HILO >> A Hawaii County panel is allocating nearly $300,000 to study how geothermal energy development affects Native Hawaiians.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports the Windward Planning Commission approved the money in two 4-0 votes Thursday.
The commission acted in response to a request from critics who say the state’s indigenous population has been ignored during discussions about harnessing the Earth’s heat for energy.
The money will come from the county’s geothermal asset fund, but it’s not clear when the study will begin.
Several speakers testified before the panel that tapping underground heat sources affects Native Hawaiian culture and religious practices, which revere the volcano goddess Pele.
The most impassioned testimony came from Palikapu Dedman, who spoke about what he called an assault on his culture.
“You know what this is? Cultural racism,” he told the commission.
Dedman was gracious following the decision, saying he was proud of support from non-Hawaiians.
“I’m glad for the solidarity through all these years,” he said.
The planning commission last year also approved spending $750,000 from the same fund for a three-year geothermal health study.
A task force created to advise the county on geothermal development concerns recommended it.
Tom Travis, a member of the group and vice president of Puna Pono Alliance, acknowledged that the first study won’t address Native Hawaiian issues. He said the study approved Thursday will help fix that oversight.
“I felt like we righted a wrong today,” he said.
The geothermal asset fund, intended to pay for health and safety mitigation, has $1,215,266 following Thursday’s vote.