Thursday, April 23, 2009

Obama’s Iowa Speech Could Well Have Been about Hawaii’s Unparalleled Requirement to Get Off Oil

We especially like story lines that link Iowa and Hawaii – one the state of our youth and the other our adopted home for 36 years. We were practically delirious with joy when the University of Iowa traveled to the Aloha State for two football games in the 1980s. Iowans transplanted to Hawaii had a dilemma, however: Do we cheer for our alma mater in this one game or for the team we support all season long? Our family of “Hawaiowans” eventually cheered for both, and each team claimed a victory.

Hawaii-born President Obama yesterday visited Iowa, where his presidential campaign sprang to life early last year, and his remarks had particular relevance to his home state’s energy plight.

The President selected Newtown as the location for his speech on renewable energy. Newton’s economy has crashed since Maytag left town, but wind turbine towers are now built in the old Maytag plant, and turbine blades are manufactured elsewhere in town. (The photo shows him inspecting a wind turbine tower.)

Bringing It Home

The President’s remarks about the importance of reducing the nation’s dependence on oil played well in Hawaii. The state’s congressional delegation, the governor and other state officials, numerous other politicians, business people, environmentalists, editorial writers, citizens and bloggers have all been communicating the same goal for the state.

“The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy,” the President said. “The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.”

Right there is Hawaii’s mantra. No other state is as dependent as Hawaii on imported oil (there are no natural oil deposits in the state). Oil provides more than 90 percent of the state’s energy; electricity generation alone accounts for 78 percent – far and away the highest percentage in the country (Florida is #2 at about 10 percent).

An Imperative To Change

Tourism is the state’s economic engine and is wholly dependent on air travel for virtually every tourist’s visit. The overwhelming majority of goods consumed in the state arrive by oil-burning ships. And when the oil price shoots above $100 per barrel as it did last year, Hawaii’s economy goes into free-fall faster than just about anywhere, with the possible exception of Michigan.

Renewable energy development that eventually produces alternatives to jet fuel and bunker oil is absolutely essential for Hawaii’s long-term survival. But even before those breakthroughs are achieved, the state is an ideal location for aggressive development of vehicles powered with electricity generated by green energy technologies, including baseload ocean thermal energy conversion that eventually will tap the sea’s stored solar energy.

The Hawaii-Iowa connection was perfectly evident during the President’s visit yesterday, and his speech did more than set a tone for the nation’s goal to achieve energy independence. In Hawaii, it amounted to a validation of the course we’re already on by necessity and more inspiration to lead the nation in the effort to get off oil.

• There are political reasons to loosen oil's grip on our economy, too, including this one.


wovenstones said...

Mr. Carlson,

We have been reading your very interesting blog. My son is just starting HS and is studying earth science. We have been studying Hawaii's move to reduce its oil dependence and its struggle to implement geothermal energy. We understand the conflict with the religious community there and the issues that affect the natural habitat. One question we have is in regard to the technological issues surrounding implementing geothermal. We realize that the answer to this question could simply be a resounding "no", but we are curious as to whether the volatility of the volcanic environment in Hawaii presents more technical safety problems, particularly in the area of reducing gas emissions in the drilling process, than in other parts of the western US that are employing geothermal.

If there is a website you can send us to or you would like to email us privately, we can be reached at Thanks so much for all of the great information on this blog.

Doug Carlson said...

Thank you for your kind note, Kate. I'll be happy to connect you with the company that runs the Big Island's geothermal plant and also its community relations company.

In general, though, I think they're preventing emissions from the plant and are therefore in compliance with their operating requirements. The major issues concern other environmental and cultural concerns -- encroaching into pristine land, for instance, and respecting Hawaiian religious values.

Some entities have begun a dialogue with individuals concerned about these issues, and the climate may be changing -- I just don't know. But I'll be happy to be in touch, and if you learn something interesting, please email me at Thanks again for your comment.

BAH said...

Aloha. Puna Geothermal Venture is now owned by Ormat Technologies, an international leader in geothermal development. Since Ormat acquired PGV in 2004, it has invested millions into upgrades. There are virtually no emissions (mitigated through reinjection wells.)

PGV has worked tirelessly over its 15 years of operation to be a good neighbor and overcome adverse relations and indeed enjoys a strong reputation on its island. It provides nearly 20% of the island's electricity.

It's important to note that PGV is NOT located in a pristine area, but rather amidst papaya fields and scrub.

And it's particularly cool that because the plant is in a rift zone, it is designed so that the equipment atop the wells can be put on pallets and trucked away. The wells can be capped and protected from a lava flow, and then reopened and the equipment trucked back in. Slick engineering.

You can learn more at

Barbara Hastings

Doug Carlson said...

Mahalo, Barbara.