Q and A

Image: Mary Ann Changg

Rep. Cynthia Thielen seeks federal funding for a sea-powered Hawai‘i

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is one of a dozen legislators from across the nation meeting with top White House officials on renewable energy issues this week. The chosen ones are members of the Coalition of Legislators for Energy Action Now. The Weekly caught up with Thielen, a wave energy advocate, just before she left for the nation’s capitol.

Are you advocating for wave energy specifically for Hawaii or do you see it as a nationwide energy solution?

For any coastal state that has a wave climate that is appropriate for wave energy, I am advocating for wave energy. And it’s not just for Hawaii, but it’s all the coastal states that could tap that powerful and amazing resource…I’m very glad to represent Hawaii because we could become such a renewable energy leader in the whole nation and in the world.

Hawaii is also trying to become entirely self-sustainable in terms of green energy.

Absolutely. But we can’t reach the goal of the Clean Energy Initiative, which is 70 percent clean energy by the year 2030, unless we tap the power of the ocean. And so that’s why I’ve been such a proponent for wave energy for the last seven years, saying we need to take the steps like they’re doing in Europe. And in Europe they are providing government support, the national governments, and they’re working to set up, for example, wave hubs, which is actually an underwater socket where the wave energy converters can be plugged into that underwater socket. They can test their devices and then the energy can be fed into the grid.

Are there functional wave energy systems already in place?

Yes, and there’s one that the president saw when he surfed off of the marine base at Pyramid Rock, and that’s a small test buoy there. There’s a much more major project going in on Maui: Oceanlinx is putting in two wave energy converters off of Maui that will be providing power to the grid…

We’re going back to say to the president–I don’t know if we’re going to be seeing him–but the purpose of this is to say to Congress and the president, we want clean energy legislation now. And we want it now because the states have been taking the lead, but they need the federal government to step in like it did under President John Kennedy, when the “go to the moon” project was announced and the goal was to get there within 10 years, and with America’s ingenuity they got there in eight…

You’re a Republican… It doesn’t necessarily pop into my mind to think of our Republican representatives taking up the torch for clean energy.

I’ve been a green Republican and one of my models is Theodore Roosevelt, who established the National Park System, and he was a Republican. So I think people need to redefine how they box Republicans into a certain definition. I’ve been a green Republican all of my adult life.

If you could get a couple of minutes alone with Obama…

Actually, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, what I would want to say to him, because it would be brief. It would be: “Mr. President, I hope you saw the wave energy converter in the water while you were surfing at Pyramid Rock on the marine base… That wave energy converter can provide power to the grid, and in fact wave energy converters can provide 80 percent of all the power that Oahu needs.” If I could get that much out, I would be thrilled… But it’s not just the president, we’ll be speaking with his top advisers. So, I can get the message out in more detail, to be able to say we need the federal support and the federal funding to get wave test centers set up. Not just in Hawaii, but in other states. And we need to get them so the international companies will look to Hawaii as the place to come and to build their systems using local talent, using local employees… That’s what I want to see happen. My point is, we need Congress to act. We need them to fund and we need them to take a look at how significantly this is being done in European countries and why they’re the leaders and we’re not.