In 1993 the Puna Geothermal Venture power plant opened in the state of Hawaii and established the state as a leader in geothermal technology as an early adopter. The plant is designed to take advantage of the incredible heat generated by the largest volcano on earth, Mauna Loa. It has been over two decades since the opening of this first power plant, and it might be natural to assume that geothermal energy production in volcanic Hawaii has prospered since then. However, Hawaii currently has the most expensive electricity rates in the United States due to its continued dependence on imported energy.
Because Hawaii lacks vast reserves of coal or natural gas, energy imports remain the norm, such that in 2010, the state imported a whopping 94 percent of its energy. However, one the largest natural sources of power that Hawaii does possess is geothermal activity from volcanoes. Unfortunately, further geothermal progress beyond the 20 year-old Puna plant has been held up by staunch opposition from some state residents. For this reason, electricity in Hawaii is twice as expensive as the next highest state, Alaska, and nearly three times the US average. It is an ironic paradox that the state is entirely a product of active geothermic activity, but this form energy is hardly being utilized to increase local energy production and lower electricity costs.
Objections to geothermal energy exploration and production in Hawaii stem in part from residents who would prefer not to live near a geothermal facility. These objectors are putting forth a “Not in My Backyard” (or NIMBY) argument that is prevalent for many types of energy proposals. Though geothermal energy generation is practically emission free, these opponents place more emphasis on misconceptions about negative land value adjustments, gas emissions, and odors rather than the state-wide benefits of inexpensive, local, sustainable power for all Hawaiians.
With states devoting a larger share of energy portfolios to renewable sources, there exists great opportunity for the geothermal industry. As the nation progresses deeper into the 21st century renewable sources of energy will become a key part of every state’s energy portfolio. What geothermal energy providers must ask themselves now is what can be done going forward to reach every resident near a potential geothermal project to make sure supporters are identified so costly delays in the approval process can be avoided. There are several effective tactics detailed below than can be pursued to ensure a clean and affordable energy future for Hawaii.