Category Archives: Renewable Energy Sources

Where Kauai Utility and NextEra Stand

Richard Borreca wrote an editorial for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “On Politics” column Sunday. It’s called “Compared to NextEra, Kauai’s Utility Looks Good.”

He notes that all the talk about Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) merging with NextEra Energy comes when Hawaii is, more and more, being recognized for its moves into alternative energy. “HECO,” he writes, “with its flickering support for solar programs, has caused consumers to vote with the checkbook as they scramble to go solar and leave the grid. Unfortunately, the public utility getting much of the praise is not HECO, but the tiny Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.”

Compared to NextEra, Kauai’s utility looks good

It has been a year-and-a-half since Hawaiian Electric Industries announced it was set to merge with Florida-based NextEra Energy Inc. in a deal worth $4.3 billion.

If talk were watts, the still-not-approved purchase could power the state. Everyone has an opinion on the publicly traded local company.

The talk may be up as the companies have set a June 3 time limit for consummating the deal, which also needs a decision by the state’s Public Utilities Commission to approve, reject or modify the merger…

Read the rest (behind Honolulu Star-Advertiser paywall)

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Pacific Biodiesel: Is Keaau Plant Actually Sustainable?

Pacific Biodiesel in Kea‘au has just been certified sustainable – the first biodiesel plant in the U.S. to be granted such a certificate – and that’s significant.

The plant opened using primarily waste cooking oil, and that cooking oil has been financing the plant. Now, it’s built. We don’t have to grow, say, palm trees and try to utilize the palm oil to build a plant and make that work out. The plant is already up and running.

All we need to do now is supply a product, whatever it may be. This gives us the opportunity to bring in other products and try them out as biofuels.

This is great news.

From the New York Times:

Biofuels Plant in Hawaii Is First to Be Certified as Sustainable

KEAAU, Hawaii — The trucks roll in and out of the plant at a business park nestled near papaya farms and a forest preserve on the Big Island here, an operation that transforms waste cooking oils, animal fats, fruit and seeds into biodiesel fuel, nearly 13,000 gallons a day.

Owned by Pacific Biodiesel, an industry pioneer, the plant was designed with an eye toward conserving water and energy and avoiding environmental harm.

But after about $20 million and four years of operation, a central question about the plant, and the industry as a whole, has persisted: Do biofuels ultimately reduce carbon emissions?

“We’re worried that the efforts to ramp up our use of biofuels are actually doing a lot of damage and digging the climate hole deeper,” said Jonathan Lewis, a lawyer focused on climate change at the Clean Air Task Force.

Now, the biodiesel industry’s backers say they have an answer, at least for this modest plant….

Read the rest

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Look What the Kauai Island Utility Co-op Did

We went to Kaua‘i on Saturday to attend the blessing of the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) Anahola Solar Array.  The mood was one of exhiliration and great pride. Here’s a short video clip.

Richard Ha Hamakua Springs
The 60-acre photovoltaic system, coupled with a six-megawatt lithium-ion battery system, was a collaboration between KIUC and Anahola Hawaiian Homes. It will generate clean energy on the island as well as decrease fossil fuel imports from the mainland. The system will generate 20 percent of the island’s annual energy needs during the daylight hours, and will save nearly $250,000 a month on operating costs alone.

Richard Ha Hamakua Springs

I met many of the directors and key people involved in KIUC over the years. Key members of the Hawaiian community were in attendance, as well.

Richard Ha Hamakua SpringsIt is amazing what KIUC has been able to accomplish in a short time. Its costs have risen the least of all the electricity producers in the state despite its having the least number of available options. It does not have geothermal, for instance, and cannot use wind power due to bird kills.

Richard Ha Hamakua SpringsIt goes to show what a lean and mean utility co-op can accomplish.

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Is Our Culture Falling Backward?

This editorial ran in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald today. In case you didn’t see it, I’ll run what we sent them here.

