Geothermal Development: Setting the Record Straight

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Mililani B Trask: Trustee Hawaiʻi Island

On Aug. 23, 2023, the Hawaiʻi Tribune Herald published an article about geothermal sites being developed on DHHL property. In the article I was identified as a principal of a geothermal permitted interaction group (PIG) and as a member of Waika Consulting.

That was incorrect. I am not a consultant with Waika, but I am a supporter of renewable energy – including geothermal and hydrogen.

Hawaiʻi cannot achieve renewable energy self-sufficiency in the near future. The development of geothermal renewable energy was proposed years ago, but culturally appropriate development was not pursued.

Instead, political influence was pursued. The first site chosen was the sacred location of Kīlauea. That failed due to Native Hawaiian opposition. Millions of dollars later, another site was selected, Wao Kele o Puna, Pele’s sacred forest. Over 1,000 people marched to oppose that site and several kūpuna were arrested and jailed.

The first (and only) geothermal plant was developed on private land. Since then, Hawaiʻi Island residents have experienced shutdowns, evacuations, and closures due to toxic fumes – allegedly due to outdated technology.

It’s time to recognize that Hawaiians and the public own geothermal energy (it’s considered a mineral under Hawaiʻi law). The old rubric – Hawaiʻi develops its renewable geothermal energy to benefit private investors from abroad while residents and owners of the resource reap the highest electricity bills in the nation – is no longer acceptable. It’s time for a change.

Hawaiians should be directly involved. As owners of geothermal energy resources, Hawaiians need to be at the table. Only then will we have the power to determine how development should proceed, where it should occur, and what technology should be used to ensure clean and safe energy for Hawaiʻi.

Moreover, other critical concerns need to be addressed when development proceeds. Will government, including OHA and DHHL, utilize geothermal revenues as a dedicated revenue stream for affordable housing for residents? Will state and county players recognize that Hawaiʻi Island will need – and should receive – a significant share of geo-revenues to fund development of our agricultural and pastoral resources for future food security for our island and state? Given construction costs, is it time to integrate a plan to utilize Hawaiʻi Island’s basalt minerals for roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs in our state?

As Hawaiʻi County Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy has noted, geothermal development would be a game changer for DHHL – which has 29,000 Hawaiians living and dying on waitlists for a homestead award. DHHL has long carried this burden. It’s time for the State Legislature to move forward with a renewable energy plan for the state.

I opposed geothermal development in the 70s and 80s because it was being pursued without the direct involvement of Hawaiians for the benefit of foreigners with political connections in Washington D.C., and because there was no benefit or consultation with Hawaiians.

The records also reflect that I supported geothermal development when it was proposed and developed by Hawaiians (Huena) who had a business model that ensured the development would be culturally appropriate, economically sustainable, and socially responsible.

I supported that plan and went to several communities on Hawaiʻi Island and Maui to host workshops on a culturally appropriate model for geothermal development for Hawaiʻi and Hawaiians. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Mililani