Six to one. It didn’t make banner headlines but looking back, it will surely be seen as a game-changing vote. OHA trustees recently voted to invest in Hu`ena Power, the Hawaii-based geothermal development arm of the Innovations Development Group. In doing so, it endorsed the company’s efforts to bring to Hawaii the community-based model for geothermal development that IDG pioneered in New Zealand.

It is no secret that there are factions within the Hawaiian community. The OHA vote is significant because it attests to the fact that we, as a community, have been able to rise above what divides us to join together in common purpose: to tap the gift of one of our kupuna, Pele, to bring cheaper power to the people. Every household on Hawaii island that has felt the pain of paying the highest electricity bills in the nation, should rejoice.

Yes, this was a historic vote in favor of smart stewardship. It is a vote that says OHA will discharge its kuleana to help empower Native Hawaiians to lead where they were once excluded: in the arena of geothermal development. It is a vote that is important not just for Native Hawaiians but for all of Hawaii. The public generally does not know that geothermal energy is a mineral asset and in Hawaii, by law, that asset is owned by Native Hawaiians and the public at large. It is not something that should only profit private companies.

Listening to the people

In dozens of talk story sessions held over the past two years, in town halls and in living rooms, at Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce, at churches, union halls and civic clubs, the IDG team listened as people expressed the anxieties arising out of their past experience. The wounds of the past, the violations of culture and sacred beliefs and the disregard for public safety have left scars. The question asked most often was: why should we believe it will be different this time?

Geothermal: For the Community and With the Community

It will be different because this time, through IDG, the community has a voice and a stake in making sure that geothermal development is done right. That is the essence of the community-based model developed with the legal expertise of Mililani Trask, principal of Indigenous Consultants LLC who serves as an advisor to IDG. Her counsel to IDG is anchored in the experience of representing the Kūpuna Wāhine of Ka Lāhui Hawai‘i in the Wao Kele O Puna debacle. The model she developed with IDG abandons the practice of token royalties to landowners at the outset for a process that shares the benefits of geothermal development with the community over the long term. As IDG founder, Robbie Cabral has said many times, “Geothermal development should empower the community, increase economic opportunities for small businesses, create jobs and reduce our dangerous dependence on imported oil.”

The Triple Bottom Line

Given the vision behind the establishment of IDG, the company chose to incorporate its development arm, Hu`ena Power as a Sustainable Business Corporation (or B-Corps) when Hawaii passed a law making this possible in 2011. That form of incorporation is a public affirmation that in the way it does business it will not make profits paramount but that it will be attentive to what is commonly referred to as the triple bottom line: people, planet and profits. That also means it will use the cleanest technology available and it will do everything possible to protect the public health and respect cultural sensitivities.

IDG ‘s experience in New Zealand has connected it to some of the world’s experts in geothermal development, companies that are using state-of-the art technology that protects the aina while tapping its gifts. This is a holistic vision of geothermal development, one that is consistent with Hawaiian values and respectful of local culture and beliefs.

The recent OHA vote brings us one step closer to realizing that multi-faceted vision of the future. We believe that Tutu Pele would be pleased to malama her people and community.

About the author: Patricia K. Brandt is the company CEO and a Director with Innovations Development Group. She has previously served as Chief of Staff to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ (OHA) chairman of the board. A 25-year veteran of Hawai‘i State government, Pat has served in advisory capacities in the administrations of two Hawai‘i governors, John Waihee III and George Ariyoshi. She launched Hawai‘i’s first micro-loan program in partnership with the Small Business Administration and the Immigrant and Refugee Resettlement Service
and served as the executive director of the Pacific Gateway Center assisting Asian and Pacific Island immigrants.

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