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The purpose of the Big Island Community Coalition is to work towards reduced electrical energy costs on the Island of Hawaii – where we pay up to four times the national average for our power.  We are particularly sensitive to electric power rates as very high rates serve essentially as a regressive tax on our population while greatly reducing the probability of generating jobs in any sector that is dependent on electricity.

There are occasions when events are so alarming that groups such as ours feel compelled to move beyond our primary task.  This is such a time.

We have observed with increasing alarm as our community has taken steps that inexorably blunt the forward movement of our economy and even move us backwards.  These include:

  1. Anti-Geothermal activists encouraged County government to ban nighttime drilling, effectively stopping expansion of a major source of renewable and inexpensive electric power beyond already-existing permits.This action was taken despite the existing plant meeting all applicable noise standards.  It appears that government officials took this action without first going to the site to verify that the noise was disruptive.  Once they did go to the site, some years later, government found that the noise was less than other environmental sounds (i.e., coqui frogs) and essentially no more than typical background noise.
  2. Anti-GMO activists lobbied to stop any new GMO products from being grown on the island – despite the fact that the vast majority of scientific, peer-reviewed studies found such products to be as safe, and in some cases more nutritious, as their non-GMO counterparts.  Legislation even prohibited GMO flowers – not consumed by anyone – from being grown on the island.  Thus family farmers lost the most effective new tools needed to reduce pesticide and herbicide usage while increasing productivity needed to keep their farms competitive.
  3. Now we have anti-Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) activists taking steps to stop construction of the most advanced telescope in the world.  If successful in stopping TMT, despite its sponsors following every legal requirement over a seven-year period, we will lose our world leading advantage in understanding the universe.

All of these actions share similar characteristics:

  • The arguments used to justify such actions are consistently anti-scientific.
  • “Anti” groups often obscure the lack of scientific evidence to support their position by using emotional pleas intended to incite fear.
  • The only “win” for many of these groups is to completely stop, thereby making them completely unwilling to consider any facts that refute their position or to make any reasonable compromise.
  • Long-term consequences are significant both culturally and economically.

Cultures that survive and thrive embrace new technologies carefully, thoughtfully and steadily.  Cultures and economies that thrive are innovative beccause they generate ideas and solutions, solve problems and take calculated but careful risks.

Cultures that fall backwards are those that fear advancement, fear change and cling to a mythicized view of yesteryear.  The net result is loss of their brightest and most hard working youth.  Those youth that remain find fewer and fewer jobs – those jobs having greatly diminished economic value and lower wages.  The downward spiral becomes inexorable.

As we look to tomorrow, we need to ask ourselves whether we wish to give our children the exciting and invigorating job market typified by Silicon Valley or a job market that is much closer to the poorer regions of third world countries.  It is up to us to point one way or another.  Driving TMT out will be one more major step to cultural and economic poverty.

Signed,

Big Island Community Coalition

Richard Ha, President,

David DeLuz Jr., Rockne Freitas, Michelle Galimba, Wallace Ishibashi, Noe Kalipi, H.R “Monty” Richards, William Walter.

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Shale Oil & Gas: The Overhype

Richard Ha writes:

Art Berman says we don’t have as much shale oil and gas as we think we do. He feels that the shale oil and gas sector is largely uneconomic.

The first time I heard Art Berman speak was on a panel discussion at a 2009 Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference. He studied four thousand Barnett shale wells in Texas and found that the average well gave up 72 percent of its production in the first year.

He definitely had a different perspective than an oil company executive panel member, who said that according to his hyperbolic curve calculations, the average well would produce for 22 years.

I knew someone was wrong. I thought that the oil company executive was just blowing smoke, to sell stocks. I imagined that by the end of the 22nd year, the amount of gas production from his gas well would fill a balloon an hour.

Many thousand of wells later, several credible studies from other sources, such as by this Post Carbon Institutes study by David Hughes, support Art Berman’s initial observations.

