Hawaii led the way on clean energy policy, becoming the first state in the nation to mandate that 100% of its energy come from renewable sources by 2045.

While noble, little thought was given to how this mandate would be implemented, or to the effects of this radical transition away from fossil fuels. We are quickly learning the difficulty of transitioning to a clean energy economy and beginning to see the significant impacts felt on our lands and communities.

Hawaii’s clean energy initiative is narrowly focused on energy. This narrow focus fails to take the holistic, systems-wide view necessary to effectively combat climate change and meet our sustainability goals.

The initiative neglects to consider and integrate food security, ecological protection, human health, Native Hawaiian rights, and environmental justice. The current energy development model is utility driven and designed to protect the interests of the incumbent energy provider by rapidly building and integrating large utility-controlled projects.

This top-down, profit-driven approach ignores community voices. Simply put, this model is not pono and rightfully has been met with massive opposition.

The hard truth is that replacing fossil fuels with current renewable energy technologies will require significantly more land which is already in short supply, especially on Oahu.

Windmills near Kahuku tower over shoreline homes.

Windmills near Kahuku tower over shoreline homes. Many area residents complain that the community was not properly involved in considering more wind farms.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This dramatic shift in land use is compressing the interests of agriculture, energy and communities into a battle for limited resources, increasing the potential for conflicts and disputes. These conflicts are already happening with local farmers seeing significant increases in their costs of land and a renewable energy project under litigation in every county in the state.

Arguably the most controversial project is the Na Pua Makani wind project in Kahuku. In 2019, over 200 community members were arrested attempting to protect Kahuku from the development of this project.

The host community vehemently opposed the project for over 10 years; their reasons include objecting to the close proximity of the massive 586-foot turbines to residences and schools and the detrimental impacts to the health and safety of the community.

New Models Needed

The North Shore is not against renewable energy. The people of the North Shore understand the effects of climate change as their roads are literally falling into the rising sea. Ironically, few have contributed as much towards Hawaii’s clean energy future as the North Shore, hosting all three of Oahu’s wind farms and one of the island’s largest solar farms.

Because of the sacrifices made by those protecting the Kahuku community and others, the flaws in the current energy development model have been exposed and it is abundantly clear a new development model is needed.

This new model must be community and culturally driven as opposed to being driven by developers and corporate profits. It should be designed to encourage resilient communities and the equitable distribution of burdens through a process that is open, transparent, and easily accessible to the public.

Additionally, this new model must be flexible, incremental and open to change while avoiding “all or nothing” projects or technologies.

The first step in building this new model is ensuring that communities are active participants and meaningfully engaged in the development of clean energy projects. Hawaii has led the world in clean energy policy. We now must lead by implementing policies in a right and pono way.

This means bringing communities to the table as partners and not viewing them as impediments to this crucial transition for Hawaii. It also means rebuilding the system from the people up by combating climate change in ways that work in harmony with other long term goals, such as food sustainability, indigenous rights, and ecological protections.

This means honoring the solutions the ancestors of these islands implemented before and building on that ancestral knowledge to guide us towards living sustainably today.

A top-down, profit-driven approach ignores community voices.

We cannot transform our energy economy without transforming the system that develops it. If we are going to build this new system, we need new ideas, voices, and leaders. The events of 2019 have shown us there is an abundance of young, talented, local leaders eager to lend their voices and ready to help.

You can find their voices in community meetings at Kahuku elementary school late after work, or chained to a barrier in Kalaeloa or a cattle grate on Mauna Kea.

There are plenty of community voices and leaders who are eager to help Hawaii reach its sustainability goals; the government and developers just need to start listening. If Hawaii is to be successful in achieving its ambitious goals, including 100% renewable energy by 2045, it must do so by working with the people, not against them.

Climate change gives us the opportunity to build a new sustainable future that blends and integrates our food and energy systems into a truly sustainable economy that puts community, culture, and environment above corporate profit. Let’s not waste it.

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