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What are they thinking on Molokai?

Mahalo to Sophie Cocke and Civil Beat for staying on this story. In Hawaii today, too many people still want to conduct public business in the shadows. Shucks, way out here in the boondocks, we sometimes hear the clink and rustle of money changing hands, but we can’t tell if it’s public money slipping into private pockets, or private money slipping into public pockets. And as we learn from this story, sometimes the two pockets are in the same pair of pants! We really depend on you guys to shine a light into the dark corners.

There are two important points in this article for Molokai residents. The first is that Castle and Cooke can no longer put all the windmills on Lanai. If Mr. Murdock didn’t reserve enough land for a 400MW wind farm, and if, as seems likely, Mr. Ellison has smarter plans for his new island, then the full project will be pushed back onto Molokai. This will mean not only the devastation of the entire West End, it could also mean big windmills above Kaunakakai, perhaps even on the lush and unspoiled East End. Part of the wind developer game has always been pitting Molokai and Lanai against each other. But no matter which direction the promoters lean, I am confident that IAM, IAM West, Friends of Lanai, and Ka’apu’u no Lanai will remain united against these foolish projects.

The second point concerns not just the corporations who are lining up to destroy Molokai, but also the strange, sad folks who are jostling for the chance to sell us out. There’s a mystery here, because most of these people know perfectly well that the ratepayers will end up paying for all “benefits,” and that no benefits package can possibly be worth industrializing half of Molokai and opening the rest to mass tourism. They can’t possibly believe there is any way to “mitigate” the death of the ‘aina, the resources and the ancient ways of life. Yet here they are, auditioning to bless the bulldozers in the name of the Hawaiian people. This is terrible. It’s also embarrassing. What are they thinking? How can they betray the people and culture they claim to defend? To me, it’s a mystery.

The real problem, however, is not the motives of individuals, but the constant auditioning to represent the island. In a sense, all community leaders on Molokai have to be “self-appointed,” simply because we have no official local government, no city council, no island council, only two remote and preoccupied state legislators. Despite the fact that 93 percent or 95 percent or 99 percent of Molokai residents oppose the wind turbines, there remains an open opportunity for promoters to buy “community leaders” to spin it their way. If the community could speak with one official voice, then the auditions would stop and the opportunities for selling out would dry up.

Luckily, most people on Molokai and Lanai (and a growing majority around the state) can no longer be fooled. They see the problem, and oppose these big destructive projects. As Senator English made crystal clear in a recent forum, big wind is not appropriate for Molokai: “Full stop. No wind on Molokai.” Other thoughtful and responsible officials around the state agree.

Every day in the paper there is news about better and smaller renewable energy options, rooftop solar, better batteries, small island cooperatives. The cutting edge today is not big, clumsy centralized generation, but smart grids, decentralization, and locally appropriate paths to self-sufficiency. (For a good island-by-island survey of smart thinking about energy, see the publication “Wayfaring” by Henry Curtis.)

Hawaii doesn’t have to repeat the mistakes of the mainland. We can leapfrog over obsolete technologies and build the best of the new. The ongoing push for big wind amounts to a commitment to stupidity. The people of Hawaii are much smarter than that. The people of Hawaii deserve better than that. I have strong faith that if we all join hands and speak out together, a smarter way forward will be found.

About the author: IAM President Kanohowailuku Helm was born and raised on Molokai. He’s a husband, father of three, farmer, fisherman, musician/singer/songwriter and two-time Na Hoku Hanohano award nominee. In his spare time he makes cigars from Father Damien’s tobacco.