A few weeks ago, a super-majority on the Board of Trustees at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) voted to invest in Hu`ena Power, the development arm of Innovations Development Group (IDG). That vote signaled a step forward in the effort to do more to tap into the legacy Tutu Pele has left us –and to do so responsibly. I was one of the trustees who voted “Yes.”

But I write now, not in my capacity as an OHA trustee, but as a concerned Native Hawaiian and resident of these beautiful– but remote—islands. I believe that geothermal holds the key to our freedom from enslavement to the tankers that bring fossil fuels to our pristine shores and the corporations that take away more than $5 billion every year in payments for that oil.

Geothermal is Firm Power Alternative to Oil

I came to that position long before I became an OHA trustee and before that vote to invest in Hu`ena Power was taken. Too often our civic square, locally and nationally, is dominated by the loud voices of a dissenting minority. Those of us who believe in the critical importance of geothermal –and other forms of renewable energy — to Hawaii’s future need to speak out. We need to make sure that the interests of the majority are not thwarted by the often ill-informed, anonymous antics of a minority.

Here are some facts that everyone should find sobering. According to DBEDT’s 2013 Facts and Figures on Hawaii Energy, we rank number one nationally in our dependence on petroleum for our energy needs. Whereas less than 1 percent of electricity in the nation is generated using oil, Hawaii relies on oil for 75 percent of its electricity generation. We pay the highest rates in the nation. Check it out. The residents of Hawaii island know this better than anyone else in the state. Statewide, our average cost per kilowatt-hour in March 2013 was 37.46 cents while a resident of Idaho paid 8.46 cents.

How much longer can we allow this to go on? How much more time can we waste? How long before we really respond to the voices of our young people telling us they cannot pay the bills, or start new businesses or support a family because of the cost of living in Hawaii? What are we going to do to stop our children from feeling they must move elsewhere to be able to afford a decent standard of living? So much of our cost of living can be traced back to our unhealthy reliance on imported oil. Hawaiian Electric Company itself has been telling us for some time that Hawaii imports oil “mainly from the Mainland, Indonesia, Australia, and China, but prices are influenced by actions of the Middle East oil cartel, OPEC.” So why have we been so slow about saying “no” to this kind of self-defeating dependence?

Geothermal Critical to Energy Sovereignty

Developing the many renewable energy assets we are blessed with is a practical, way to say “NO” to being held hostage to rising oil prices determined by big players in far off places. Sure, there is a place for passion and protest. But we defeat ourselves if we cannot see the path to progress because our vision is obscured by all those protest signs we pick up, sometimes too hastily, when change is clearly needed.

There is a bigger picture here. The respected progressive think tank, the Oakland Institute draws from the work done in Brazil and elsewhere to point out: “Food and Energy Sovereignty stem from the right to democratic access and effective control over common natural resources, thereby guaranteeing communities and nations the ability to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and to determine their political status.”

I have attended some of the many community meetings that the Innovations Development Group has held over the past two years to canvass public opinion and share their model for community-based geothermal development.

I am encouraged by the fact that this Native Hawaiian-led company have lived through what the community experienced when geothermal was not done right the first time. They fought for the community. They have represented the community’s interests and they know how important it is to stay in dialogue with the community. This is critical as we move forward with developing geothermal. I encourage Native Hawaiians and members of the public, all of whom, by law, jointly own the mineral assets of this state to make the effort to become better informed about why geothermal is so important to our future.

Now is the time to come together to support its development. We have a real opportunity here to not just pursue profit at all cost but rather tap into Pele’s legacy in ways that will benefit everyone and protect the aina.

About the author: Carmen Hulu Lindsey is the Maui OHA Trustee. She is also the Owner/Broker, Lindsey Realty; CEO, Kahulu Productions.

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