02/11/2014 11:27 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

What's Wrong With a Fossil Fuel Dependent Electricity Grid, Anyway?

Hawaii's electricity grid, especially on the most populous island of Oahu, is highly dependent on fossil fuels. While rich geothermal resources have the Big Island cruising along at about half clean, renewable energy, a lack of those baseload renewable resources have Oahu strangled by 90 percent energy from diesel generators (and 5 percent from burning trash in a waste-to-energy plant).

While the state consistently ranks high in solar installation and other developments of renewable energy and energy efficiency options, it's still well behind the eight ball, so to speak, paying about three times what the rest of the country pays on electricity. Residents consistently have $500 monthly electric bills, and median incomes in a state whose economy is largely based on service industry jobs catering to tourists are not keeping up.

But beyond the high cost, there's some much deeper, more critical issues to consider. While the rest of the country may be trying to figure out what causes window sweat on their windows, 80 degree temperatures in Hawaii have many residents continuing to use their energy sucking Air Conditioners. When that electricity is used, the combustion of diesel fuel and mostly plastic trash to power our grid has some serious health implications.

This top ten list of air pollution, water pollution, and health problems show that pollution and health are seriously intertwined, and have dire consequences for humanity. The number one pollutant on that list is benzene, a byproduct of the combustion of diesel fuel. It's highly linked to urinary and breast cancer development, Leukemia and other deadly diseases. Worse, as Hawaii considers developing more natural gas infrastructure, it only adds to the benzene problem, as fracking (hydraulic fracturing) causes significant releases of benzene into air and groundwater.

As the author notes:

Benzene is one of the largest-volume petrochemical solvents used in the fossil fuel industry. It is a major component in all major fossil fuel production: oil, coal, and gas.

People are exposed to it from inhaling automobile exhaust and gasoline fumes, industrial burning such as oil and coal combustion, and exposure to fracking fluids.

The rest of the top ten list doesn't get much better. The bottom line is that every time we turn on a device, we're supporting the combustion (and purchase) of fossil fuels. If there's ever a time to devote everything you've got to energy efficiency, now is it. There's simply no better way to reduce our footprint, reduce pollution, and keep more of our hard earned money.