Engaging the Community
By Barbara Haliniak
I am not a renewable energy expert. But I do know that when you want to be successful in executing an island plan, make sure you get the community involved in the planning stages. Otherwise you will probably run across many challenges that could have been prevented by not being inclusive. This column is not to debate renewable energy for our island, but to speak loudly on the exclusion of important information regarding projects that will affect all households prior to community meetings or introduction of legislative bills.
This legislative session, House Bill 1942, “Authorizes the issuance of special purpose revenue bonds to assist Princeton Energy Group or Princeton Energy Group’s related entity, Ikehu Molokai LLC, with financing and refinancing costs relating to the planning, design, and construction of a renewable energy project with energy storage technology on the island of Molokai.” The special purpose revenue bonds totaled $50 million; the ACT has an effective date of July 1, 2014 and lapse date of June 30, 2019. HB1942 was introduced on Jan. 21 and transmitted to the Governor on May 5.
Under the state’s constitution, “special purpose revenue bonds shall only be authorized or issued to finance facilities of or for, or to loan the proceeds of such bonds to assist, manufacturing, processing or industrial enterprises, utilities serving the general public…”
I’m wondering now, will Molokai consumers end up paying for the planning, design and construction of a renewable energy project by a surcharge on future utility bills?
On Feb. 14, Princeton Energy Group held an informational meeting which I attended to obtain information on the company’s energy plans for Molokai. Just before this meeting, I learned that our legislative representatives introduced House Bill 1942 and Senate Bill 2754 without the majority of our community being aware that these bills were making their way through the legislature. Although some testimonies were submitted by Molokai residents in support of the bills, most of the community was not even aware of them, purposely or not. Our legislative representatives should have done more outreach to solicit community input, since this is a sizable project affecting all who live here.
This past March, I attended a three-day conference on Maui titled, “Electric Utilities: The Future is Not What It Used to Be.” Guest speakers from across the country articulated the importance of engaging the community in dialogue at the beginning of the planning process. Emphasis was made that community should be at the table with the utility company, the energy provider, the public utilities commission, state and county representatives. Important words from speakers: deliver a product design to benefit the consumer and who better to know what is needed than the consumer. Listen to the consumer. Too bad this message wasn’t articulated to our legislative representatives that “We the People” is an important component to plan our island’s future energy needs and that we must be totally engaged at all levels.