Thursday, February 10, 2011


Are wind farms on Lanai and Molokai to feed the ravenous energy needs of Oahu simply immoral?

by Larry Geller

A comment posted by Anonymous to yesterday’s article Testimony needed on billion dollar undersea cable bills (2/9/2011) raises an issue that seldom figures into the debate on plans to install wind farms on Neighbor Islands. The project makes profit by disfiguring the Neighbor Islands to produce electrical power for Oahu—and the question is whether doing that is somehow morally wrong: Anonymous wrote, in part:

also, i'm curious to know your thoughts on this other point that seems to be raised by some molokai and lanai people that somehow it is morally wrong to have molokai or lanai generate energy for maui or oahu. as though sharing of resources (both ways) somehow becomes immoral if it involves energy generation. perhaps 200 towers is too much, but i'd like to know your thoughts about that underlying argument in general.

Most often the objections raised by ordinary citizens are based on NIMBY—that is, who would want a noisy, intrusive bunch of wind turbines as neighbors. Specialists like Henry Curtis have a different, well reasoned, set of objections.

But who is standing for the simple issue that it is just morally wrong to go forward with the proposed project?

I find myself sympathetic.

There is something good and wholesome about growing crops on the land, or even housing people. It’s good to have schools and hospitals nearby. Erecting wind farms for the benefit of another island seems to be more akin to rape of the land. Exploitation. Disfigurement. So yes, I think the moral argument can have traction, and I thank Anonymous for raising it.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


i wasn't suggesting that moralizing the issue was necessarily a good thing. i actually don't have a position but it reminds me of some of the superferry folks that took the matter out of politics and made it a moral issue. the danger with that set up was that it depoliticized a number of underlying issues that turned the whole thing into a 'with us or against us' scenario and undercut the possibility of support from many communities that might otherwise be natural allies against lingle and military issues. i think the superferry saga was a pyrrhic victory for the environmental movement in hawai'i.

molokai and lanai nimbys are not the only place where entire swaths of public discourse are being depoliticized in favor of moralization. how effective is this for progressive politics? can progressive politics make progress using the main play from the evangelical play book? (that is, thank god when we win, and remind ourselves of the sermon on the mount when we lose)

I have to think about the immoral part. Oahu is supporting Lanai and Molokai with our tax dollars. I'm perfectly fine with that and believe it is the moral thing to do, so while I think it is fine to have a discussion on wind farms on Lanai and Molokai I don't believe the people of those islands can make the morality argument with a straight face.

I am very skeptical of the undersea cable and what appears to be an effort to "solve" our energy problems by relying on overly capitalized and overly centralized projects which will continued to be controlled by monopolies. I prefer relying upon dispersed generation, allowing homeowners and small businesses a chance to get into the action, both in terms of sharing the profits and allowing for different technologies to compete against each other.

But I am also skeptical of the "moral" argument that it is wrong for one island to generate energy which is then exported to another island.

Can we "unpack" that argument? Let's assume there are "costs" and "benefits" associated with the wind farms. What are the anticipated "costs" for the residents of Lanai? What will they lose if the project goes forward? Almost everybody on Lanai lives in Lanai City, nowhere near the proposed site. Maybe when they go fishing or hiking the "view" of that portion of the island will be "despoiled"?

First, I question how many Lanai residents use that portion of the island and how often. Second, it is not clear to me that the quality of their occasional visits to that area will decline appreciably due to the windmills on the hill above them. I guess beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but when I go to Maui, I do not find the windmills there to be ugly.

But who is to set a price on the inconvenience or loss faced by the Lanai residents if the project were to go through? A sensible approach would be there to be negotiations with the residents of Lanai to compensate them for the presence of the wind farm to determine exactly how many "benefits," and in what form it would take for them to find the windfarm project more beneficial than not.

