In a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser column, Richard Borreca argues that “It just may be . . . geothermal energy is not the easy solution to Hawaii’s energy needs,” despite what he describes as Governor Abercrombie’s “infatuation” with it.
Borreca warns: “It is said that for every problem there is a solution that is “easy, simple, cheap and wrong.”
No one, least of all those of us who have been striving mightily for years now, at considerable personal cost, to change how Hawaii looks at its energy future would dream of suggesting that geothermal energy is the “easy solution.”
Innovations Development Group (IDG) has challenged the status quo. We have looked at how geothermal energy has been generated in Hawaii so far — and found it seriously wanting. We believe we can do better than the old profit-maximization model that has Hawaii residents paying the highest electricity rates in the nation.
We have had to deal with a system in which distribution of our electricity is controlled by HECO, a monopoly that is used to being a monopoly.
We have come up with a community-based model for geothermal development that clients in New Zealand have embraced but which has yet to see the light of day here in our native Hawaii because of the tortuous nature of the bid process.
We understand that is part of the price of wanting to blaze new trails and do what is in the best interests of the people. But we expect those who are supposed to help educate the community to do a better job of examining something as complex as the place of geothermal in Hawaii’s future.
Simply citing the mistakes made by past actors while ignoring the pioneering practices being proposed by new players is irresponsible.
We prefer the science-based observations of Dr. Sadiq Zarrouk who serves as one of IDG’s consultants and has surveyed the territory. Dr. Zarrouk has pointed out more than once that electricity generation from geothermal energy has been around for about 100 years with about 25 countries producing more than 11,000 megawatts ( MWe).
As with any industry, the technology of geothermal energy has evolved.
Why would anyone dismiss the benefits we can have now because of the failures of the past?
Our consultants who have surveyed Hawaii island tell us that a plant producing 50 MWe of energy is very doable. Any scaling up would be done in stages with further investigation. We are nowhere near discussing the possible 1,000 MWe output.
Yes, there are risks to many endeavors. But here is what we do know: During production, gas and liquid will be reinjected into the ground. This is a proven safe method. There is no reported case anywhere of an accidental release of gases resulting in a health risk to humans or animals. Geothermal gas and water with similar chemical signature make their way naturally to the ground surface in most natural geothermal systems, including Hawaii.
Even if these gases are somehow released to the air/atmosphere, they will have less of an impact than the flue gases released from burning oil, gas or coal in a plant of the same size.
No one claims that geothermal energy is going to solve all our energy needs. But it is a proven and reliable source used around the world. We would be failing future generations if we did not make the best possible use of our geothermal resources.
And it starts with having an informed and honest public conversation about it. Preferably one free of casual generalizations.
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Patricia K. Brandt is the 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 Hawaii State government, Pat has served in advisory capacities in the administrations of two Hawaii governors, John Waihee III and George Ariyoshi. She launched Hawaii’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. She is currently working with community groups on strategic planning and development by heading up the State’s Kupaa non-profit entity focusing on water and sewage.