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Energy Sovereignty in Indigenous Communities

Residents of the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, many of whom are Native Hawaiians, pay a high premium for electricity supply: $0.41 per kilowatt-hour, compared to $0.13 in the United States. Moloka’i inhabitants consume the least amount of power of all Hawaiian Islands, but they pay the most for it. The community has tried to obtain more authority over how their power is generated and distributed as a result of the energy inequity.

The Moloka’i is just one of many Indigenous peoples in the United States who are working toward energy independence. However, depending on the communities’ belief systems, local politics, landscapes, the approach, and methods vary. Energy sovereignty means decentralizing resources, boosting solar power plus storage, and focusing community and land in the process for 2 rural cooperatives in New Mexico and Hawai‘i.

Moloka’i locals are still in the early phases of achieving greater communal control over their power. They have resorted to their beliefs and traditions to identify the greatest sustainable solutions that match both their tradition and the natural environment.

Lori Buchanan, who serves as the vice president of Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative, says, “The land is the master, and we are the servants.” To deliver locally owned, affordable, sustainable energy, the cooperative was founded in 2020 and legally incorporated in February of the year 2021. “People are there to support the goods and to guarantee that the resources are not merely sustainable—a word I despise—but also abundant in perpetuity since we are thinking hundreds of years ahead. Our objective is longsighted for another generation and the next generation, not shortsighted for corporate greed and a fast buck.”

The first step toward achieving that goal was to draft a plan to present to Hawaiian Electric, the state’s primary energy provider. The state ordered that Hawaiian Electric evaluate community-centered renewable energy projects in their work in 2015, therefore Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative and the Moloka’i community are requesting that they be taken into account.

Hawaiian Electric would maintain to possess the poles and wires that transport electricity to homeowners’ houses, while the cooperative would own battery storage and solar panels. Hawaiian Electric would buy solar power from Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative and pass the savings on the cooperative members.

Buchanan is a Moloka’i native and one of the many on the island who have successfully protested extractive energy projects. She and other Moloka’i locals banded together in 2012 to prevent the installation of 50 wind turbines on the island, citing the potential for environmental and social harm. While wind is a renewable power source, it cannot provide a community’s whole energy portfolio.

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