Hawaii needs to take decisive action in moving away from its dependence on foreign oil and capturing local renewable energy sources to power its energy needs, according to James Woolsey, former CIA director under President Bill Clinton and board member of Kuokoa, the local start-up company that wants to take over Hawaiian Electric Co.

“This will not work, this moving Hawaii into a position of leadership and saving Hawaii from its terrible energy dependence — it will not work without decisive action,” said Woolsey. “One can’t halfway do it.”

Woolsey sat down with Civil Beat Tuesday to discuss his involvement with Kuokoa at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo at the Hawaii Convention Center where he was a keynote speaker. He was recently announced as a Kuokoa board member.

Woolsey said that he was approached about joining Kuokoa by Ted Peck, president of Kuokoa and former state energy administrator, and TJ Glauthier, also a Kuokoa board member and deputy secretary of energy during the Clinton administration.

“I was impressed both by the board members and the objective, which in the short term would be to get Hawaii off of oil totally, and to move decisively toward renewables for electricity as well as vehicles,” said Woolsey.

Woolsey has had numerous high-level government positions related to military and national security issues. Since leaving the public sector, he has been heavily involved in renewable energy issues and has stressed the global dangers of the world’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Currently, Hawaii depends on imported oil for nearly 90 percent of its electricity needs, while on the Mainland this percentage is less than 1 percent, according to Woolsey. After the 1970s Middle Eastern oil crisis that sent oil prices soaring, mainland states moved to other sources such as coal, natural gas and nuclear power. Hawaii, which lacks such local resources, didn’t.

Recently, Hawaii has become a national center of attention in its efforts to convert to renewable sources of energy and a test bed for emerging technologies. The U.S. Department of Defense has become a partner in these efforts and has poured millions of dollars into the state.

Woolsey said Hawaii needs to be aggressive and stressed the potential of geothermal energy in particular, a cornerstone of Kuokoa’s energy plan.

While there have been doubts about whether it would be technologically and financially feasible to transport geothermal energy from the Big Island to other islands, Woolsey said these concerns are outdated.

“There are a number of cables of this length and longer that are being developed and planned,” he said, adding that the technology has greatly advanced in the past couple of decades.

He noted that dozens of undersea cables have been laid around the world.

“It’s not likely to prove a rocket science problem,” said Woolsey.

James Woolsey on why he joined Kuokoa:

Competing business models: Hawaiian Electric Co. vs. Kuokoa

Can Kuokoa get the financing to buy Hawaiian Electric?

Kuokoa is big on geothermal energy, but is it a feasible energy source for powering all the islands?

Can biofuel companies emerge as major players in the energy landscape?

While CIA director, Woolsey crashes a plane on the White House lawn in an attempt to get a meeting with President Bill Clinton – or so the story goes.

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