Rob Parsons

Three for the Future

Trio of college seniors have keen environmental interest

by Rob Parsons

December 27, 2007

Rachel Hodara, Tia Ferguson and Lana Coryell


Three former Seabury Hall classmates and friends recently returned home for the holidays, taking a welcome break from their senior year of college. Each spent last summer on Maui working on key environmental issues.

Rachel Hodara of Stanford University served an internship with Kuhea Paracuelles, the Maui County Environmental Coordinator. Tia Ferguson, a senior at Duke University, worked in the offices of Dowling Company. And Lana Coryell completed her Pomona College thesis by producing a 40-minute documentary on renewable energy. Her film, EmPOWERing a Community: Maui's Quest for Sustainable Energy, will premiere at the Seabury Hall Performing Arts Studio on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 7 p.m.

I spoke with the three young women and asked them to reflect on their experiences from last summer, and to look to Maui's future:

MAUI TIME WEEKLY: How did your environmental internship with the County of Maui come about?

RACHEL HODARA: I applied for the University of Hawai`i Hilo Hawaiian Internships Program last summer and got it, and the director, Sharon Ziegler-Chong thought that the internship at the county would be a good match for me. I am interested in environmental policy, so that's where I ended up.

MTW: What were the highlights, and what was difficult about it?

RH: The highlights were being able to shadow Kuhea and meet all of the people that she worked with. It was amazing to work with all of Maui's leaders in the conservation field. Another highlight was attending the Hawai`i Conservation Conference on Oahu. The most challenging part was being sensitive to everyone's point of view without losing sight of my own. That is an important and challenging part of working in government and politics.

MTW: What do you feel are the main environmental issues Maui is facing?

RH: Our water supply. Maui is growing really fast and I think we are growing faster than is sustainable for this island. I was able to work with the Watershed Partnerships this summer, and saw firsthand the work they are doing to conserve the watershed forests-it's amazing, but the demands are so high. I really look forward to the day when water is used more conservatively and streams don't run dry.

MTW: Can you envision a possible solution?

RH: I think there needs to be more cooperation between all of the different interests, and there needs to be some kind of regulations on new developments, or the pace of development. But honestly, I'm not sure if anyone has a real, working solution.

MTW: Tia, How did you internship with the Dowling Company come about?

TIA FERGUSON: I emailed Dowling Company, introducing myself and explaining my interest in working as an intern. I got a call back from his secretary within minutes, requesting my resume and asking me to come in for an interview. In the interview, Everett Dowling explained to me that, as an intern, my work would primarily involve raising awareness and public support for green building on our island.

I would do a study using last year's plumbing permits to quantify exactly how much water could have been saved in 2006 if water conserving devices had been installed. I would publish this work in a letter to the editor, and would educate the public about water conserving appliances and their potential to solve water shortage issues on Maui. Finally, I would research the ways in which other states have adopted water conservation as a part of their building code mandates, and propose an ordinance to the Maui County Council to do the same.

MTW: What were your other projects and responsibilities?

TF: I did some writing and designing for the June edition newsletter of the U.S. Green Building Council/Hawai`i Chapter's bi-annual publication. I also helped with coordinating the annual Focus Green lecture series and in creating several of the locally broadcasted "Focus Green" radio ads for Dowling Company.

I was assigned to attend the Council Land Use Committee meetings on Wailea 670. I sometimes saw some friends who were staunch anti-development, and found that we could engage in positive dialogue.

I read Maui Electric's 400-page Integrated Resources Planning document. Currently the utility only accepts a tiny portion of their peak grid load in renewable energy. It would be helpful for our self-sufficiency if this would be increased to allow much more energy from alternate sources and de-centralize the grid.

MTW: What helped shape your choices to work on environmental issues?

TF: Growing up in paradise! What else? Maui is a microcosm of the world. We have a unique opportunity to set a new precedent for what it means to be environmentally conscious and sustainable.

MTW: Lana, what's your college major, and the highlights of your studies at Pomona?

LANA CORYELL: My college major is Environmental Analysis with an emphasis on "Society, Development and the Environment." I've taken some amazing classes at Pomona. My favorites so far have been "Green Urbanism" and "The Global Politics of Food and Agriculture."

MTW: What was the inspiration for your senior thesis video project on renewable energy options?

LC: While at home last summer, I read the local newspapers every day and was shocked to read about Maui's energy issues. As I read and researched, a somewhat grim picture of Maui's energy situation began to emerge. I discovered that despite abundant natural resources like solar, wind and wave energy, Maui is part of the most petroleum dependent state in the nation with about 90 percent of its primary energy coming from petroleum. This unfortunate fact affects Maui's environment and economy, and the pocketbooks, safety and comfort of Maui residents.

I also wanted to discover the exact changes Maui should make to achieve a more sustainable energy system. I began thinking about the best way for me-a single individual-to create the change I felt was necessary. Since our society is so receptive to visual media and DVDs are easily distributed, I knew that a film could impact and inspire a large proportion of the Maui population. With a greater number of community members advocating for sustainable energy, perhaps larger systemic changes can occur.

MTW: Based on what you learned while interviewing energy experts this past summer, what do you think are Maui's best choices for renewable energy to lead towards self-sufficiency?

LC: Tough question! I think we should certainly take advantage of Maui's abundant solar energy. Whether it means creating a solar "farm," putting panels on our buildings, or simply installing solar water heaters, Maui can do much more to utilize this valuable resource. With so much sun available all the time and tax rebates to help make systems more affordable, there is no reason why we shouldn't put solar panels on the roofs of our hotels, schools, and offices!

I also think we should look at testing wave power because we have the ideal environment to prove that it works. I also really like the idea of using more wind power, assuming that we can find a way to store the energy so that it does not create too much grid instability.

MTW: What are the challenges to switching to local, sustainable energy choices?

LC: First, renewable technologies appear to be expensive. These technologies require a large initial investment in the beginning, though they provide bigger pay offs in the long run, especially with oil prices on the rise.

Second, I think we are resistant to changing our habits. It's scary to make a drastic change away from a system that has worked well for so long.

Third, I think the utility company represents a bit of a barrier to the overall movement towards sustainability. Their monopoly over our electricity supply makes it difficult for other renewable energy producers to enter the market and for consumers to have a choice.

MTW: What are possible solutions?

LC: All the experts I interviewed described the influence that the Maui community can have over the island's energy situation. United community pressure has the power to shape Maui's energy system by affecting the decisions of our policy makers, utility companies, businesses, tourists and homeowners.

In other words, an empowered community is the foundation our solutions. I sincerely hope that my film will help educate and enlighten the Maui community and will help create the empowered Maui that I believe is possible.