But who represents the people of Lanai? And since almost eveeryone here depends upon Murdock for their employment, how free are the residents to speak up and assert their rights? If the employees/tenants of Castle & Cooke have less freedom to speak up, does that mean the small number of people not accountable to Murdock therefore better represent Lanai residents? I doubt that claim.

It is only "immoral" to force the residents of one island (or an area on an island) to endure the negative impact of any massive project if they are not fairly compensated with other benefits. If the benefits package is favorable, any so-called "immorality" fades away.

It may be esthetically pleasing to our minds for each island to provide its own energy. And it may prove more cost-effective. But I think the "moral" aspect depends upon a crude sort of appeal which cannot stand up to scrutiny.

All three of these comments are infuriating to many of us on Kaua`i. Yes, this is
EXACTLY like the Stupidferry. The attitude of Honolulu people who think we’re here to exploit for their use and amusement is the problem in both cases.

The SF was not a pyrrhic anything. It was very much a real victory since we don’t have the city throngs invading our beach parks with 250 truckloads of families a day camping at our already crowded facilities that they don’t pay for. There was no proposal to pay for impact or anything at all with the SF- just take, take, take.

And don’t give us this we’re supporting you with our tax dollars. We pay more than our fair share and usually get little but a road around the island in return- and that comes from the gas tax not the general fund so proportionately we pay for it- actually more than pay for it.

Every one of our state parks are in shambles with little or no maintenance beyond picking up the trash and all that is proposed by the state is to charge fees which will not even stay in the park they were generated. We have no taxing authority except for property taxes and have to run all the county facilities on our own- and now you want to steal out TAT share for another burden serving the tourist trade without the ability to generate funds to maintain things they trample. And you complain when we don’t want them trampled.

It feels to us like some kind of white man’s burden thing where you steal our resources and think it’s okay because you leave us your “bible” of city thinking, infuriatingly asking us “how much would it take to...”. It reminds us of the old “we already know what kind of girl you are- now we’re just haggling over price” joke.

The message is not to “keep out” but to keep your hands off our rural nature and resources and respect our right to home rule when it comes to development. We are often reticent to exploit them for our own use and certainly don’t need to have them stolen.

You may like your city living- good for you. But don’t force it or the ills it brings on us. That may seem like a moral issue but for us it’s also a real live political matter of controlling our own development destiny and making sure that whatever resources we have are for our use.


i live on a neighbor island andy. and unfortunately on my neighbor island, the superferry fiasco turned the many local, working class people against environmentalism and environmental protection in land use in general. it has deepened divisions in our community and made it much more difficult to make coalitions on environmental issues. there were many problems with the process of approving the superferry but that was not how it was presented on my island. instead, it was presented as superferry is inherently evil (moralizing) and Honolulu interests are usurping our home rule power. but what about the half of my island that wanted it? the moral argument was not a strong selling point. and they didn't see it as a usurping home rule issue (you see there isn't a monolithic 'we' which another danger in moralizing political issues, you loose the layers, the difference and complexity that makes a community).

they didn't accept the moral characterization at all and so the valid issues related to process were ignored and seen as merely pretext to stop the superferry. and then, the laws that provide the process were subsequently looked as borderline illegitimate-in-themself. if you look at how to strengthen environmental regulation and deepen community support/buy-in for environmental protection, the superferry fiasco was a pyrrhic victory.

also, your view of who is entitled to make decisions about natural resources that nobody owns is unjustifiedly narrow bordering on absurd and certainly cannot sustain a response from the city folks (you criticize) who say that the natural resources of this state are for the whole state because they rely on the same mechanism that you do, an unsupportable definition of 'our'. creating the familiar us/them binary makes good religion but bad politics -- remember our preacher in chief from 2000-2008 who was only familiar with two colors in the crayon box: black and white.

this is also not a new strand of thinking in hawaii. the independents for godly government where radical in their environmentalism. i agreed with much of their views on small farms, organic farming, vegetarianism, sustainability even some of their attacks on bishop estate's political connections. it was just the gay concentration camps, imprisoning women who have abortions, etc., that was hard to stomach. yet, when there is no room for politics, it's easy to slip into that kind of thing.

