Renewably greenwashing the occupation of Hawaiian land

The military “going green” is big news these days. The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that Sempra Generation proposes to build the world’s largest solar farm in vacant navy controlled land surrounding Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor):

A San Diego-based energy company is proposing to build the world’s largest solar power project on vacant land surrounding Pearl Harbor that could provide an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of Oahu’s electricity needs and allow the state to take a major step toward achieving its clean energy goals.

The 300-megawatt size of the project proposed by Sempra Generation would rival the so-called Big Wind project that calls for putting wind turbines on Maui and Lanai and transmitting the power to Oahu via an undersea cable.

Sempra’s plan is in the early stages, and the company would have to complete negotiations with the Navy and Hawaiian Electric Co., as well as clear regulatory hurdles, to proceed. Even with those steps built into the time line, the project could break ground as early as next year and be operational by 2014, said Mitch Dmohowski, director of commercial development for Sempra. The company would sell 90 percent of the electricity to HECO and give the remaining 10 percent to the Navy in exchange for use of its land.

“It’s one of the best solar sites in Hawaii, and it’s just sitting there begging to be done,” Dmohowski said of the acreage rimming Middle Loch and West Loch that is now mostly covered with scrub brush. “It’s five miles from downtown, and it has transmission lines running through it.”

Since the U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of energy and producer of pollution, the shift to renewable energy should be cause for celebration, right?

Well, I suppose you might celebrate if your single issue is clean energy and the environment.   Indeed some large national environmental groups have heaped praise on the military for their renewable energy initiatives.  It is true that the military has the capital and economies of scale to significantly change the energy market. But the military’s switch to “green” is not because they found true religion in environmental causes.  The military is always strategic.  Military leaders have forseen the end of oil, and the resulting crises.  They have a self-interest in not having their cutting edge stealth fighters, destroyers and Strykers stranded due to an energy shortage.   As environmentalists, we cannot dodge the morality of the policies this greener military will be carrying out.

Can the hundreds of thousands of people killed by the U.S. in illegal wars celebrate that they were killed with renewable energy?  Will  it be a consolation for the millions of people around the world whose countries are bombed and occupied by the U.S. military that they lost their sovereignty to a greener killing machine?

The U.S. military occupies nearly 240,000 acres of land in Hawai’i, most of which were taken when the U.S. overthrew and unlawfully annexed the Hawaiian Kingdom to the U.S.  All the greenwashing in the world cannot erase this fact.

Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa was once the great food basket for the island of O’ahu, a producer of abundant fish and seafood from the fertile waters, food crops from the water-rich lands surrounding the bays, and a source of life, and peace.   But the U.S. saw only a site for a military base and a strategic location from which to penetrate the Asia Pacific region.   The U.S. overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and occupation of Hawai’i was primarily driven by the military interest to secure a military colony in the Pacific.  What was once a world treasure of life and peace has been changed into a weapon of global domination and an enormous toxic Superfund zone with nearly 750 contaminated sites.

Sempra Generation’s proposal to utilize vacant navy lands to produce solar energy for O’ahu residents as well as the military may sound like a win-win for everyone. But it will prolong injustice for the Hawaiian families who lost lands to the military during World War II and the Hawaiian nationals whose national lands continue to be used by the U.S. military.  Sempra Generation’s partnership with the navy would help the navy hold on to these underutilized lands that might otherwise have been conveyed and converted to other beneficial public uses. Sempra Generation could still have partnered with a civilian entity after the land was converted.  But a deal with the navy would preclude Hawaiians from reclaiming lands that were wrongfully taken.

An interesting point in the article was the mention of the new legal option the military is using to enter into this partnership:

One of the keys to moving the Pearl Harbor project forward will be signing the Navy on as a partner. The Navy two years ago began studying the possibility of using its surplus land for renewable energy projects under its Enhanced Use Lease program.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), which is administering the project, recently received a new round of funding for the program and will soon begin accepting proposals from private developers for use of the lands, said Greg Gebhardt, director of the Energy Office for NAVFAC Hawaii. The Navy has about 1,500 acres of such land in Hawaii, most of it at Pearl Harbor.

The Enhanced Use Lease program is a relatively new development that allows the military to essentially use is underutilized lands for profit making ventures.   Essentially the military is entering into the real estate game and moving into the murky waters of public-private partnerships.   Private businesses that are fortunate enough to get in on these arrangements can profit greatly because the collateral for their investments are in a way, subsidized by the public.

Hawai’i was a guinea pig for these new arrangements that have created lots of gray areas in the law. Senator Inouye secured legislation 10. U.S.C. 2814 that gave the navy special authority for the development of Ford Island.   This law was a pilot for the Enhanced Use Lease program.   Waikele gulch was one of the areas where surplus navy land was leased to a private developer for nonmilitary profit-making activities under this act.  The City and County of Honolulu issued a notice of violation to the company that was using the gulch for industrial uses that are not permitted under the City’s “preservation zoning”.  A navy lawyer wrote a bullying letter to the City demanding that the City rescind a notice of violation for nonpermitted industrial uses of surplus navy land in Waikele gulch:

“…(T)he Secretary of the Navy may exercise any authority or combination of authorities in this section for the purpose of developing or facilitating the development of Ford Island, Hawaii, to the extent that the Secretary determines the development is compatible with the mission of the Navy.”

The statute gave the Secretary broad power to use Navy real property anywhere in Hawaii as part of the plan for such development, including the express authority to convey or lease such property “…to any public or private person or entity any real property or personal property under the jurisdiction of the Secretary in the State of Hawaii that the Secretary determines

“(A) is not needed for current operations of the Navy and all of the other armed forces; and

“(B) will promote the purpose of this section.”

The City withdrew its notice of violation.  Several months later a deadly explosion in the Waikele tunnels killed five workers.  The men died disassembling fireworks in the tunnel, an activity that should not have taken place if city regulations had been followed.

Renewable energy has gone from grassroots to big business.  But with that shift, will key principles be lost?  Renewable energy should not become renewable injustice.


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