THE BLOG
01/21/2014 02:01 pm ET | Updated Mar 23, 2014

A Big Picture Look

Yesterday I sat in Judge Nakamura's courtroom full of people both for and against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) being built on Mauna Kea. I looked over at Kealoha Pisciotta, who has led the opposition all these years, and thought about how much I admire her.

As I sat there, I thought back to 2008, when rising oil prices started being such a big concern. At the top of my mind then was finding an economic alternative to tourism and opportunities for keiki education, both of which the TMT will provide. Locating the TMT here is a great opportunity, and I put a lot of effort into supporting it.

As I sat there yesterday, I thought, too, about how the TMT will help the Big Island cope with our rising energy costs and changing economy; because of it, money will flow into our economy instead of out. It will bring 10 years of construction jobs, and $1 million/year toward Big Island student education for each of more than 55 years. More importantly, it will bring to the Big Island an attitude of "Not, No Can. CAN!"

In 2007, I'd met Gail Tverberg at my first Peak Oil conference in Houston. A former insurance actuary whose job was to price insurance risk, she is someone who approaches the world oil supply problem from a risk management perspective. I helped bring her to the Big Island to give presentations, and she observed that our dependence on tourism makes Hawai'i very vulnerable.  

In 2008, shale and gas production hadn't yet started in earnest. Natural gas prices were very high at $12/thousand cubic feet. According to a USDA analysis, there was an 80 percent correlation of natural gas price to ammonia fertilizer cost, and that had a frightening effect on local farmers. The price of natural gas dropped to $2/mcf, and now it's around $4.50/mcf. This, coupled with a subsequent increase in natural gas supply, has given us some breathing room. But it's only temporary.

We have another fairly unique opportunity to protect ourselves against seriously rising energy costs, which are already impacting our lives negatively and will continue to go up if we don't make changes:

Geothermal energy.

After having attended five Association for the Study conferences (the only person from our state to do so) I've found that it's all a matter of 1) cost, 2) what works and 3) comparative risk.

Geothermal addresses all three of those points. It's inexpensive compared to using oil to produce our energy; we already know that it works; and after decades of experience with it here, the comparative risk is low.

It also allows the possibility of making hydrogen, which we can use to fuel our ground transportation, and also ammonia fertilizer for farmers. There are a lot of wins there.