We need to pay attention to this because we rely on oil for seventy percent of our energy, and this makes Hawai‘i especially vulnerable. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.

The Big Island is lucky to have an alternative to oil and natural gas to make our base power electricity: Geothermal.

As time goes on, and as oil and natural gas prices rise, future generations will have a competitive advantage over the rest of the world. We will be over our geothermal “hot spot” for 500,000 to a million years.

It takes energy to do work. No energy, no work done. But it is the net energy left over from getting the energy that society uses to grow the economy. And since two-thirds of our economy is made up of consumer spending, it boils down to how much extra money the rubbah slippah folks have that will determine the health of our economy.

So Kumu Lehua was right. He asked me: “What about the rest?” 

That is the key question. What about our kupuna on fixed income? The single moms? The working homeless? If they had extra money, they could spend it and everyone would benefit. Farmers are price takers, not price makers, and they would benefit. If the farmers made money, the farmers would farm.

Asking what about the rest will help us with food security. It all boils down to cost. That is to say, what are the combination of things that gives us the best net energy profile? This is more about common sense than rocket science. If we take our time to look for two solutions for every problem and one more just in case, we will find the solutions that make us competitive with the rest of the world.

This, in the final analysis, is about survival and adaptation. And it is about all of us; not just a few of us.

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Island Photovoltaic Permits in Dramatic Decline

Richard Ha writes:

Marco Mangelsdorf, who owns ProVision Solar in Hilo, is one of the most credible commentators I know of in the energy industry. The fact that he owns a solar company has never affected his intelligent analyses. He has no bias but just calls it like it is. I respect his integrity explicitly.

He recently sent me this information about November photovoltaic (PVV) permits, and I got his permission to reprint it here:

[November was the] nineteenth straight month of year-over-year decline. I believe a case can be made that the island’s PV industry may be in a state of terminal decline as far as roof-top PV. It’s hard to see factors that would lead to a sustainable upswing at least in the next several years. With the federal tax credit scheduled to disappear for residential PV as of January 1, 2017 and go down from 30 percent to 10 percent for commercial PV, grid penetration issues and NextEra’s apparent preference for utility-scale PV over distributed generation, the skies seem unlikely to brighten in the near-term for the local PV industry. And forget any immediate relief coming from some magic bullet in the form of energy storage. Ain’t gonna happen no matter how much some commentators predict it along with a mass exodus from the grid. Said pundits have likely never spent any time, let along months or years, living off the grid and the considerable energy, time, resources and conscientiousness that off grid living entails. 

November 2014 PV permits—520, a drop of 50 percent over last year. (November 2013 PV permits—1,040.) 

January-November 2014—5,914, a drop of 51 percent from the same period last year.  (January-November 2013 PV permits—12,163.)  

The number one PV permit puller on the island, Vivint Solar, has seen their numbers take a substantial dive in October and November. Their monthly average January-September 2014 = 92 PV permits.  In October, they obtained nine permits while they pulled 15 last month.  

January-November 2014  

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Kauai Island Utility Co-op Execs To Brief On How They Formed Their Co-Op

Richard Ha writes:

We have invited Dennis Esaki, a founder of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), and David Bissell, CEO of KIUC, to speak to us about how one forms a community-based utility. Having such a utility cooperative here on the Big Island would give us more control over our destiny.

It will be held this Friday, December 19, 11:30 a.m., at the former C. Brewer Executive Center in Wainaku. The event is sponsored by the Big Island Community Coalition, the Hilo Hamakua Coast Development Corporation, and the Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United. The Ed Olson Trust is providing the Wainaku Executive Center facilities. Please R.S.V.P.

The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative was formed in 2002 when Citizens Communications’ Kauai Electric announced that it was selling the Kaua‘i utility. We have a similar situation right now in that Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) recently announced it is selling to NextEra.

