Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Pele's Dilemma: The Future of Geothemal in Hawai`i

By Henry Curtis

The Hawai`i State Legislature created the pro-geothermal Hawai`i Geothermal Working Group in 2010 to review the geothermal expansion on Hawai`i Island. The Geothermal Working Group has invited Mililani Trask to its fourth meeting to discuss why geothermal is so successful in New Zealand. The meeting will be held at the Hawai`i County Building, Puna Conference Room #1501, from 1-4 pm on Monday October 11, 2010.

Mililani Trask told me: “I am concerned because some of these uses, like solar, have a huge footprint and provide intermittent energy. Geothermal has a small footprint and produces firm power.”

James "Mitch" Ewan, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute Program Manager, largely concurs: “Geothermal is the most effective, efficient, and fairly inexpensive to produce. Photovoltaic is the most expensive to develop; wind is the least expensive. If energy is used to produce hydrogen, the outlook is especially promising."

Tiffany Edwards Hunt: "I’m thinking geothermal too. Just need to find the balance between safety and innovation. I think the unrest in Puna is mostly due to anxiety that the geothermal can sometimes sound like a jet plane. PGV needs to be very proactive in assuring geothermal’s safety… and its emergency plans."

Davianna Pōmaikaʻʻi McGregor: "The interplay of many dynamic primal natural elements in Puna make it one of the most sacred areas in all of Hawai`i. ...Pelehonuamea practitioners believe that the waters of the Puna district are sacred to Kane and that the steam generated by the heart of Pelehonuamea is sacred to her."

Lack of Environmental Review

During the 1970s-1990s, Hawai`i had spent $17 million over 15 years laying the groundwork for geothermal to generate half of the State’s electricity needs and to transmit it to Maui and Oahu via an undersea cable. No state or federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was ever completed on the inter-island cable. In June 1991 Federal Judge David Ezra ruled that all federal agencies were prohibited from assisting the State in developing geothermal until a federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was completed. The project died.

The Hawai`i fight over geothermal was one of the two longest and most intense energy fights in Hawai`i. The other being the Kamoku-Pukele (Wa`ahila Ridge) 138kV Transmission Line fight on O`ahu (1971-2001). While Kamoku-Pukele pitted everyone against the utility, geothermal had and has divided the community.

Some people trace geothermal in Hawai`i to King David Kalakaua, who met with Thomas Edison in 1881 and discussed the possibility of harnessing geothermal to power the State. While Iolani Palace has electricity before the White House, there were no geothermal-to-electricity plants operating anywhere in the world in the 1800s, nor had the concept been proven to work.

The State Legislature

During the 2010 State Legislative Session, Senator Russell Kokubun introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 99 “requesting the establishment of a working group to analyze the potential development of geothermal energy as the primary energy source to meet the baseload demand for electricity on the Big Island.” The resolution passes both houses of the legislature with only Republican Senators opposing it.”

The Working Group is to file two Reports to the Legislature: an Interim Report (January 2011) and a Final Report (January 2012).

SCR 99: “WHEREAS, geothermal energy is a more reliable source of energy than solar or wind energy, because when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine, the heat from the volcano continues to produce a steady flow of power; and ...

WHEREAS, the United States Environmental Protection Agency asserts that greenhouse gases threaten public health and science overwhelmingly shows greenhouse gas concentrations are at unprecedented levels due to human activity; and

WHEREAS, there is irrefutable evidence that global warming is real and occurring at an alarming rate, with rising sea levels and stronger and more frequent storms; and ...

WHEREAS, previous geothermal development has raised sensitive issues regarding the impacts on native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual practices; and

WHEREAS, Hawaii needs a sustainable energy market that strikes a balance between economic, community, and environmental priorities; and ...

WHEREAS, as a proven source of reliable firm capacity, geothermal energy has great potential to be the primary source of energy to meet the Big Island's baseload demand, generating the amount of power required to meet minimum electricity demands based on reasonable expectations of customer requirements; now, therefore ...

