Big Island Big Ideas
Local leaders chart six ways to revitalize the economy
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1. Support Mom and Pop
Fixing the Big Island’s economy will require long-term planning and discussion, but it’s not all rocket science, says Toby Taniguchi, executive vice president of store operations for KTA Super Stores. Taniguchi can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying local.
“It’s usually the Joe Souza down the street who supports the soccer team,” he says. “It’s the mom-and-pop store that sponsors the Little League trip, so we have to support them because they’re the ones that invest in the betterment of our community.”
KTA, which employs more than 850 people, puts that philosophy into action: The company supports the American Heart Association, United Way, the Boys and Girls Club and many other local organizations.
In a recession, Taniguchi adds, the community must support nonprofits even more. “From cradle to rocking chair, we have to take care of our community and then our economy will have a chance to thrive.”
2. Power Up
The Big Island’s economic future depends on sustaining existing industries while developing new ones. “If we can capture a portion of the $750 million that we ship off-island for fossil-fuel dependence, that would be something,” says Matthews Hamabata, executive director of The Kohala Center, which advocates for energy sustainability and food self-reliance. By forging strong local-global partnerships, Hamabata says, Hawaii Island can be a model for the world.
Many believe geothermal should be a part of that model. “We absolutely must get into geothermal. Pau. End of story,” says Richard Ha, president of Hamakua Springs Country Farms. “Geothermal could provide enough power for the entire state somewhere down the road and it would definitely help stabilize our economy.”
At peak demand, the Big Island consumes around 200 megawatts of energy. Puna Geothermal Ventures is permitted to generate 60 megawatts, although it currently only produces about half that. “We have equipment in place to generate 30 percent excess of what the island consumes at peak level,” says PGV’s plant manager Mike Kaleikini. However, its remote location at the end of the electrical grid poses storage and transmission challenges. It is currently prospecting other sites for geothermal generation.
Ha, along with Jacqui Hoover, executive director of the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board, supports an underwater cable to carry geothermal-generated electricity to other islands. Lack of capital and outside investors have always blocked changes in Hawaii and the cable needs lots of both. “In that regard, a feat of this magnitude – we’re probably talking about billions of dollars – could be a long way off,” says Elizabeth Cole, deputy director of The Kohala Center.
Money isn’t the only obstacle. Geothermal faces cultural challenges from individuals who argue that it exploits natural resources. “A lot of the people who have a problem with geothermal are removed from Hawaii,” Kaleikini says. As a Native Hawaiian, he believes geothermal is a gift. “We’re not using it out of disrespect or wastefully. It’s a resource, just like how you can gather from the land or go fishing,” he explains.
Kenoi believes the Big Island could be the first Hawaiian Island to hit the 70 percent renewable energy target initiated by Gov. Linda Lingle. “We’ve already got solar, wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion initiatives underway,” he says. “We’ve got Big Island Carbon in Kawaihae that will be making energy from macadamia nut shells and another partnership involving Shell Oil that is using algae to create energy, so the innovation is already here.”
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