of CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program funding. For this reason, I offer 10 strategies (a combination of fiscal and non-fiscal strategies) for consideration that can be implemented as circumstances permit. These strategies are rooted in revitalizing and diversifying our economy by maintaining or creating jobs, improving our infrastructure to be cleaner and more resilient, and ultimately creating a better Hawaii for us and future generations.

Although not all inclusive or prioritized in order, these strategies are intended to be part of a larger discussion on revitalizing our economy. I would love to hear what you think about them and other ideas you may have for building a stronger Hawaii.


  1. Expedite permitting, interconnection and regulatory approvals of distributed and utility scale clean energy infrastructure projects. While current practices are put in place to ensure the safety and efficacy of installed systems, finding efficacious and innovative ways to expedite these approvals would concomitantly increase our state’s adoption of clean energy, save ratepayers money and help clean energy workers keep their jobs.

  2. Identify and loosen policies and regulations that may be inadvertently preventing adoption of clean energy technologies. For example, consider amending building height restrictions to allow for solar energy system installation on existing buildings.

  3. Lead by example. Benchmark all public facilities and require Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicle (EV) (including charging) systems through an integrated procurement process.

  4. Do NOT taper down Hawaii’s existing Renewable Energy Income Tax Credits (REITC). Instead, extend the tax credits to include other technologies such as Sea Water Air Conditioning and storage that would be supportive of greater renewable energy and EV adoption.

  5. As the tax equity market is shrinking, provide a direct pay or refundability option for renewable tax credits to support the existence and growth of our renewable energy market. This strategy is already being proposed at the Federal level (see item 4. Energy System Workers and Infrastructure in this letter to Congress) and it would merit a similar conversation at the State level.

  6. Make it easier and more attractive to transition to clean transportation by providing EV purchase or lease rebates for passenger vehicles, incentivize and require procurement of mass public transportation EVs, expand incentives for EV charging infrastructure, and keep existing EV High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) driving and parking incentives and requirements.

  7. Invest in innovative technology solutions AND in innovative social models that bridge the gap between community needs and our clean energy goals and aspirations.

  8. Invest in climate resilience. Several suggestions have been made already, including strategically developing a network of community resilience hubs (see Action 15 under the Oahu Resilience Strategy) and proactively addressing the areas already affected by sea level rise, identifying vulnerable public infrastructure, and creating a plan for mitigating and adapting to sea level rise.

  9. Encourage remote working of government and private sector employees whenever possible. COVID-19 has taught us that it is more feasible than imagined to work remotely. A report published by the Hawaii State Energy Office showed that telecomumming by public employees and large employers could reduce Hawaii's use of petroleum by 3.9 - 4.9 million gallons per year.

  10. Leverage public-private partnerships and revisit existing policies that may be getting in the way of them. For example, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii offers advice on “How to revive contracting as a policy option in Hawaii” amidst the Kono Decision which set a precedent and existing obstacles for many forms of privatization.

I would love to hear what you think about these strategies and any others not listed above. Please contact me if you would like to discuss further, or if I can be of service to you or your organization!


Veronica Rocha Founder & Owner Essential Leap - A strategy, business development, policy and regulatory consulting practice supporting clean energy and climate adaptation companies. + 1 (831) 840-7954

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