I don’t know what island you’re on but it was not as much strictly an “environmental” issue for us although the usurping of the EIS process was a slap in the face and people objected to that.

Primarily it was a matter of usurping local planning- by law by the Division of Harbors was exempted as we found out... no zoning permits, no SMA, no public hearings here- no local control whosoever. An EIS would- or should- have included financial- and even cultural- impacts island wide. You must know what pisses off local people the most- not asking. It’s the same as if you want a mango from someone’s yard. We saw it as people taking our mangoes and not only not asking but fighting us when we asked them to ask properly.

That’s primarily what mobilized people and why they blocked the harbor that day- Don’t forget how it came down. It had been building but we all were specifically outraged that the SF tried to get away with coming that day after supreme court had said no the day before but hadn’t formalize it and wouldn’t until the next week. Don’t forget SF moved it up to do that. That’s what put it over the top to where it was universally opposed, not just “environmentalists.” If anything it made more local people appreciate the environmentalists more. Plus we have a huge “malama `aina” Hawaiian local population to begin with.

Although it was fought- and won- on the EIS thing by Honolulu people- actually technically Maui- people here didn’t see it as an environmental issue as much as a social one so there was overwhelming opposition across cultural lines.

As a matter of fact the pro SF faction was predominantly settlers and the Chamber of Commerce crowd, not local people.

Almost all the local people here opposed it. I was surprised by that at first but we are the most adamantly rural of the neighbor islands. We do a lot of camping and hanging at the beach and the repercussions were all too apparent right off the bat, including and maybe especially among the born and raised crowd. More and more lately we’re being squeezed out of our local hangouts already by tourists with rent-a-cars. Imagining truckfuls of campers was terrorizing. Our back roads are torn up enough by local people who know how to drive them. It only takes one Honolulu or Maui weekend warrior who has never taken their 4x4 off the highway to rip up a road so no one can use it until the money is there to fix it- which may be never if it’s the state, especially in Koke`e. That’s what I mean by financial and cultural impacts.

Maui is just like Honolulu as far as I’m concerned and the Big Island is so big that it didn’t have the potential problem we had so people probably weren’t as concerned- and it wasn’t even going to go to the BI at first. So just because other neighbor islands feel one way doesn’t mean Kaua`i does... we’re the separate kingdom and proudly defend it.

No one is going to read this- maybe I’ll turn it into a column.

I think it boils down to this:

Oahu hasn't lived within its means and has trashed their island. Now they want to suck up resources from the outer islands that are still rural and not in as bad shape.

It sets a bad precedent that Oahu doesn't start really looking at its energy planning and develop a strategy that benefits its own people.

A better method would include:

Interruptible power (for peak shaving)

Using that $billion to reduce resident utility bills via rooftop solar

Better mixed use neighborhoods so that people don't need to commute so far

These things would be much more effective in decreasing CO2 and making Oahu sustainable AND they would directly benefit the residents of Oahu instead of exploiting them so that Murdock can walk away with a quarter of a $billion every year of Oahu ratepayers' money.

Big Cable, Big Money, Big Kickbacks, Big Campaign Contribution, Big Politics. Big Stupid idea. Big continuation of the rampant corruption. No it's not just "wink wink, you know how it is", this pervasive corruption is very harmful to the long term good of the people's of Hawaii.

I have to think about the immoral part. Oahu is supporting Lanai and Molokai with our tax dollars. I'm perfectly fine with that and believe it is the moral thing to do, so while I think it is fine to have a discussion on wind farms on Lanai and Molokai I don't believe the people of those islands can make the morality argument with a straight face.
# posted by Anonymous OldDiver : 8:34 AM HST

Care to elaborate on how Oahu is supporting Lanai and Molokai with your tax dollars?

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