The County of Hawaii is requested to establish, convene, and facilitate a working group to analyze the potential development of geothermal energy as the primary energy source to meet the baseload demand for electricity on the Big Island; and ...that the working group consist of eleven members with the Mayor of Hawaii County designating the chairperson.

Members of the Geothermal Working Group

Richard Ha, president of Hamakua Springs Country Farms., co-chair. “We absolutely must get into geothermal. Pau. End of story.” Richard Ha believes geothermal, not biofuels, provides the solution to Hawai`i’s energy crisis. “Geothermal could provide enough power for the entire state somewhere down the road and it would definitely help stabilize our economy.” Ha adds “Geothermal is a gift ...It is proven technology, it is cheap, and if we use it wisely, it will protect all of us from rising oil prices.” Ha supports an underwater cable to carry geothermal-generated electricity to other islands. Ha served on the Hawai`i County Mayor’s Energy Advisory Commission while Harry Kim was Mayor.

Wally Ishibashi, Big Island Labor Alliance, ILWU business agent, co-chair. “When it comes to geothermal, we’ve heard a thousand reasons why ‘no can’ ...What we need now is to find out how we can, and to move geothermal forward together.”

Carlito Caliboso, Chair of the Hawai`i Public Utility Commission. As chair of the regulating agency for utility regulatory actions, Caliboso does not take positions on issues outside of the regulatory process.

Patrick Kahawaiola’a, President of the Keaukaha Community Association and the cultural representative. Patrick Kahawaiola`a is director of Aupuni O Hawai i (Kingdom of Hawai i), an organization that which is made up of homesteaders, applicants and their families. He calls the commercial leasing of Home Lands illegal.  In October 2005 he was one of five Native Hawaiians who “filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that OHA is illegally spending its trust fund monies on all Hawaiians, not just those with 50 percent Hawaiian blood or more.”

Ted Peck, the State Energy Administrator in DBEDT. Peck recognizes that mistakes were made in the 1980s and is believed to be somewhat supportive of geothermal today.

Jay Ignacio, President of HELCO. Jay Ignacio submitted written testimony for SCR 99:

HELCO supports geothermal technologies that provide the grid services that are equivalent to conventional resources such as dispatchability, load following, inertia, frequency and voltage regulation. Because of our high penetration of variable or intermittent renewable generation, it is essential that future generating units provide these types of services.

For the majority of its operation, PGV has provided firm, reliable geothermal power to the Big Island electrical grid. PGV has had issues, past and present, with maintaining its geothermal resource and is currently taking steps to resolve this issue. HELCO is negotiating to increase PGV's PPA by 8 MW.

PGV has stated its plans to increase geothermal capacity on the Big Island by developing the resource in the Kona area. An increase in geothermal capacity in this area versus the Puna area would be helpful to HELCO as the electrical demand is larger on the Kona side of the Big Island than in the Puna district. Geothermal Production on the Kona side would also reduce transmission losses and the need for new cross island transmission lines. However, we believe that a lengthy geothermal subzone designation process would be required before any exploration can take place in Kona. In addition, cultural issues will have to be addressed.

Nelson Ho, is Chair of the Executive Committee of the Moku Loa Group (Hawaii Island) Sierra Club was appointed by the Senate President. Nelson Ho: “State needs to better regulate hydrogen sulfide emissions and tighten the amounts residents are exposed to. Also, the heavier than air nature of this toxic gas can create major hazards for people, activities and facilities downslope. ...How many energy eggs do we want to cram into one small geographical area with high volcanic risks? ...Its location in rainforests and sensitive upslope ecosystems really constrain its development.”

Robert Lindsey, Hawaii Island OHA trustee. Robert Lindsey has a long history regarding geothermal. He wrote a special to the New York Times on June 5, 1982. “In Hawaiian mythology, Pele was the goddess of volcanoes who wandered from island to island randomly creating firebreathing mountains. Here in Volcano these days, it sometimes seems that Pele has come out of her resting place in a local crater and has set the town on fire oratorically. This hamlet of a few thousand people on the edge of Volcanoes National Park is in an uproar over a proposal by one of the biggest landowners in Hawaii to divert hot steam and superheated water from deep within the geologically active earth here. It would be used to generate electricity that would help keep the lights blazing on Waikiki Beach, almost 200 miles to the north of here on the island of Oahu.”