NextEra plans to use utility-scale solar, backed up by liquid natural gas (LNG) as a bridge fuel. The average shale oil and gas well lasts only five years, so that model is a concern for Big Island rate payers. (This link is an even more in-depth explanation of how shale oil is massively over-hyped, and analyzes the best data available.) Fortunately, we have geothermal we can use in place of LNG on the Big Island. We have options.

This is not an endorsement of converting to a co-op so much as it is an informational briefing.

Please R.S.V.P. to richard@hamakuasprings.com.

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Aren’t the Falling Oil Prices Great?

Richard Ha writes:

Isn’t it great that the price of oil has dropped so low all of the sudden?!

Wait – is it??

In the short term, for maybe five years, we’re going to be pretty happy here in Hawai‘i. More tourists will travel here, food and electricity costs will drop, and we will have more consumer confidence. We’ll feel like everything’s fine.

But everything is interconnected in our big world now, and could there be any problems with such a sudden and steep drop in oil prices?

Gail Tverberg, the former insurance actuary I sometimes refer to here who is very knowledgeable about such things on a macro level – and who writes the blog Our Finite World – just wrote about this.

In her post Ten Reasons Why a Severe Drop in Oil Prices is a Problem, she writes about the big picture.

From Our Finite World:

Let me explain some of the issues:

Issue 1. If the price of oil is too low, it will simply be left in the ground.

The world badly needs oil for many purposes: to power its cars, to plant it[s] fields, to operate its oil-powered irrigation pumps, and to act as a raw material for making many kinds of products, including medicines and fabrics….

Issue 2. The drop in oil prices is already having an impact on shale extraction and offshore drilling.

While many claims have been made that US shale drilling can be profitable at low prices, actions speak louder than words. (The problem may be a cash flow problem rather than profitability, but either problem cuts off drilling.) Reuters indicates that new oil and gas well permits tumbled by 40% in November… 

Issue 4. Low oil prices tend to cause debt defaults that have wide ranging consequences. If defaults become widespread, they could affect bank deposits and international trade. 

With low oil prices, it becomes much more difficult for shale drillers to pay back the loans they have taken out. Cash flow is much lower, and interest rates on new loans are likely much higher. The huge amount of debt that shale drillers have taken on suddenly becomes at-risk. Energy debt currently accounts for 16% of the US junk bond market, so the amount at risk is substantial.

Dropping oil prices affect international debt as well. The value of Venezuelan bonds recently fell to 51 cents on the dollar, because of the high default risk with low oil prices.  Russia’s Rosneft is also reported to be having difficulty with its loans….

Tverberg writes about some pretty extreme consequences of nearing the limits of our finite resources. I’ve said many times that I cannot disagree with her. My approach, though, is to look for workarounds for us here in Hawai‘i.

I’ve also said plenty of times that we are so lucky to have geothermal. It’s not quite “infinite,” but the Big Island will be over the geothermal “hot spot” for 500,000 to a million years, and that’s close enough.

We’ll see where all this takes us. It’s uncharted waters. On the state level, it will be good for us in the short term, but on a higher level – where Gail Tverberg operates and what she writes about – we need to pay serious attention to what’s going on. Have a look at her post. It’s important and enlightening. 

It’s been a very interesting week in terms of energy and other issues affecting the Big Island and all the rest of it. Stay tuned. I have more to say! 

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Thoughts on the NextEra Purchase of HEI

Richard Ha writes:

NextEra Energy’s purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI), just announced yesterday, will be very good for Hawai‘i.

Here’s what we know about NextEra: It’s a publicly traded company headquartered in Florida. Its principal subsidiaries include Florida Power & Light Company, which was recognized by Market Strategies International earlier this year as the nation’s most trusted electric utility, and NextEra Energy Resources, which together with its affiliated entities (NextEra Energy Resources), is North America’s largest producer of renewable energy from the wind and sun.

NextEra says it will spin off HEI’s American Savings Bank, which makes a lot of sense. NexEra.jpg

NextEra has the balance sheet and other resources to support significant investment in Hawai‘i’s transmission and distribution system to enable much higher levels of renewable energy sources.

