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Hawaii needs to invest in its own energy future

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More and more, Hawaii’s natural energy resources will be developed not by utility companies, but by energy entrepreneurs.

Because our energy resources have become so famous, offshore interests see Hawaii as the Energy State and are coming here to develop them. In the process, we often treat those interests more favorably than our own.

Is energy the new tech industry we’ve been waiting for? No, not really. Make no mistake: Energy is not tech although it certainly consumes tech. Tech generates intellectual property; energy generates energy. And most of the capital for energy projects is coming from offshore, leaving us more as installers and early adopters than as principals and stewards.

We may be tempted to let global interests like First Wind do the heavy lifting for the development of our energy resources, but that’s too easy.

We should learn from them and emulate what they do, but we should focus on developing a local industry with local companies like Sopogy.

The first thing we do is raise local capital. Hawaii did not invest much capital in tech, and so far it’s not investing much capital in energy. Not Kamehameha Schools nor the state Employees’ Retirement System nor the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has made any significant cash investment in energy development.

Of course, homeowners invest in their solar rooftops, but the big money is still coming in from far away, and you can be sure the profits will go back to where that came from.

In five years we’ll be known around the world for our natural energy projects. But who will own these projects?

This requires a hard look, and soon. In varying degrees, both candidates promise energy development, so chances are we’ll have some action soon after inauguration.

Despite our dour economy, that action should funnel local money into local energy and do the job Act 221 was intended to do. We’re at a tipping point, and a squander would be tragically irreversible.

On Dec. 16 the state’s Strategic Development Corp. will hold a symposium on best practices in state-supported entrepreneurial development programs, namely from Ohio, Oklahoma and Kansas.

We can only wish it well and hope it encourages local entrepreneurs and legislative action that will provide capital and incentivize investment.

Is it too much to ask that we take the reins and the risks and invest in our own future? For the lack of investment, we haven’t reached critical mass in local tech. Let’s do better with energy. Let’s build our own windmill farms and geothermal plants and keep the profits at home.

Exactly why can’t we organize a people’s investment fund to invest in our own energy projects, as is clearly the case in so many other places? Or would we prefer to let the other guy, the offshore investor, have the field?

If we find there’s no big local money here that will invest in energy, then what about small local money? I believe there’s a pent-up demand for a popular fund that would invest in energy, and if someone found a way through the securities laws, the public would be eager to participate.

Even the public knows by now that energy is critical to the economy and has enormous value.

Surely, we can find a way to keep the $7 billion we’ve been sending away for foreign oil. Or have we completely lost it?

Jay Fidell, a longtime business lawyer, founded ThinkTech Hawaii, a digital media company that reports on Hawaii’s tech and energy sectors of the economy. He can be reached at


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