Energy and the economy — and their relationship to each other — were the biggest topics at Tuesday’s League of Women Voters of Hawaii County candidates’ forum at Hualalai Academy.
The forum featuring candidates running for state House 5 and 6 Districts drew about 60 attendees.
In District 5, which was redrawn after the 2010 census — it now goes from Keauhou to Naalehu — both candidates at the forum discussed the nexus between energy and the economy.
“If we don’t keep our energy costs under control, we’ll have no economy,” said Democrat Denny Coffman, D-North Kona, who was in District 6 for two terms but, because of reapportionment, is now seeking office in District 5. He’s making a push for energy to come from the ground — “80 percent of our power should be from geothermal,” he said.
Coffman’s Democratic challenger, Leolani Lagat Oyama of Naalehu, was not present because of a mix-up, moderator and co-president of the League of Women Voters of Hawaii County Donna Oba said.
The sole Republican running in District 5, Dave Bateman of Holualoa, agreed with Coffman, saying not many businesses are willing to relocate to Hawaii or start new companies here because of the state’s high power prices.
Bateman, owner of Heavenly Hawaiian Farms coffee farm, is in favor of working with a private company and the PUC to break up Hawaii Electric Light Co. into three entities — co-generation, storage and infrastructure — to bring prices down and free more consumers to install solar panels.
Candidates in District 6, Coffman’s former seat, which now runs from Lako Street to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, favored new energy sources.
Republican Mike Breslin of Kailua-Kona said he supported looking into all manner of alternative energy — besides solar, he suggested research on geothermal, wind energy and wave energy. The other Republican running against Breslin in the Aug. 11 primary, Roy Ebert of Kailua-Kona, was not present Tuesday — organizers said he was out of town attending his daughter’s wedding.
On the Democratic side of the ledger, Fred Housel of Kailua-Kona, a coffee farmer who has served on the County's Leeward Planning Commission and on the Kona Community Development Plan, said he saw energy as a way to provide more employment.
“Our major business is tourism — we need to diversify our economy as much as possible,” he said, adding energy jobs were a good possibility for that growth.
Kalei Akaka of Kailua-Kona, who worked as a legislative aide on Oahu, pushed for wind and solar power.
Democrat Bucky Leslie of Holualoa, co-owner of Flowers for Mama in Holualoa, agreed with changing the energy status quo.
“We must wean ourselves off imported oil,” he said.
Democrat Nicole Lowen of Kailua-Kona, who was most recently a state legislative aide for Coffman, said smart growth — better planning and more walkability — could help ease the island’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“About 60 to 70 percent of our oil is imported for transportation fuels,” Lowen said.
Candidates also discussed — in rapid-fire fashion — education, Kona coffee labeling, driver’s licensing requirements, a ban on aquarium fish collection, sunshine laws, legalized gambling and public financing of elections.
The league’s series of candidates’ forums continues June 26 at Hualalai Academy. Candidates for state Senate Districts 3 and 4 meet from 6 to 7:30 p.m.