Jacqui Hoover, Executive Director of the Hawai`i Leeward Planning Conference (HLPC) is the West Side Representative, appointed by the Hawai`i County Mayor. Hoover supports geothermal and an underwater cable to carry geothermal-generated electricity to other islands. Jacqui Hoover, formerly with the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) in Kailua-Kona, and was Chair of the Hawai`i County Mayor’s Energy Advisory Commission while Harry Kim was Mayor.

Barry Mizuno, Hawaii Island Economic Development Board (HIEDB). Barry Mizuno is PGV's former general manager and financial manager, and now a consultant for the company

DLNR seat- vacant

Rene Siracusa is not a member of the Geothermal Working Group. She told me that her personal view is that “there is some opposition to the Working Group, but most people don't even know it exists. The composition of the WG itself is stacked in favor of increased production and new sites. There is only one environmentalist and one native Hawaiian. The state promotes it because they get royalties."

Geothermal Resources

The Earth's core has a temperature upwards of 9,000°F. Heat radiating upwards has occurred since the Earth was formed and will continue to do so for the next few billion years. Thus geothermal energy is a form of renewable energy.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study: "The Future of Impact of Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) on the United States in the 21st Century (2006) found that the heat within the first 10km of the earth is 130,000 times the current annual consumption of primary energy in the United States. Drill bits today can dig down three times further, to 30 km.

The heat is produced 24/7. Thus geothermal is a continuous (baseload) energy source. The only other renewable baseload energy source available in Hawai`i is Ocean Thermal.

In addition to decreasing the need for imported fossil fuel, some forms of renewable energy are able to counter-balance short-term solar and wind fluctuations.

Maui energy consultant Carl Freedman told me: "I'm not so sure geothermal is a very good resource to provide grid stability for wind generation unless there have been some technological developments in the last few years that I don't know about (which is very possible). Geothermal is baseload that likes to run flat out all of the time to keep the well flows constant. Cycling geothermal is hard on well integrity due to thermal cycling stresses. It used to be that geothermal had to run all of the time and could not back off for daily cycling. I don't know if more recent technologies allow more cycling but, if not, wind and geothermal are not the most compatible resources. They both run at night when system demand is lowest and both require other additional supply resource to supply operational reserve."

Many people have told me that geothermal plants are not good at altering their output to match fluctuations in wind and solar energy. Geothermal can have two separate production streams: proving electricity when the utility can use it, and producing hydrogen when the utility cannot use the electricity. However, the utility will only sign a contract with an energy provider if it forbids third party sales and this may include hydrogen production.

Geothermal Recreation

Ahalanui Park (Puna, Hawai`i County) has a lifeguard station for its geothermal pool. One can bathe in the geothermal water while watching ocean waves breaking at the makai end of the pool.

Geothermal has been known and used by people around the world for at least 10,000 years in many places including areas currently called Russia, Iceland, Hungary, New Zealand, United States, and Italy. National Parks such as Yellowstone have sprung up around geysers which draw millions of visitors. Hot Springs, Arkansas are named for the spring-fed geothermal baths. Bathers swim in Reykjavik’s blue geothermal lagoon. There are hot spring spas near Mount Fuji. Naples, Italy has fumaroles (steam discharges).

The Hawai`i Clean Energy Initiative

Governor Lingle, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), DBEDT, and the Consumer Advocate signed an Energy Agreement in October 2008 which has become the cornerstone of the Hawai`i Clean Energy Initiative.

