Geothermal: Don’t mistake fears for science


By BOB LINDSEY

I was deeply disappointed to hear a public figure say recently that “it is not our responsibility to do something about energy.” He could not be more mistaken. If we refuse to do something meaningful about how we address our energy needs, others will. That will ensure that decades from now we will be expressing outrage about the same issues.

We do have an option: the legacy of Tutu Pele. Used in a responsible, sustainable, safe way, it could benefit everyone.

Let’s focus on the facts, not our fears. Geothermal is the only FIRM power option to oil. We have many kinds of renewable energy resources — but none can do what geothermal promises to do: begin to wean us off imported oil.

Discussions about developing geothermal and the recent release of the draft geothermal health and safety report have triggered public expressions of high anxiety disconnected from hard reality.

Let’s not forget the reality that we pay the highest rates for power in the nation. Do we really want to condemn our children and grandchildren to lives of increasing economic desperation by doing nothing about this situation?

It is easy to rage about past wrongs, about too many Native Hawaiians languishing in poverty or in prison. It is too easy to grandstand about injustice and discrimination. But how much better off we could be as a community if we take the lessons of the past, look at the conditions of the present, and do something about the future. That is a much tougher thing to do — but that is our kuleana.

The draft geothermal report confirms that the community has its worries about health and safety. It acknowledges that we have not had the kind of tracking of community health and environmental impacts in a way that allows us to draw firm conclusions. The report tells us that “Puna’s public health profile is unclear,” that “health studies are needed” and that “geothermal operations carry health risks.” We can all agree with the recommendations to establish health and safety benchmarks, to invest in better monitoring and the study of impacts from geothermal development, to call on expert resources and to ensure ongoing communication with the community.

My fellow Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees and I have been impressed with what one Native Hawaiian company, Innovations Development group, has done to prepare to develop geothermal in a clean, sustainable way. We were impressed with the three years of conversations that the IDG team has conducted all over the state. We were impressed with the kind of leading edge technology partners and capital they have been able to attract. We were impressed that they are already engaged in developing geothermal on behalf of indigenous communities in New Zealand, a country known for its environmental safeguards. By taking a stake in Hu‘ena Power, the development arm of IDG, a super-majority of OHA trustees chose to give our beneficiaries a seat at the table in shaping their energy future.

We are very fortunate that we can have strong Native Hawaiian representation as we embark on the next phase of geothermal development. No foreign company will feel for or act on behalf of the community the way IDG and its team of partners can, and will.

The IDG team consists of veterans of the fight for Native Hawaiian rights. They have homes and ohana right here to worry about—just like you and me. That, in particular, should serve as our assurance that they will act in a way that is culturally respectful, and that protects the health and safety of the community.

Let’s not allow ourselves to be trapped in the past. Instead, let’s embrace our kuleana: to work together to ensure our energy independence and our children’s future by drawing on the magnificent legacy of Tutu Pele.

Robert (Bob) K. Lindsey Jr. has been an OHA Trustee since 2007. His career experience includes various appointments with Kamehameha Schools, the National Park Service and Family Court.

 

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