How Hawaii has built momentum to become a renewable energy leader

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

David Bissell’s Toyota Tundra crunches to a stop in the reddish dirt and gravel road as the first heads appear in the grass. A few sheep come into view, but, startled by the trucks, they skitter away through the unruly vegetation surrounding a network of solar panels. After a few moments, they calm and return to work, munching away on the island’s ever-present guinea grass.

These are the ovine foot soldiers in one of the most ambitious renewable energy revolutions in the United States. The Lawa‘i solar and energy storage project on the Hawaiian island of Kauai employs 300 sheep to keep the invasive guinea grass from engulfing the solar panels that supply 11 percent of the island’s electricity. This project is on the leading edge of a statewide effort to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

In 2015 Hawaii became the first U.S. state to mandate a total transition to renewable energy. With exceptionally high energy prices and an ingrained environmental ethos, Hawaii has positioned itself as a pioneer in the quest to move toward a future free of fossil fuels. But promises are easy to make. Achieving them is another story.