The Energy Agreement states: "The parties agree to analyze the expansion of the undersea cable system to the Island of Hawaii and to assess the potential of the expanded undersea cable to facilitate the development of additional renewable energy resources on the Island of Hawaii. The intent of this effort is to identify the ability to utilize ...geothermal ...resources to meet the electricity needs of the ratepayers of the Hawaiian Electric Companies. "

Blue Planet immediately endorsed the Energy Agreement. “The Blue Planet Foundation today praised both Hawaiian Electric Company and the State of Hawai'i for their revolutionary agreement regarding Hawai`i's energy future. ...The Blue Planet Foundation billed the agreement as a revolution in how Hawai'i will generate and use energy in the future. "This is more than a step in the right direction, this is a leap," said Henk Rogers, Founder of the Blue Planet Foundation. ..."Today's agreement represents transformative change," said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation.

Blue Planet Foundation founder Henk Rogers: We have all the geothermal you could possible need. There is enough of it on the big island to feed all of Hawaii. Native resistant (sic) to tapping into Pele is what prevents us from building a cable and connecting that to O'ahu. That is kind of crazy right? It is kind of crazy.”

Mark Niesse (AP) reported: “There's a way to do it with minimal impact. The cable is the least of the environmental concerns," said Jeff Mikulina, executive director for the Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is to make Hawaii energy independent. 'If we have private investors who are interested in doing this, then by all means let's do it.'"

Kona Geothermal Energy

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory states that “Hualalai is the third youngest and third-most historically active volcano on the Island of Hawai`i. Six different vents erupted lava between the late 1700s and 1801, two of which generated lava flows that poured into the sea on the west coast of the island. The Keahole Airport, located only 11 km north of Kailua-Kona, is built atop the larger flow.
Though Hualalai is not nearly as active as Mauna Loa or Kilauea, our recent geologic mapping of the volcano shows that 80 percent of Hualalai's surface has been covered by lava flows in the past 5,000 years. In the past few decades, when most of the resorts, homes, and commercial buildings were built on the flanks of Hualalai, earthquake activity beneath the volcano has been low. In 1929, however, an intense swarm of earthquakes lasting more than a month was most likely caused by magma rising to near the surface. For these reasons, Hualalai is considered a potentially dangerous volcano that is likely to erupt again in the next 100 years.”

Ormat, the parent company of Puna Geothermal Ventures, has begun exploring Hualalei for geothermal energy potential. The west side of the island has rising energy demand and having a local renewable energy source would cut down on transmission line losses.

Maui Geothermal Energy

The last lava flow on Maui occurred 200 years ago in the southwest rift zone of Haleakala. Last year Ormat won a U.S. Department of Energy grant to pursue geothermal on Maui.

Maui energy consultant Carl Freedman told me "From years ago, I remember some doubts expressed by geologists about the likelihood of a productive geothermal aquifer on Maui. Heat probably water/steam less likely. But, of course, who knows until they drill to look. This would possibly not be a popular resource with the nearby resort community on Maui (if they are paying any attention). Sulphides smell bad in very low concentrations and geothermal plants seem to release sulphides sometimes."

Last year Maui eco-reporter and advocate Rob Parsons "heard that new or prospective owners of the Hana Ranch and Hotel were incorporating a geothermal component into their business plan. I responded that I thought it very unusual for the owners to look to make their money off this uncertain, unproven source, and for the entire island of Maui to look to receive the bulk of their electrical energy from the most remote end of the island. But then again, I suppose tourism and ranching in Hana is equally uncertain, in both the short and long term. The other geothermal hotspot is the rift zone in Kanaio and Kahikinui, marked by the string of cinder cones stretching down to La Perouse Bay and Keoneoio. The land ownership is Hawaiian Homelands, and Ulupalakua ranch, which recently announced putting nearly 12,000 acres into permanent conservation easement. They also are producing a 20MW wind project in the Kanaio area. Geothermal was discussed for this area many, many years ago."

Hawaii ‘s First Geothermal Venture (1961-1991)

Geothermal research started on the Big Island in 1961 when the Hawaii Thermal Power Co. drilled four privately wells in Kilauea's east rift zone. The State and the National Science Foundation continued to research geothermal possibilities for Hawaii. The Hawaii Geothermal Project Well-A (HGP-A) was constructed in 1975-76 and a 3 MW geothermal generator produced electricity from 1981-89.

