Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The Death of the Pele Defense Fund

By Henry Curtis

The Pele Defense Fund no longer exists. It died in June. The Pele Defense Fund has led the opposition to Geothermal on the Big Island in the 1980s and 1990s.

The federal government changed the reporting requirements of all non-profits. Instead of having to file federal tax returns if the non-profit had income above a certain threshold, the IRS required filing tax returns for all 501(c) (3) entities including those that had no money or income. Those who failed to file for three years were eliminated.

The State of Hawai`i required all non-profits to register with the Office of the Attorney General. This past June a number of non-profits ceased to be registered. The State has a 94 page pdf document of entities that have been de-listed. This includes the Pele Defense Fund.

I recently attended a geothermal meeting sponsored by the Innovations Development Group (Robbie Cabral, Mililani Trask et al) at the University of Hawai`i at Hilo. Panelists included the Hawai`i Geothermal Working Group co-chairs Wally Ishibashi and Richard Ha, OHA Trustee Bob Lindsey, and others.

The arguments raised in favor of expanding geothermal included

The technology has changed. During the 1980s and 1990s, geothermal operations were allowed to vent the gases into the atmosphere, sickening people. There were also a number of accidents. The technology has been switched from open cycle to closed cycle where the toxic steam is injected back into the earth.

The concerns have changed. Now the threat of climate change/global warming outweighs Any cultural issues.

There is only one Earth. Drilling for heat from Hawai`i’s volcanoes is no different that drilling for oil in the Middle East. Except that geothermal has less toxic side-effects.

People have gotten used to geothermal. It is no longer the unknown intruder.

Economically, Hawai`i Island could become a powerhouse by supply energy for the State.

There were a number of conflicting views presented, especially by the different geothermal advocates:

The Hawai`i Geothermal Working Group favors powering Hawai`i Island with geothermal.

Richard Ha, co-chair of the Hawai`i Geothermal Working Group is also a principal in Ku`oko`a, which is seeking to acquire Hawaiian Electric Industries and its subsidiaries HECO, MECO and HELCO. Ku`oko`a wants to vastly expand geothermal and to create statewide undersea electric transmission grid.

Innovations Development Group opposes the two above approaches. They favor a Native-to-Native model. They are geothermal developers in Aotearoa where hot steam and revenue from geothermal directly supports native people.

Moku Power favors small geothermal facilities. They propose a proprietary and untested technology that is shoved into the geothermal hole drilled into the earth. Only a minimal surface footprint would exist.

DBEDT, HECI, Puna Geothermal Venture and all other geothermal proponents cite the fact that King Kalakaua supported geothermal. He visited New York City in September 1881 and asked Edison about using geothermal and a long undersea transmission line.

I was intrigued and decided to check out the validity of that statement.

It is surprising in some ways. Kalakaua’s visit occurred in the first years of electricity. In 1881 Edison’s lighting of New York City had not yet occurred. That would be in 1882. NYC did have street lights on lower Broadway lit by another company (Brush) which went on line in late 1880. Electric lights were new, having been displayed for the first time at the 1879 World’s Fair in Paris.

It is surprising in other ways. There were no electric transmission lines anywhere in the world, no undersea electric lines and no geothermal engines. Line losses would have made powering the State from the Big Island impossible.

Finally, here was an eruption at Mokuʻāweoweo on Mauna Loa in 1880 followed by a massive flank eruption in 1881. However, the first demonstration of geothermal lighting light bulbs was a 20th century phenomena. Until Aotearoa build a geothermal-steam facility in 1958, Italy was the only country to have a geothermal-steam facility generating electricity. I searched the Library of Congress web-based digitalized searchable database of US Newspapers (1960-1912) and found that the number of articles written on geothermal from 1860-1900 was zero.

I looked at papers written at that time:

King Kalakaua visited New York City in September 1881. During the King’s visit to NYC, the New-York Tribune (September 25, 1881) wrote an article about the King: “One of the sights that pleased him most was the Paris Electrical Exhibition. We spent some time there. Kalakaua is going to introduce the electric light in his own kingdom; and he examined the different lamps on that account with the greatest interest. The life in Paris entertained him very much; they turned night into day there.”

New-York Tribune (September 26, 1881): “Last evening the King visited the headquarters of the Edison Electric Light Company, in Fifth-ave. on invitation, and the light in all of its details was exhibited to him by Mr. Edison.”

New York Times (September 26, 1881): "Punctually at 9 o’clock in the evening his Majesty alighted from the carriage of his friend in front of the Fifth-avenue mansion. He was introduced to Mr. Edison who escorted him through the building and by means if models, drawings, and the 55 lamps in operation, explained the theory of the conversion of steam power into electricity and the generation of light in the carbon loop. … Escorting his distinguished visitor to the library, Mr. Edison first explained the science of the light, and then, by references to maps … the application of his system to the practical requirements of a city. … His Majesty listened with intense but almost silent interest. … He seemed particularly interested in the statement that after the steam-power had been transformed into electricity and carried a great distance in that form it could again be converted into motive power by means of an electric motor, and sold to customers for the purpose of running elevators or operating hoist-ways. His eyes lighted when he was told that one of the most profitable departments of the business of the company would be the sale of power to manufactories and business firms in quantities as small as a single horse power, costing, under circumstances of ordinary use, not more than 8 cents a day."

See: Energy and Power in Hawai`i (1850-93)

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Henry Curtis


Henry, thank you for taking the extra steps to extensively research that statement about King Kalakauaʻs visit.

Henry: I have searched for a source reference for the claim that King Kalakaua met with Thomas Edision and discussed geothermal being used to produce electricity and can find NONE. Is that your conclusion also? Lono

Your wrong about the death of the Pele Defense Fund and your reports of the demise of the Pele Defense fund have been greatly exaggerated.....Stay tuned....They have been meeting regularly since December.....Including with Richard Ha, Millilani Trask, and OHA.....

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