It was an energy audit at work that first nudged Susan Chandler to think green.
She began walking into rooms her husband and son had just left to turn off the lights. A significant cutback in the use of the clothes dryer was another step. Still, Chandler said she wanted to do more. "So I put up the panels."
She makes a daily trip to a shed, where the solar panels are connected to an inverter box. An LED screen provides constant updates on how much power the panels are generating and how much in carbon dioxide emissions has been eliminated using solar instead of fossil fuels. Inside, there is another monitor on the wall in her home office, and she also can check a Web site to track both her production and her environmental impact. "It shows you graphically," Chandler said. "They have these cute little things about how I've saved as much as if I was planting four trees, or not driving 415 miles. So you get to see each day what your energy production is." She said, "Why everybody doesn't do this, I don't quite understand."
Chandler said more friends and neighbors are taking the initiative and finding ways to cut back consumption and find alternative energy resources. But she also said state, federal and international governments should do more than provide tax incentives for purchasing things such as hybrid cars or solar panels.
Hawaii already is in the early stages of what it hopes will be an energy revolution. At the moment, imported oil accounts for 90 percent of the remote state's energy needs, a major reason its electricity costs are so high. The state's ambitious goal is to generate 70 percent of its power from clean energy sources by 2030, and it is looking everywhere.
Water is yet another abundant resource that Hawaii sees as part of its energy future. "Our source is renewable -- infinitely renewable," said Tom Wilkolak, chief operating officer of Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning.
Wind is another ample resource, though it took a spike in oil prices to the $150 a barrel range a few years ago to diminish the opposition to the 20-turbine wind farm that now sits on hillside conservation land overlooking Maui. "That was very helpful to everyone's understanding of how important clean energy is," said Noe Kalipi, director of government and community relations for First Wind.
Some locals still don't like the nearly 200-foot high turbines, but to others they are nicknamed the "angels on the mountain."
The 20 turbines up and running have sensors that tell them to turn automatically to capture the wind in the most efficient manner. They run only part of the time because of technical issues related to Maui's electricity grid. Still, they provide power to 11,000 homes on Maui, roughly 9 percent of its power needs.
Each turbine has a computer station in its base that tracks its energy output and its maintenance needs. To get to the top requires climbing nearly 200 feet up a ladder in a cramped tubelike passageway. Near the top sits the massive turbine that generates electricity as the wind turns the giant blades. And just a few more steps up from that is a hatch to the top, where, in this case, a visitor gets a bird's eye view of the neat line of turbines on a hillside and a spectacular panoramic view of Maui's breathtaking landscape.