NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A decade ago, I visited the Big Island of Hawaii for a conference on e-commerce and marveled at its alternative-energy potential.Hawaii is blessed with regular trade winds. It has so much geothermal energy it can't tap it. There is a huge quantity of tidal energy just offshore. And then there is the sun. Yet Hawaii, then as now, had the highest energy costs in the nation. It imports its fuel on tankers, from refineries thousands of miles away. Land prices and labor costs were already killing agriculture in 2001, and tourism jobs don't pay well. Barack Obama is not the only smart Hawaiian to have left. A lot has changed. Most crucially, the cost of getting energy from solar panels in Hawaii is now much less than the cost of getting it from the grid. A homeowner can now pay back his solar investment in under nine years, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.