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Hurdles to Economic Future Thrown Up

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By Lowell L. Kalapa

A hearing on a land use change application on Maui a couple of weeks ago brought back memories of another community which was confronted with balancing environmental concerns with the economic future of the community.

In this case, what should have been a simple case of changing the designated use of a piece of property from agricultural use to heavy industrial turned into an emotional battle over protecting the environment. This is because the proposed land use change was to accommodate a new power plant. Even though the substance of the hearing and the eventual decision was a change in use of a piece of land, the arguments seemed to focus on the need to generate electricity from renewable resources.

Unfortunately the opposition seemed to lose sight of what supporters of the land use change repeated over and over again – the need for the Maui community to have a dependable and reasonable source of energy. While the issue of how the electricity is generated can be debated, the land use hearing had nothing to do with determining what kind of electricity generating facility would be placed on the site.

And as the debate noted, there are other venues which are more appropriate for the discussion of whether or not the electricity generating facility would be a fossil fuel-based plant or one which used renewable energy resources. What was disturbing was the fact that the opposition wanted to defer making a decision on the land use change. If that deferral had been adopted, it would have added as much as another six months to what has already been a two-year process.

Without the approval of the land use change, nearly all planning would have been brought to a halt. And that is not limited only to the planning of the electrical generating facility, but all planning period, for without a dependable and reasonable source of energy, planning for new hotels, new commercial complexes, and even roads would have to be put on hold. Why? If there is an insufficient supply of energy, then one can’t assume that a hotel will find another source of energy to power its lights or elevators. If new development can’t occur, then how can government planners predict what the traffic needs of the community will be?

With little direction as far as planning is concerned, nearly all new economic activity would have to come to a halt. Literally, the economic future of the Maui community is dependent on whether or not there will be a dependable source of energy for the future.

To some degree it reminds us of another community nearly fifteen years ago which in one year decided to deny a change in zoning to hotel/resort because the community wanted to keep the environs of their island rural. However, once community members realized that the outlook for jobs was at stake, it took a 180-degree turn the next year and approved the upgrading of zoning to hotel/resort.

While there is no right or wrong side in this particular issue – yes, we need a dependable source of energy and, yes, we should be concerned about preserving and protecting our environment, it is not an either/or decision. In approving the change in land use classification, the county council members did exactly what they were elected to do, that is to bring about a balance of interests that will best serve the majority of the community.

In the meantime, there is no doubt that both the electric company and the community-at-large will have to look at how to achieve a reasonable and dependable standard for the production of energy on Maui while preserving the environment. Solutions to reducing the community’s dependence on fossil fuels must come from both the supply side as well as from the demand side. That means that the answer to reducing dependence on burning oil or other petroleum products must also come in the form of lesser demand on traditional sources of energy generation.

This means consumers must also find ways to reduce the consumption of energy that is produced from fossil fuels. Be it solar heating panels or more energy efficient light bulbs, everyone has to contribute to the mix that shifts demand for energy away from fossil fuel burning sources. Curiously, it would have been interesting to pose a question to those who opposed the land use change as to whether or not they went home after the hearing and turned up their air conditioner, flipped on a mega-screen television and pulled a cold one out of the refrigerator.

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