In 1983 the State Legislature passed Act 296: "Beginning in 1983, the board of land and natural resources shall conduct a county-by-county assessment of areas with geothermal potential for the purpose of designating geothermal resource subzones. This assessment shall be revised or updated at the discretion of the board, but at least once each five years beginning in 1988."

The Hawaii Deep Water Cable Project (1982-90) was a formal state effort designed to bring power from the Big Island to O`ahu.

Ceded Land Transfers & Cultural Impacts

Campbell Estate received state approval for geothermal development on conservation district land on the mauka border of Wao Kele in 1982. The State of Hawai`i exchanged approximately 27,800 acres of public "ceded" lands, “including the Wao Kele 'O Puna Natural Area Reserve and other Puna lands on the Island of Hawai`i, for approximately 25,800 acres of land owned by the Estate of James Campbell in 1985.

Wao Kele O Puna is habitat for many native species including the ‘ohi‘a, häpu‘u fern, ‘ie‘ie vine, hala, köpiko, ‘io (Hawaiian hawk), ope‘ape‘a (Hawaiian bat), ‘apapane and ‘amakihi honeycreepers. Wao Kele O Puna is also used for cultural access and gathering.

Hawaiian Electric Company ran a TV ad in the early 1980s filmed near Halemaumau Crater that that ended with a giant electric plug being jammed into a giant receptacle planted on the ground.

 The Pele Defense Fund (PDF) led community and native Hawaiian opposition to geothermal project. This group was founded by followers of the traditional Hawaiian religious practices, particularly worship of Pele, the volcano goddess.

Lawsuits opposing geothermal were filed by the Pele Defense Fund, the Wao Kele O Puna Rainforest, Greenpeace USA, Big Island Rainforest Action Group, Blue Ocean Preservation Society, Citizens for Responsible Energy Development with Aloha Aina, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace Hawaii, Kapoho Community Association, O’ahu Rainforest Action Group, Pahoa Business Association, Rainforest Action Network, and the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now known as EarthJustice) provided the attorneys.

The Hawai`i Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that although the Pele Defense Fund could not contest the transfer of public ceded lands, it could litigate the extent to which Hawaiians retained rights customarily and traditionally exercised for subsistence, cultural and religious purposes in Wao Kele ‘o Puna. The high court issued a landmark final decision in 2002 which acknowledged that the State Constitution protected Hawaiian cultural rights including traditional access, gathering and hunting.

Gina M. Watumull wrote in the University of Hawai`i Law Review (Summer, 1994):

In the 1992 case of Pele Defense Fund v. Paty, the Hawaii Supreme Court rendered a landmark decision which broadly held that native Hawaiian rights protected by article XII, section 7 of the Hawaii Constitution "may extend beyond the ahupua'a in which a native Hawaiian resides where such rights have been customarily and traditionally exercised in this manner." This controversial decision abolished over 100 years of Hawaii Supreme Court precedent which restricted native tenant gathering rights to the ahupua'a of residency. The ahupua'a residency requirement had been judicially imposed since at least 1858 in Oni v. Meek, and reaffirmed as recently as 1982 in the case of Kalipi v. Hawaiian Trust Co.. Further, the Oni and Kalipi decisions were predicated upon the Kuleana Act of 1850 and its modern day successor, Hawaii Revised Statutes section 7-1. Both sources likewise limit the practice of customary and traditional rights to tenants residing within the ahupua'a in which they seek to exercise the rights.

OHA subsequently acquired Wao Kele o Puna rainforest in 2006, and agreed to manage the forest in partnership with the surrounding communities, ensuring that the land will be permanently preserved from development.

Davianna Pomaika'i McGregor told me that "the Pele Defense Fund remains committed to oppose geothermal energy development.  It is a desecration of our Akua Pele."

A Kanaka Maoli told me something that was echoed by many other Native Hawaiians: “I'm neutral on this one and feel that the people of these areas where geothermal energy exists should be the ones to give their mana`o.  I heard two views from a man from Big Island.  He said his first feeling was that geothermal energy was not pono because it takes of the essence of Tutu Pele, like her life force, the blood from her veins.  Then he said after these years with geothermal energy and the benefits it has produced for the people, he said perhaps the way to look at it is to say that Tutu Pele allows us to suckle from her breasts and be nurtured by her.  Both images are powerful, but it really depends on what the `aina wants and what the people want.”

