Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

California energy woes need not happen here

The energy crisis that has been plunging California into darkness recently should serve as a wake-up call in Hawai'i.

But unless policy-makers are alert, it could be a wake-up call of the wrong kind. Already, in Washington, we are hearing the Bush administration argue that California’s problems are another reason the country should resume oil and gas exploration the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It would be a severe mistake to assume that California’s problems are the result of a shortage of domestic oil supplies. The California blackouts are the result of a complex web of conditions, not the least of which was the unexpected fallout of deregulation.

An article on this page today makes the deregulation argument. There may be other causes as well, but it would be simplistic to say California has gone dark because we cannot access Arctic oil reserves.

All this resonates strongly in Hawaii, which is deeply dependent on oil for its energy needs. That picture may slowly be changing, however. As it does, Hawaii has an opportunity to teach the nation a lesson about energy self-sufficiency and the potential to wean ourselves from dependence on oil and other nonrenewable resources.

For isolated Hawaii, this should be more than a worthy goal; it should be an absolute necessity.

One sign of hope comes from the Big Island, which already gets 28 percent of its electricity from renewable resources such as geothermal. The Hawaii (county) Electric Light Co. has announced it intends to buy up to 3 megawatts of power from a new private wind farm about to be built in North Kohala.

The decision was apparently driven by a combination of factors: The increasing price of oil and the decreasing cost (and increased efficiency) of wind power technology. What makes sense on the Big Island should make sense elsewhere.

Wind farms present their own set of land use, zoning and technical problems. They are not an instant or total answer. But they should be an important part of Hawaii’s evolution from a vulnerable, oil-dependent economy to one independent and sustainable.

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