Viewpoint: Geothermal is good for Hawaii’s future

Today, I call Maui home because it has been my base for 42 years. But I am also connected to the other islands through the bridges we all build through work and family. My ancestors once roamed the pastures of Waimea as cowboys for the famed Parker Ranch. My love for singing began at a Waimea church as a child. Later, I started my working life in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands before moving to Gov. John A. Burns’ office.

Strong ties also bind me to the community on Maui. My professional life with Maui County had me working on issuing and enforcing permits for land development. At night, I sang my heart out as part of Maui’s entertainment scene.

But nothing compares to the importance of what I have been charged to do as the Maui trustee of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. One of the initiatives that I have gotten involved in during my short term as a trustee is having OHA participate in the development of geothermal. That decision has everything to do with family – and with the future.

More than $5 billion flows out of our state annually. It goes to the companies that send us tankers of oil that we are dependent on for our electricity and transportation needs. Someday our children will ask: “Why did we wait so long to use the many forms of renewable energy we have been blessed with in these islands?” Will we have a good answer for them?

When the OHA trustees voted to invest in Huena Power, the development arm of Innovations Development Group, they were taking a step in the direction of making sure we have answers for our children and grandchildren. I believe that geothermal holds the key to reducing our dangerous dependence on oil.

It holds the key to economic development. It brings with it jobs for our children and affordable power for our small businesses and farmers.

There are always noisy dissenting voices. Here are some facts that we should keep in mind each time someone says no to geothermal development. According to the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, Hawaii is at the top nationally in our addiction to petroleum. We rely on imported oil for 75 percent of our electricity generation. We say “lucky we live Hawaii,” but how lucky is it that our average cost per kilowatt hour in March was 37.46 cents while people in Idaho paid 8.46 cents?

We owe it to families who are struggling to act now. People should not have to choose between food on the table or keeping the lights on. It’s shameful. We need to act now to responsibly develop our geothermal resources if we don’t want our children to feel they have to move elsewhere to be able to afford a decent life. The high cost of energy is hindering growth and hurting families in a very personal way. For years now, we have imported oil from the Mainland, Indonesia, Australia and China. And we have been held hostage to prices set by the actions of the oil cartel, OPEC. This has to change.

If we care about our families, we should not let protests obscure our view of the bigger picture. We speak often about sovereignty. Progressive thinkers worldwide know that we achieve food and energy sovereignty when people have democratic access and control over their natural resources. Only then can people have the “ability to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and to determine their political status.”

That is why I am proud of OHA’s decision to go into partnership with a Native Hawaiian company that is approaching geothermal development in a community-centered way. Innovations Development Group has held numerous meetings to listen, learn and inform. I’ve seen it firsthand. This Native Hawaiian-led team lived through what people experienced previously with geothermal. They were, and still are, community champions.

When people ask me why I feel so strongly about developing the legacy of Pele, I say, “I’m doing it for my family.” Don’t we all want to tell our children we did our best to secure their future?

* Carmen Hulu Lindsey is the Maui OHA trustee.