Prospects of an all-geothermal isle unlikely


Hawaii Island is unlikely ever to be fully powered by geothermal power, energy officials said during an economic summit Friday afternoon.

“Some folks believe there could be as much as a thousand megawatts, maybe even more on this island,” said Michael Kaleikini, Puna Geothermal Venture senior director for Hawaiian Affairs. “The only proven resource is on the east rift zone.”

Kaleikini joined Hawaii Electric Light Co. President Jay Ignacio and farmer and Big Island Community Coalition member Richard Ha in discussing energy issues during the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s Hawaii Island Economic Summit at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. Friday’s summit was a follow-up to a similar meeting in January 2012. Panelists also discussed topics relating to education, employment, sustainability and health care.

Ignacio said worries about reliability will keep HELCO from pursuing 100 percent geothermal-generated energy.

“To go to 100 percent, I’m not that optimistic and that comfortable,” Ignacio said. “The proven resource is in the east rift zone, tucked away in one part of the island. Put all generation in one particular location, natural disaster can cut you off from the island.”

But HELCO is pursuing more geothermal energy. Ignacio said the company will soon issue a request for proposals for 50 megawatts of geothermal energy.

“We weren’t seeing any exploration,” he said. “We’re creating the economic opportunity for developers. We’re saying, if you build it, we will buy it.”

Three health care experts talked about the challenges that come with providing medical services in spread-out, rural areas such as the Big Island. Hawaii Health Systems Corp. CEO Bruce Anderson also offered a little more information about the new hospital HHSC is considering building in West Hawaii.

“We are looking at a new site for a more comprehensive community hospital, more like a medical center, in Kona,” Anderson said. “It would be really nice to have a medical center where you have physician offices, primary care, kind of a one-stop deal. The challenge is how to do that with the existing facilities and coordinate services between those facilities.”

Island medical providers are taking advantage of technology to consult specialists in areas of medicine not available here, West Hawaii Community Health Center Executive Director Richard Taaffe said.

“North Hawaii (Community Hospital) uses the Cleveland Clinic for radiology readings,” Taaffe said.

Anderson said one challenge to treating patients over the computer, for example, has been the need for a doctor to be credentialed at a given hospital to treat a patient there. Medicaid has recently revised its rules to allow doctors who have credentials through The Queen’s Medical Center, for example, to work at some of Hawaii’s rural hospitals, he added.

The Affordable Care Act isn’t likely to bring down insurance premiums, at least not any time soon, state Healthcare Transformation Coordinator Beth Giesting said. But she said she does see ways costs could decrease.

“Emphasizing the primary care aspects, care coordination, using technology for things like telehealth and monitoring” and finding ways to end duplication of work within the system could help, Giesting said. “There are some studies that say 30 percent of all of our health care is completely wasted. Even if we could save half that, that is hundreds of millions we could save in our system. We need to fix our delivery system and change the way we deliver care.”

Department of Education Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, responding to a question about the place for vocational learning, defended traditional school courses.

“One of the common misunderstandings is the fundamental skills in English, math aren’t needed if you’re not going on to college,” Matayoshi said. “There are some fundamental skills students need to have across the board, no matter what career path they take.”

Further, she said, students need to be prepared for whatever paths their lives may take.

“When you were 16 years old, did you really know what you wanted to do with your life?” Matayoshi asked. “You want them prepared to have the option to go on.”

During last year’s summit, business owners and hiring managers lamented the lack in basic employment skills in potential workers.

James Babian, executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, said sustainability is trendy now, but it’s not a new idea.

“Ancient Hawaiians, they had it down,” Babian said. “They knew how to sustain the land, synergistically support each other.”

People are starting to recognize the food they buy locally is better quality than products shipped from the mainland, he said. The next questions are how to get farmers to grow and raise more products, how to help raise demand enough that those farmers can make a good living on the farm and how to get big retailers to sell more local products.

“Do we mandate it?” Babian asked. “They sell Hamakua mushrooms at Costco. We can put more pressure on them. It’s not the restaurants that are going to make a big difference, it’s us, when we buy stuff.”