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Monday, July 10, 2000

Geothermal energy
has proved itself

Bullet The issue: Puna Geothermal Venture has announced plans to double its electrical generation capacity.
Bullet Our view: Geothermal has proved itself as an important alternative energy source on the Big Island.

INTEREST in geothermal energy in Hawaii was boosted by the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which spotlighted Hawaii's extreme dependence on oil and consequent vulnerability to cutoffs of supplies.

  The geothermal resources in the Big Island's volcanoes were an untapped resource until the Ariyoshi administration began exploring their potential. Those efforts resulted in the generation of on-line electric power from geothermal steam in Puna starting in July 1981.

Geothermal energy generation had a rough time gaining acceptance at first. The plant's neighbors protested vehementlyabout emissions of hydrogen sulfide steam, which they charged were a health hazard.

But the operators of the enterprise, now called Puna Geothermal Venture, dealt with the problems and hung on. In time the emissions were better controlled, the operation settled down and the protests subsided. At the time the Big Island was experiencing frequent power shortages -- "rolling blackouts" -- and the energy generated by the geothermal plant was sorely needed. Today Puna Geothermal provides about 25 percent of the Big Island's electric power. Geo-thermal is an accepted -- and essential -- contributor to the island's power supply.

But that isn't all. The company has announced it intends to double its electrical generation capacity, from 30 megawatts to 60 megawatts. It will ask the county planning commission to amend its permit to give it flexibility.

As a company spokesman explained, the wells supply geo-thermal steam at high pressure that must be reduced before the steam goes to the electrical generators. The company proposes to place an 8-megawatt generator at the well, which would reduce pressure to the other generators.

Puna Geothermal's expansion is only part of the growth of power production on the Big Island. Hamakua Energy Project plans to have a 58-megawatt project completed by December. Hawaii Electric Light Co. hopes to have a 40-megawatt plant in Keahole, Kona, built in 2002.

With these additions to the power supply, the days of rolling blackouts are probably gone forever. A substantial part of that supply isn't based on oil but on geothermal steam -- a truly viable form of alternative energy. It's possible that geothermal's role will be expanded even further in future years.

U.S. must share blame
for Rwanda genocide

Bullet The issue: A panel established by the Organization of African Unity has blamed the United States and others for the 1994 genocidal massacre in Rwanda.
Bullet Our view: This country cannot avoid its responsibility to exert leadership in international crises such as Rwanda.

A report issued last December on the United Nations' role in the genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda in 1994 concluded that the world organization lacked the political will and resources to prevent or stop the massacre. Secretary-General Kofi Annan commented that on behalf of the U.N., "I acknowledge this failure and express my deep remorse."

Now another, even more scathing, report on Rwanda has been issued by a panel established by the Organization of African Unity. It blamed the U.N. Security Council, the United States, France and the Catholic and Anglican churches for failing to stop the atrocities.

France was singled out, the panel said, because the French government knew what was happening and could have prevented the mass killings. Yet it failed to use its "unrivaled influence" with the Rwandan government and military.

The Security Council was blamed because it could have dispatched an international force to Rwanda, but did not. The United States, the panel said, deserved the greatest blame among the Security Council members because it ensured that no military mission was sent to stop the killings, even when the extent of the disaster was becoming known.

The churches were condemned for failing to use their moral position to denounce ethnic hatred and human rights abuses.

Two years ago President Clinton acknowledged that the international community must share the blame for failing to stop the Rwandan genocide. But the latest report details the U.S. role, stating that Washington's "stalling tactics ensured that not one single additional soldier or piece of equipment reached Rwanda before the genocide had ended."

The Clinton administration's experience the previous year in Somalia, where it abruptly withdrew American forces after 18 soldiers were killed, apparently left it resolved to avoid further participation in such international peacekeeping efforts.

That policy subsequently changed under the pressure of events in the former Yugoslavia, but not before perhaps 500,000 people had been slaughtered in Rwanda.

The Rwandan tragedy could have been kept to smaller proportions if not fully averted had the United States been willing to exert leadership in the Security Council. Such leadership need not have required a large commitment of U.S. forces on the ground.

But Clinton seemed so sensitive to the political consequences of American casualties that he refused any participation. It was not one of the United States' proudest hours.

Americans are understandably reluctant to commit troops in distant places where the national interest seems slight. But this country cannot ignore its responsibilities as the world's most powerful nation and leading exponent of democracy. Rwanda is a tragic example of the consequences of such decisions.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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