Environmental Impacts

There are three types of geothermal plants operating it the world.

Historically the first geothermal plants used dry and sometimes slightly warm steam to drive a turbine. The world’s first geothermal-to-electricity plant which was built in Larderello, Italy and the Northern California Geysers are Dry-Steam Cycle plants. Today dry steam plants are a small minority of all geothermal plants in the world.

Most geothermal power plants use geothermal water under great pressure. When the pressure is released some of the water flashes to a boil and the resulting steam powers a turbine.

The third type has two separate piping systems, one for the geothermal water and one for a working fluid. The pipes are connected via a heat exchanger. In this way only the working fluid, and not the corrosive mineral rich geothermal water, comes in contact with the turbine.

Open cycle plants release the waste-steam into the air while closed cycle plants return the waste-steam into the ground.

The Hawai`i geothermal facility was an open cycle facility built close to residential communities. There were numerous planned and unplanned air emissions. And in 1991 there was a 31-hour well blowout. According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there were 19 gas releases between 1991 and 1996 and the plant was a significant source of hydrogen sulfide released into the environment.

Ormat Technologies, Inc., an Israeli-owned Nevada-based company, acquired Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) in 2004. The plant operates today as a closed system where the exhaust is piped deep into the Earth.

Since the facility pipes the waste-stream into the ground, the amount of harmful air emissions is greatly reduced. Offsetting this are three significant issues. Geothermal facilities are built in unstable lava areas. The Hawai`i Department of Health does not have a great track record in dealing with toxic emissions. The Board of Land and Natural Resources issue permits with conditions which they do not track or enforce.

The major environmental impacts are related to air emissions and how a geothermal plant gets rid of its waste steam. The chief byproducts of geothermal wells are carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S), with the latter distinguished by its "rotten egg" smell.

Geothermal water, especially high-temperature water, often contains high concentrations of contaminates including boron (B), arsenic (As), lithium (Li), hydrogen sulphide (H2S), mercury (Hg), and sometimes ammonia (NH3).

Mike Purvis stated: “The PGV uses substantially different methods than in 1981 ...they were simply pumping thermal fluids into open lakes. This was wafting toxic fumes asunder, but now the system is a closed loop. ...It does bother me, however, when the community has to raise hell to get a “green resource” non-toxic.”

Rene Siracusa: “PGV has come a long way since they first began in Puna - they had a very slow learning curve and the residents suffered considerably. But this doesn't mean that what they have learned will all be applicable to a new site, as each site has its own geology. Murphy's Law has not been repealed. The state never took responsibility for the damage they did to the Wao Kele O Puna rainforest, which is rife with strawberry guava and melastomes. The WG will probably not impose/recommend stricter rules and guidelines than the previous CDUA (which was violated constantly and consistently anyway, with no enforcement). Many cultural practitioners oppose drilling into Pele - and others don't see it as a problem providing the proper protocols are followed - but there is no guarantee they will be.”

Geothermal in the U.S. West

Siting of geothermal plants in the U.S. have run into opposition. Medicine Lake is located in the Modoc National Forest, in northeastern California, about 35 miles south of the Oregon border. For 10,000 years the lake is a sacred place used for healing and spiritual communion for 10,000 years. The case is pending before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A group of property owners, recreation users, environmentalists, and Native Americans (including the Pit River tribe) are concerned about the industrialization of a forest environment, use of untested drilling techniques, uncontrolled releases from deep wells, risk of contaminating the aquifer.  The project is supported by some Indian groups (pro jobs) and some environmental groups (pro renewable energy).

The year a Bureau of Land Management lease sale was postponed due to opposition about and questions about building the geothermal power plant in the picturesque and narrow Chalk Creek Valley, Colorado.

The New York Times (Phil Taylor, January 21, 2010) has reported on opposition to geothermal plants in Nevada (safety record and visual impacts), and Oregon (proximity to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, potential impacts to area groundwater).


