Native Hawaiian concerns about the industry’s potential to respect their culture, as well as damage the Wao Kele O Puna rainforest, was instrumental in blocking plans to expand the geothermal field. The Pele Defense Fund, backed by the Rainforest Action Network, was the most visible defender of cultural practices and an environment cherished by Hawaiians, including the rainforest.
Described by the Network as the last large lowland expanse of tropical rainforest in Hawaii, Wao Kele O Puna was eyed in the 1980s as a potential 500-MW geothermal field. The federally funded Hawaii Deep Water Cable Program explored transmission of electricity from the Big Island to Oahu using a seabed cable across the Alenuihaha Channel between Hawaii Island and Maui, then onward to Oahu. (The project is described in detail in the document “Hawaii and Geothermal: What Has Been Happening?”)
A Cultural Miscalculation
All of which is to suggest that if a new attempt is launched to expand geothermal energy’s contribution to the state’s renewable resource inventory, native Hawaiian sensitivities must be respected. Everyone in the state is negatively affected by Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, and more energy drawn from the Big Island’s subterranean heat resource would benefit us all.
Getting there certainly will depend on the native Hawaiian community benefitting as well as or more than the rest.