Most of all, this change in ownership of our electrical utility will finally make much needed new and different approaches possible. What we all want is a lower cost of electricity.

And each island needs to take advantage of its own resources. One size does not fit all.

For example, the Big Island and Maui each have the options of using wind, solar, and possibly geothermal and some biofuel.

O‘ahu has wind, solar and biofuel but no proven geothermal and so limited opportunities to lower rates. Solar is a possibility. Coal is cheap, but unacceptable. LNG is possible as a bridge fuel.

Maui has its own issues, which are different from both O‘ahu and Maui.

We are unique on the Big Island. Beside solar, wind and biofuels, we have proven geothermal. Once it’s developed, geothermal wants to run 100 percent of the time, and the more it runs, the cheaper it is to the rate payers.

What if we guaranteed the geothermal developer, say, 25MW, and put no restriction on generating electricity for hydrogen manufacturing over and above the 25MW. If, for instance, the geothermal company installed a 30MW generator, they could sell 25MW to the utility and sell the excess 5MW cheap to make hydrogen. That would solve our liquid transportation problem, via hydrogen fuel cells, and we could make nitrogen fertilizer so as not to be dependent on petroleum byproducts. That’s only one example of what we could do with new thinking.

I would resist the temptation to advocate for a cable going from the Big Island. We need to see demonstrated results first.

This sales is an unexpected but very interesting turn of events. We welcome NextEra.

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Yes, We’ll Have No Tomatoes

Richard Ha writes:

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but we have been phasing out production of our tomatoes.

This came about because of what I’ve been saying here for years: The price of oil has raised farming costs substantially. The pluses of growing our hydroponic tomatoes were no longer exceeding the minuses.

When we started growing tomatoes back in 2002, we had been banana growers. Oil prices were low and banana prices were also low; it was hard to make a living that way. We needed to diversify, which is one of the reasons we went into tomatoes. It was a good decision.

But costs have been increasing drastically, and our tomato growing infrastructure is getting old and will start falling apart soon, so we had to make a decision. Do we take it apart and rebuild the tomato houses? Or do we replace them? Replacing them would cost an eye-opening three times what it cost 12 years ago when we put them up.

It’s a real-life consequence of what I keep saying here: The price of oil is four times higher than it was 10 years ago and there are significant consequences. Everything costs so much more now. We are in the middle of major changes and most people don’t even realize it.

We took into account that our customers are under increasing economic pressure, as well—meaning they have less disposable income—and that our tomatoes are a high-end product. We also knew, as we made this decision, that oil and other costs are expected to keep rising.

Our plan had always been to take our tomato farming to the next step, which would have been to leverage our excess hydroelectricity in a controlled environment that allowed us to exclude insects and optimize light and temperature. Unfortunately, it just took too long to get our hydro plant operating.

It’s been a very difficult decision, and one that we’ve been carefully considering and making for quite some time, taking not only all these conditions into account but also our next generation. As hard as it’s been to make this decision, we all agreed it was the right thing to do. It allows us to continue farming. 

We’re definitely not closing up shop; just refocusing our farming efforts based on economic factors.

We will stay in bananas. They do well in our rain and deep soil and other conditions. The banana infrastructure we have in place, such as the coolers and concrete, is good for another 20 years. The pluses exceed the minuses.

I continue to be very interested in producing a cost-effective protein source here on the farm, such as tilapia and other fish. We are currently working on the problems of protein feed and oxygenation of water, which we can do with gravity and electricity. We’re always thinking about where we need to be in 10 or 20 years.

And I’ll let you know what other interesting projects crop up along the way. 

In the meantime, you’ll see our Hamakua Springs Country Farms tomatoes until the end of November; that’s when the last of them will come off the vines, go through our packing houses, and hit the supermarkets.

We thank you for supporting, and enjoying, our tomatoes all these years.

Hamakua Springs tomatoes

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