Geothermal might be good for Hawaii – with caveats

September 2011 KA WAI OLA COLUMN

`Ano`ai kakou…  Our state needs a quick solution to our fossil fuel problem.  Hawaii is the most oil depend state in the U.S., making up 90% of our energy needs.  We currently pay $7 billion annually for imported oil and we also have the highest electricity rates in the U.S.  With the price of oil is predicted to rise over $200 a barrel by 2013-2014, things are only going to get more expensive.

It is imperative that we develop renewable and self-sufficient sources of energy for the entire state.  Luckily, Hawaii is blessed with many valuable sources of renewable energy such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), tidal, surge, wave, wind, solar, and geothermal.

While each of these energy sources have downsides, it is geothermal that has the worst reputation.  Everyone remembers the
debacle caused in 1993 by the Puna Geothermal Venture on the Big Island.  Residents were so angry about the lack of community input and emission problems that they ended any further geothermal development on the island.  Clearly, the Puna
Geothermal Venture is a perfect example of how not to develop a geothermal plant in Hawaii.

Innovations Development Group (IDG), a Hawaii-based company established in 1998, studied the mistakes that were made in Puna and offers a better, cleaner, and culturally appropriate development plan.  IDG is a majority Native Hawaiian-owned company with extensive experience developing energy opportunities in Hawaii and the Pacific.  They are currently developing three geothermal projects in New Zealand.

IDG operates under the Native-to-Native Community Collaborative Model in Indigenous Communities, which recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to participate in the development and improvement of their resources in a culturally appropriate, environmentally sustainable, equitable, socially responsible, economically sensible, and most importantly – pono way.

IDG is proposing to develop geothermal projects in viable locations through the state using the latest technology re-injects missions.  It is currently conducting presentations to various stakeholders, including OHA.  During our presentation, IDG promised to: (1) Identify and preserve all cultural resources; (2) Hire cultural protection consultants; (3) Share the benefits of proceeds with the community through job training, onsite employment opportunities, scholarships, educational opportunities, community centers, agriculture markets, building new parks, and improving beach areas; and (4) Provide a fair and reasonable electric rate to customers.

IDG projects also provide secondary small business opportunities such as spa bathing facilities; timber and food drying using steam; an industrial technology park with a renewable energy focus; and even aquaponic greenhouses.

In early July, Trustee Peter Apo and I attended an accelerated course on managing investments in an unpredictable economy at the Yale University School of Management.  It was a great learning experience.  One of the topics of discussion was how endowments and trusts are now investing in venture capital as a way to hedge their investments.  By using alternative investments such as commodities, natural resources, and venture capital, they are able to stabilize their portfolios.  Geothermal as a venture capital investment would make a lot of sense for OHA to seriously consider.

Before any IDG proposal is considered by OHA, they will first need to consult the Native Hawaiian Community regarding: (1) The selection of the site; (2) The technology that will be used, (3) Cultural access for gathering, worship, heritage protection and preservation; (4) Any negative impacts to Native religious belief system; (5) Benefits for Native Hawaiians; and (6) Their a
broader vision for Hawaii.

The state is in the middle of a budget crisis and is struggling to look for new sources of income to pay for critical services.
Geothermal developments could provide the income the state desperately need while significantly reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and providing benefits to the community without raising taxes – but only with strong safeguards and caveats.

Aloha Ke Akua.