Proposed geothermal facilities in the Philippines: Mount Apo (Mindanao), Mt Canlaon (Negros Occidental, Western Visayas) have run into opposition from the Catholic church, indigenous peoples, local environment groups

Japan has thousands of onsen (hot springs) that were traditionally used for bathing and are now tourist destinations. Geothermal developers insist that power plants can co-exist with onsen, but some onsen are concerned with the potential decrease in hot geothermal water.

The Bedugul Geothermal Project in Bali, Indonesia, has been put on hold due to opposition.
New Zealand’s Geothermal Experience

New Zealand is located on the Pacific’s "Ring of Fire." where the earth is always in a state of upheaval.

The Taupo Volcanic Zone (30 miles wide and 150 miles long) in the central North Island, New Zealand, is home to most of New Zealand’s active volcanoes and geothermal plants. New Zealand’s first geothermal plant was built in Wairakei.

Tikitere ("Hell's Gate") on South Island, New Zealand, has steaming lakes, fumaroles (steam discharges), mud pools, a mud volcano and the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere and the only Maori-owned geothermal plant.

Aotearoa (New Zealand) pioneered the use of geothermal water to power a turbine. New Zealand. Maori have opposed a number of geothermal facilities. Locals blame geothermal for subsidence problems in Taupo. Mililani Trask is working with proponents of geothermal in New Zealand and will be discussing it on Monday.

The PhD Thesis by Nin Tomas details the Ngawha Geothermal Hearings – Waitangi Tribunal (1992-1993).

On the question of “ownership” and “rangatiratanga” (chieftainship), the Tribunal was of the opinion that Nga Hapu o Ngawha had once owned the entire Ngawha land resource above and below ground. However, the sale of the Block by Heta Te Haara in 1894 had completely extinguished “any right of management and control or rangatiratanga over the surface components of the geothermal system or the sub-surface components under the alienated land in the block.”

Nin Tomas, LLB, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Auckland, Law School, is tangata whenua, being a member of the Tai Tokerau confederation of iwi and a graduate of Auckland University, and a founding member of Te Tai Haruru (Māori academic staff). She is part of the vanguard of change in NZ law teaching, consciously using and developing indigenous and Māori concepts in her ordinary teaching.

The Future of Geothermal Exploration in Hawai`i

`Olelo No`eau: "I ka wa ma mua, ka wa ma hope" (To move forward it is necessary to know where one comes from)

Davianna Pōmaikaʻʻi McGregor wrote “Nā Kuaʻāina: Living Hawaiian Culture” (2007)

In 1983 the Pele practitioners formed an organization they called the Pele Defense Fund. In 1985 they adopted a statement of the inherited beliefs that led them to oppose geothermal energy.

Pele Perspectives

1. Pele is the heart, the life of the Hawaiian religious beliefs and practices today.

2. Pele has always been and is today central and indispensable to Hawaiian traditional religious beliefs and practices.

3. Nowhere in the geographic Pacific except Hawai`i is there a recognized volcano-nature God but Pele.

4. Pele is the akua, and `aumakua of Hawaiians today. Her blood-relationship continue as shared traditions, genealogy and aloha for particular `aina and places in Hawai`i. Pele is kupuna and “tutu” to many Native Hawaiians.

5. Pele is the inspiration, strength and focus for those who are established in practices and performances on ancestral tradition and religion.

6. Pele influences daily spiritual and physical life activities, making it essential that Pele exist in pure form and environment.

7. Pele’s person, her body-spirit, her power-mana, her very existence are the lands of Hawai`i. This `aina is her, which she replenishes, nourishes, and protects. She is seen in special-alternate body forms, along with those of her sisters and brothers, their kino lau: the native fern, the native shrub, of the blossoms of the native trees.

8. Pele is a living God. She is tangible. She has a home on Hawai`i. She has been seen by many living in Hawai`i. She causes earth quakes, tidal waves and lands to sink or surface from the ocean.

