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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dilemma: hating oil but fearing the wind

As the spreading slick of spilled petroleum goo heads for coastlines on the Gulf of Mexico, it's hard not to think of Hawai'i's position as the most oil-dependent state in the nation.

Even as crews work to get the leaking stopped and the spill contained, the manic business of searching out new oil sources continues. President Obama's unfortunately timed overture to the Drill, Baby, Drill Club suggests that as soon as the gulf disaster fades from memory, new rigs will be popping up like dandelions.

The horrendous spill is a potent reminder of how dirty and volatile the oil business is, all the more reason Hawai'i should be moving briskly toward cutting its consumption.

And on that front, there is some encouraging news.

The approval given last week by the federal government to the ambitious Cape Wind project off Cape Cod, Mass., is a powerful signal that the entrenched resistance to offshore wind projects is not insurmountable.

In Hawai'i, Castle & Cooke plans to erect wind turbines on the north shore of Lāna'i to take advantage of some of the world's most consistently powerful gusts. The project, in the works since 2007, would use 100 to 200 turbines to provide clean power to O'ahu via an undersea cable.

While some people are already lining up against the Lāna'i plan championed by David Murdock, they are amateurs compared with the anti-wind coalition that formed to fight the Cape Cod project 10 years ago. Until his death, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Cape Cod resident, was one of the project's biggest opponents, arguing that allowing the construction of 440-foot-tall wind turbines in Nantucket Sound constituted an unconscionable giveaway of a national resource to a private company.

Kennedy had lots of company, including environmental advocates, commercial fishing interests and Native American tribes.

But among those who supported Cape Wind were powerhouses Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, which have recognized that they cannot be advocates for a cleaner world without occasionally getting behind environmentally intrusive projects like Cape Wind.

Greenpeace hailed the federal government's approval of Cape Wind as "an enormous step forward toward America's clean energy future and the fight to solve global warming."

That sort of pragmatism is refreshing. Hawai'i is entering a critical phase in its efforts to significantly cut its oil usage and greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years and wind will have a huge role in that undertaking.

Hawai'i NIMBYs, knee-jerk environmentalists and David Murdock-haters need to grow up and help shape the clean energy plan for this state instead of prolonging our dependence on oil. The Cape Wind action acknowledges there are no perfect, painless solutions, but that we have to make some big moves if we're ever to break our oil addiction.