On the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, residents—many of whom are Native Hawaiian—pay a high price for electricity: $0.41 per kilowatt hour compared to the United States average of $0.13. Though Moloka’i residents use the least energy of all the Hawaiian Islands, they are saddled with the greatest expense. This energy inequality has led the community to try and gain more control over how their energy is sourced and distributed.

The Moloka’i are one of many Indigenous groups around the U.S. making inroads toward energy sovereignty. But the approach and methods differ depending on communities’ belief systems, landscapes, and local politics. For two rural cooperatives in Hawai‘i and New Mexico, energy sovereignty means taking actions toward decentralizing resources, increasing solar power plus storage, and centering community and the land in the process.

Not All Renewables Are Created Equal

The residents of Moloka’i are still in the nascent stages of gaining more community control over their energy. To find the best renewable solutions that fit both their culture and the natural environment, they have turned to their traditions and beliefs.

“The land is the chief, and we are the servants,” says Lori Buchanan, vice president of Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative. The cooperative was formed in 2020 and was officially incorporated in February of 2021 with the aim of providing locally owned, affordable, renewable energy. “The people are there to serve the resources and to ensure that the resources are not only sustainable—which is a word I don’t like to use—but make them abundant in perpetuity, because we think hundreds of years down the road. Our vision is not shortsighted like corporate greed and a quick buck, but very longsighted for the next generation and the next generation.”

The first step toward reaching that goal has been devising a proposal to submit to Hawaiian Electric, the main energy utility in Hawai‘i. In 2015, the state mandated that Hawaiian Electric consider community-based renewable energy projects in their work, so Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative and the Moloka’i community are demanding to be considered.

Read the full article about building energy sovereignty by Natalie Peart at YES! Magazine.