Closing Down AES Hawaiʻi

calling on the Hawai’i Department of Health, AES, and the Hawaiian Electric Company to give a firm, enforceable commitment now that there will be no coal used in Hawai’i after 2022.

Let’s put an end to coal once and for all!

Hawaiʻi has one remaining coal-fired power plant—AES Hawaiʻi power plant on the Waiʻanae Coast of Oʻahu. This single coal plant is the largest single source of toxic pollutants on the island.

AES and HECO are supposed to be working to phase down their operations of the coal-fired plant and close at the end of 2022 but the companies are showing little signs of doing so. The Sierra Club Oʻahu Group is dedicated to working hard to ensure they do so, making our home “coal free by 2023”, and taking a big, needed step toward a just, renewable energy future for Hawaiʻi. 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Coal does not make sense for Hawaiʻi—the coal is mined in Indonesia and brought to Hawaiʻi via barge (fueled by more fossil fuels) to be burned. Furthermore, burning coal is responsible for one-third of the United States’ carbon emissions. It also produces more carbon dioxide and methane than any other energy source such as petroleum, Hawaiʻi’s other primary energy source. 

By state law, power plants in Hawaiʻi are required to decrease their emissions by 16% by 2020. Instead of investing in the reduction of emissions and/or ramping down their dirty production—the AES Hawaiʻi coal plant is banking on the success of other power plants and asking to use up other facilities’ emission quotas. 

This is unacceptable and is not a step in the right direction of closing this coal-fired plant. Hawaiian Electric Company and AES Hawaiʻi should instead be investing in clean, renewable, non-consumptive energy sources that are fueled by local resources—like solar. We need everyone to share their voice that Oʻahu wants to move away from coal, away from air pollution, and away from carbon emissions. 

Sierra Club members and supporters wearing masks to send a message that our communities don’t want to be exposed to more emissions and coal ash

On September 26, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health held their public meeting to hear the communities concerns over increased greenhouse gas emissions in their backyard. Over 50 people attended the meeting and dozens testified, calling on the department to stop Hawaiʻi’s last coal plant from increasing their carbon emissions.

Our message was delivered loud and clear:
– Coal ash is dangerous to our community’s health
– Carbon and other emissions lead to respiratory issues, and
– Minimal cost savings for corporations are not worth polluting our communities.

The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi requested a contested case in regards to this practice of “sharing” greenhouse gas emissions. You can read our request here. The Health Department has yet to make a decision on our contested case and permit, but it is noted that the permit start date is January 1, 2020 – so it should be bubbling up soon.

Toxic Pollution

Not only is burning coal detrimental to the environment, it is damaging to public health. Coal combustion leads to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs. In addition to CO2, burning coal produces:

  • Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses
  • Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)
  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals
  • Fly ash and bottom ash, which are residues created when power plants burn coal


Coal ash from the AES plant is taken to the PVT Landfill in Nānākuli where it is used to blanket their day’s worth of trash. The ash is part of a mountainous stockpile of coal and other materials that were burned in the AES Hawaiʻi’s plant. Coal ash has a series of toxic chemicals in it like arsenic, lead, and heavy metals and studies show breathing in coal ash increases the risk of cancer. Nearby residents and businesses complain that AES isn’t doing enough to contain the coal ash, forcing workers to breathe in the material. 

This concentration of waste and power plants is creating a public health crisis for workers and residents. The PVT Landfill is only 750 feet from residential areas and schools. Many suffer from respiratory illnesses and migraines, and U.S Census data demonstrates that the life expectancy in this area is ten years less than the state average.

We are working with Waiʻanae Coast residents to get these polluters out of their backyards. Part of this work includes supporting the Nānākuli Community against the expansion of the PVT Landfill and urging that awful polluters relocate to an isolated area so no one has to deal with living in close proximity to hazardous toxins.

Shutting down the AES coal plant and ending coal energy production in Hawaiʻi is beneficial to the environment and our people. Transitioning to renewable energy sources and battery storage will create cleaner air, contribute less to climate change, and provide stable, clean jobs for local people. 

It is time for clean energy sources and protecting the health of the people not the profits of industry.