Tapping into Pele’s energy in the past has unleashed considerable heat, not just from the ground but from the heart and soul of the community. And that’s because in trying to draw from what the land has to offer, people and culture were treated like poor relatives waiting for a handout. The disrespect to culture and traditions and the disregard for people in the initial pursuit of profits from geothermal energy are not easily forgotten. It has left scars on the landscape and on our sensibilities.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since. We now have the opportunity to embrace a community-based model for the development of geothermal energy that recognizes that everyone—small businesses, families, ratepayers, students—all have a right to feel real, long-term, tangible benefits from geothermal development.

Still, big questions remain about how much we have really learned from the past.

Do we really and truly understand that by Hawaii law, geothermal resources are “minerals” and as part of the ceded lands trust, belong to the public and the Native Hawaiian community at large?

Do we acknowledge not just through word, but also through deed, that the residents of Hawaii island, as direct stakeholders and owners, deserve to see some relief from the exorbitant rates they have been paying for electricity?

Do we recognize that contracts, such as the ones now in place, that peg electricity rates to the price of oil even as that oil is being replaced by geothermal energy, seriously shortchanges the ordinary ratepayer, while enriching private companies?

Do we acknowledge that it is time to treat the people of Hawaii as adults: owners of their assets, entitled to full disclosure of the terms of the contracts between HELCO and PGV/Ormat and the negotiations that led up to those contracts?

Isn’t it time to publicly state that for 17 years, every resident of Hawaii island has been charged for electricity as if they were burning oil when in fact at least one fifth of their consumption came from the geothermal energy to which they hold title?

Isn’t it time to make sure that this practice does not continue for the remaining 15 years of the existing contracts?

If PGV/Ormat and HELCO charged consumers at rates pegged to the price of oil when in fact they were enjoying significant savings from the partial switch to geothermal energy, doesn’t the public have a right to know what kind of profits they reaped and kept entirely for themselves?

We, in Hawaii, pride ourselves on not asking questions that make others feel uncomfortable. But as uncomfortable as it might be to some to have this conversation, if the questions yield fresh answers, perhaps the past may not after all prove to be prologue.


About the author: Mililani Trask is an advisor to Innovations Development Group, a Native Hawaiian company already engaged in geothermal development for the Maori Trusts in New Zealand.

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