The 8th Hawaii Energy Conference (HEC) explored the energy transition in Hawaii with a focus on investment in people and projects. Presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and supported by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development, the annual conference, virtual this year, featured keynotes, panel discussions, interviews, networking, and exhibits. The conference addressed how to invest in the people while designing energy projects that are resilient, financially viable, and respectful to the community.
The panel discussion titled ‘Investing Respectfully in Hawaii’, moderated by Frank De Rego, Jr., MEDB Director of Business Development, Vice Chairman of the HEC Program Committee, and President of the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, employed a cultural and indigenous lens to focus on the dos and don’ts of developing energy projects in Hawaii. De Rego was joined by Carol-Marie Ka’onohi Lee, Po’o, ‘Aha Moku O Honua’ula Council; Suzanne Singer, Founder and Executive Director, Native Renewables; and Wren Wescoatt, Director of Development, Hawaii Longroad Energy.
De Rego observed, “The panelists agreed, cultural knowledge and community participation are key to implementing new energy projects, while conference attendees benefited from the cultural ‘ike (knowledge) shared.”
Lee said, “Developers contact me to learn the lay of the land about areas they want to develop. We work with the method of managing the land from mauka to makai because mauka affects the ocean. Developers need to understand basic native Hawaiian values, and historical and generational knowledge, to better serve the community.”
Singer explained, “The mainland and Hawaii have strong cultural ties to community and land, both vital to the development of renewable energy projects. The cultural knowledge and values of our indigenous Navajo and Hopi nations, many of whom are off the electric grid, is essential to discussions with developers about our economy and energy transition.”
Wescoatt added, “Building trust and respect within the context of equitable community development is vital. As a local representative in clean energy transition, my job is to help stakeholders understand the culture and values of the host community. A successful project here in Hawaii does not just produce clean energy, it needs to reflect and respect the values of the community.”
Wren Wescoatt, Director of Development, Hawaii Longroad Energy
In order to build trust in renewable energy development, there has to be a sincere and pono two-way conversation.