The volcanoes that created this largest and lushest of the Hawaiian islands and occasionally endanger it now hold the promise of making this tourist-laden state enegry self-sufficient and industrialized.
Design work has began on a $6 million generating plant financed by federal, state and local governments with the assistance of the Hawaiian Electric Co. The pilot plant will be powered by steam from the world's hottest geothermal well.
At the same time, Hawaii is encouraging various consortiums pioneering in the undersea industry of manganese nodule mining to build a refining plant here that will make it economically worthwhile to develop the vast geothermal resources underlying the Kilauea volcano.
"We have a new ball game here," says hideto Kono, state director of planning and economic development. "Petroleum is no longer a dependable source. Activities will grow in places where there are dependable alternative sources of energy."
The potential "dependable sources" of energy in Hawaii are not limited to geothermal ones alone.
The island of Hawaii already obtains more than a third of its electrical energy from the burning of bagasse, a sugar cane residue that resembles crumpled straw. On the crowded island of Oahu, where most of the state's 800,000 residents live, contracts will be awarded within the next few weeks for the collection of solid waste that will be compacted and used as fuel.
More exotic forms of energy development lie ahead, ranging from eucalyptus tree farms for firewood to the researching of ocean thermal energy to an experimantal 16-story energy-generating windmill.
But it is in geothermal energy, where the expected resource is large and the technology well developed (See GEOTHERMAL, A16, Col. 1) (GEOTHERMAL, From A1) that Hawaii's future seems brightest.
The island of Hawaii, most southern and easterly of the chain that comprises the nation's 50th state, is twice the size of Delaware, rich in volcanoes and sparse in population.
Six years ago the University of Hawaii organized the Hawaii Geothermal Project and after long study drilling commenced on a four-acre site near the town of Pahoa in the eastern rift zone of the Kilauea volcano.
Two years ago ther drillers were rewarded with the discovery of an unwarded with the discovery of an unusually hot well - 676 degrees Fahrenheit - at the relatively shallow level of 6,450 feet. The will has been tested periodically since, most recently with 42 days of continuous operation, and has continued to produce high-quality steam. Now, with federal and county assistance, the state has decided to build a three-megawatt pilot generating plant on this site.
Bill H. Chen, the University of Hawaii engineering professor who directs the geothermal project, believes that the geothermal project, beleves that the intensely hot waters tapped by the well may be part of a vast underground lake that runs from the crater of the volcano to the ocean nearly 40 miles away. The reserves are presently incalcubalbe, but could produce thousands of megawatts of electrical energy.
Development of the geothermal steam is planned in stages. After the pilot plant has been completed and testeq in 1980, plans call for construction of a 23 megawatt plant. After that, Kono envisions a 110 megawatt plant that will serve a manganses nodule refinery a decade from now. Ultidule, says Kono, the geothermal well could produce 500 megawatts of electrical energy annually, energy enough to provide power for a city of a half-million.
In terms of energy availability alone this may be severely understating the resource beacuse other volcanoes in Hawaii are thought to possess similar underground reservoirs. But the economics of development are more difficult.
While most regions in the United States are hard-pressed to meet the eergy needs of their populations, the big island of Hawaii must find a use for the excess energy it is capable of generating.
Postential uses include development of an energy intensive alumina bausite refining industry of piping the energy to the Puna Sugar Mill 15 miles away where another federally funded study is trying to determine the feasibility of using geothermal steam in
But the best long-term prospect appears to be the manganese nodule industry, which, because of the huge capital investment needed for deepsea mining, is expected to locate in countries with stable governments and in states that desire industrial development. Hawaii is strategically located near the richest field of manganese nodules in the Pacific, a band stretching from about 1,000 miles south of the island toward the coast of Baja, Calif.
But in the economic calculus for the project there are amny variables, ranging from the world price of petroleum to the now-depressed world price of nickel, one of four minerals extracted from the manganese noduies.
But the biggest variable is the volcano. Becasue of the same intense volcanic activity that produces the steam, Kilauea holds peril as well as are two irregularly shapped mounds that were the vents - the places where lava escaped - in a 1955 eruption. From these vents al ifoless river of grey rock now extends to the sea.
The volcano erupted agains last year at a site 20 miles away from the well. Because of the volcanic hazards, the Hawaiian Electric Co. is unwilling to participate in extensive commercial develipment until a costly backup system - which could be activated if the geothermal plant were threatened is built.
This has led the state and country to think in terms of a government-developed system that would be devoted to industry rather than residential use.
"It's an ucacceptable proposition ot have your electricity interrupted for a few days at home because of a volcanic eruption," says Chen. "But a large industry could live with this risk it its potential profit is great enough."
Chen believes that a power plant can be located in a relatively safe place and the wells dispersed so that a volcanic eruption would leave most of the system intact.
There appears to be substantial public support for the georhermal plant and accompaning industrialization. Government and private employers here are deluged with job applications, many of them from island residents who have left and want to return.
"People think of Hawaii as grass shacks and hula skirts, and we're responsible for it because we promoted it," says John P. Keppeler, managing director for the county of Hawaii.
"But it isn't an accurate image. We have a skilled labor force here and one that needs work because sugar is depressedM and we have lots of resources. The story up to now has been Oahu and Maui. The story of the next 20 years is going to be development and energy on the big island of Hawaii."