9. Pele is the magma, the heat, the vapor, the steam, and the cosmic creation which occur in volcanic eruptions. She is seen in the lava, images of her standing erect, dancing, and extending her arms with her hair flowing into the steam and clouds.

10. We know geothermal development will adversely affect and personally injure the sacred body of the God Pele, and that she will retaliate. We fear for the loss of our God, for the loss of the spirits of our ancestors, for the loss of the lives of our children, and for the loss of our places in Hawai`i.

11. We believe that geothermal development will unduly burden those who are the family of Pele, her guardians, her worshippers.

12. Geothermal development would impair those who depend on salient images of Pele, her viability, and her forests which are connections to the deity.

13. Geothermal development would impinge upon the continuation of all essential ritual practices and therefore also impacts the ability of training young persons in traditional religious beliefs and practices, and the ability to convey them to future generations.

14. Geothermal development will take Pele and diminish and finally delete her creative force, causing spiritual-religious, cultural, psychological and sociological injury and damage to the people who worship and live with Pele.

Henry Curtis can be contacted at:

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No doubt geothermal can provide a lot of energy. I expect environmental and other engineering challenges can be overcome, if faced honestly. Both the potential negative AND POSITIVE impacts should neither be exaggerated nor minimized. Whether enough public consensus can be forged to allow the project to proceed is a separate, but related question.

The accusation the energy will be used “to light up hotels 200 miles away" might be dismissed as a cheap, demagogic argument. But it contains kernels of truth. Those truths provide clues on how to defuse the argument's force, though those in power will only respond with minimal concessions, if allowed to do so.

IF geothermal development benefits the residents of Puna and, for that matter, native Hawaiians, they will see the project as mostly positive and opposition to it will be confined to a few die-hards. This is NOT a recommendation that a few "leaders" be bought off and "local" or "Hawaiian" faces be hired as PR consultants to mislead those "who look like them,” as has been done with GMO production, the Rail and too many developments.

It means Puna residents and native Hawaiians must get decent jobs out of this and be brought into management of the project to ensure people rooted in the community, tapped into the concerns of the community through family ties and friendships, help steer the project. Those sensitive to Hawaiian cultural concerns must able to ensure things are done respectfully.

What is MOST likely, given the DEFAULT logic in our economic and political systems, is any Geothermal development project will be run with the psychology and social impact of other North American extractive industry project, like mining. Outside investors will reap most of the benefits, the top jobs will go to highly trained technical and management people from (again) outside and the energy generated will be exported, at subsidized prices, to benefit those "hotels in Waikiki 200 miles away." There is a further risk. If geothermal produces a lot of energy, Big Island residents could see hasty approval of highly polluting industries springing up in the shadow of the project, encouraged by the state and county to use the electricity and help pay for it.

Or, it may lead to a de-salinization plant. Sounds good, yeah? Except if it contributes to an expansion of housing and hotels for the rich, B.I. real estate might explode in a way which even further alienates current residents from control over their lives and community. De-salinization, geothermal or any major development project, will, by default, be designed to maximize benefits for the corporate interests which dominate our economy and, from that position, our political system as well. “Solutions” will be sold to the public with distorted claims of their costs and benefits and how those costs and benefits will be distributed. Understanding this provides as skeptical framework for judging proposals and for demanding the benefits be shared more equitably if public consent is to allow a project to move forward.

* * * * * *

I am heartened to learn of Mililani Trask's attitude towards geothermal. She has been a strong advocate for the rights of indigenous Hawaiians. Through her work, she has developed strong ties with the Maori of Aotearoa (New Zealand). The Maori have been able to win (through struggle) some respect for their rights as the original people of NZ. If she has lessons to share based upon the Maori experiences with geothermal, that will be valuable information and may suggest a path forward.

Without mentioning names, there are people of Hawaiian ancestry who seek to inject themselves into negotiations over development projects, willing to mislead others for a price. Er, "a consulting fee." Mililani's history of integrity suggests she will not play that role, but is sincerely looking for solutions to the economic and environmental problems facing Hawaii's people. I, for one, will listen carefully to what she has to offer.

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