How Indigenous communities build energy sovereignty


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In the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, residents — many of whom are Native Hawaiian — pay a high price for electricity: 41 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the United States average of 13 cents. Although 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 to 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

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 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.”


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