Abercrombie is fickle as the breeze when it comes to Hawaiian values.
Reading time: 3 minutes.
2011 should have been a honeymoon year for Hawaii Congressman-turned-Governor Neil Abercrombie. Instead, he seems bent on self-destruction.
This lifelong cheerleader for Hawaiian values now wants to bulldoze some of the last Hawaiian places. In the name of “green energy” for Oahu, his administration is poised to cover western Molokai and western Lanai with hundreds of 40-story wind turbines, connected by an inter-island cable. The developer is Pattern Energy, backed by MetLife, Siemens and other global investors.
To most of us who know these places this seems a classic case of destroying an environment in order to save it. On Molokai alone this project will wipe out traditional fisheries and hunting grounds, endangered plants, animals and birds, parts of the world’s second largest coral reef, and many native burial and cultural sites, including the birthplace of the hula. It will force evacuation of the town of Maunaloa, and a fire-sale liquidation of west end property.
The turbines will be a permanent hazard for commercial and military aviation, blocking flight paths and distorting radar. Offshore, the cables will pass through whale breeding grounds visited by millions of tourists. The unused cable capacity (up to 80 percent) will be a standing temptation to build more power plants.
Abercrombie himself has called Molokai “the center of Hawaiian culture.” Yet this project will serve Hawaiian culture with an eviction notice, kick aside traditions of homesteading and sustainability, and open the island to cruise ships and big development. Worse, all this damage is to be traded for a marginal power boost on one island. Although statewide electric rates will soar even higher to pay for the cable, Molokai will be stuck with its old diesel generator.
Because wind is so fickle, these bone-rattling behemoths will be lucky to perform at 20 percent of capacity. To make up the shortfall, new oil generators must be brought on line, cancelling out any carbon savings. And in 20 years the turbines will be obsolete, leaving a vast junkscape of rusting hulks. Perhaps we can call it The Abercrombie Petrified Forest, and offer hiking tours.
Why has our Governor staked his reputation on this boondoggle?
Hawaii voters trusted Abercrombie. He seemed a savvy insider with liberal values and a Hawaiian heart. His campaign swing through Molokai was a triumphal progress of leis, hugs and prayers. “Molokai,” he chanted, “you are always in my heart.”
Yet in less than a year he has morphed into a cartoon villain. His new chant, “This project will happen no matter what!” has an oddly angry edge.
Naturally, many Abercrombie supporters are puzzled and alarmed. Why is he mocking his own promises? Where is his vaunted reverence for landscape, tradition and local values? Where is the Neil we thought we knew?
Because the betrayal is blatant, the questions are getting personal. During the campaign Abercrombie’s frantic energy silenced questions about his age (73). Now, whispers have resumed. One worried observer finds the Governor increasingly agitated around adults, and able to relax only during ever-more-frequent visits with schoolchildren. Another hints at inner demons, perhaps a score to settle with a hippie past. A third blames a runaway ego, desperate for a medal in the Pork Barrel Olympics.
Most of us simply don’t know. What we do know is this: if we don’t block this folly now, we will soon be very sorry.
About the author:Former college instructor, longtime Bay Area business owner, local official Martinez Ca. mid 90s, reviewer for SF Chronicle 80s and 90s, happily retired letting Molokai change me.
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