A Disaster in the Making

This situation on Mauna Kea continues to be a disaster waiting to happen. A Star-Advertiser reporter asked me what I would do about it.

I’m just a banana farmer, but one that happens to be a military veteran and knows a bit about military tactics. When I was up on the mountain early on for a TMT ribbon-cutting ceremony, I saw right away that the protestors had us in an L-shaped military ambush. That should never have been allowed to happen.

If this continues, more and more protesters will be up there. Are you willing to take the chance that no one rolls a boulder down the mountain? And then the situation escalates, we bring in the National Guard, and somebody shoots? If this keeps going on, somebody is going to get killed.

It’s so clear to me. We need to get our law enforcement people involved and plan for the worst case scenario. Or we can continue to be gentle and somebody will get killed. I have seen this in action in Vietnam. It’s something to see. It is so much better to be safe than sorry.

From the beginning of this situation on Mauna Kea, I’ve been very clear that this is very serious. What’s important – no matter which side of the argument you are on – is safety. We have to maintain public safety.

photo Vadim Kurland / CC  by 2.0 

Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative Hires Communication Team

(HILO, HAWAII, SEPTEMBER 8, 2015)—Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) has retained the veteran firm, Hastings & Pleadwell: A Communication Company (H&P) to do public outreach about the benefits of a utility cooperative for Hawaii Island.

For 20 years, H&P has provided communication services to clients in Hawaii and beyond, many of them concentrated in the alternative energy or technology arenas.

Barbara A. Hastings, a founding partner of the firm, has been following and writing about energy matters since the Arab Oil Embargo of the mid-1970s. She was an energy fellow in the Stanford University program for working journalists.

HIEC is in the exploratory and public education phase, seeking to inform Hawaii Island residents of the potential, and merits, of self-ownership of its local electric utility.

With the successful Kauai Island Utility Cooperative as a model, the HIEC board is exploring cooperative utility ownership for its island.

“H&P proved a good fit, given its roots on both Hawaii Island and Oahu, and its background in the energy field,” said Marco Mangelsdorf, HIEC board director and spokesman.

HIEC was founded earlier this year and is an intervener in the Public Utilities Commission proceeding reviewing the proposed sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries, including Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO), to NextEra Energy of Juno Beach, Florida.

Some of the cooperative benefits HIEC wants to communicate include potentially lower energy rates over time; financial gains go directly to members, not shareholder profits; and local, democratic control of the island’s energy future.

Ashley Kierkiewicz, a Hawaii Island native, will lead part of the outreach efforts and partner Barbra Pleadwell will assist with strategy. H&P has offices in Hilo and Honolulu.

About Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative
HIEC is a non-profit cooperative association that seeks to establish a member-owned electric utility and encourage non-petroleum-based transportation for Hawaii Island. HIEC presents a unique opportunity for all electricity consumers to “own the power.” For more information, visit www.hiec.coop. HIEC is on Facebook and Twitter @HiEnergyCoop.

See Mina Morita’s Blog Post on NextEra Merger

Mina Morita is former chair of the Hawaii State Public Utilities Commision. At her Energy Dynamics blog, she wrote the post Let the Consumer Advocate & PUC Do Their Jobs!

I generally agree with what she writes. Referring to a wave of politicians who want to explore a public utility option instead of the proposed NextEra/HEI merger, she writes:

During this time of transformation a well-functioning electric utility requires insightful leadership, nimble and flexible strategic planning and strong analytical capacity. 

That is exactly why a group of community leaders and business persons formed the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative. When the proposed NextEra/HEI merger was announced late last year, we arranged for a briefing by the KIUC folks. It looked very promising, so we formed a steering committee.  At that time, though, there wasn’t a willing seller so we waited to see if there would be an opportunity down the road.

The other day I spoke as part of a League of Women Voters forum. I told the moderator, Pearl Johnson, that we decided to use the Wayne Gretsky strategy. Gretsky said to skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is. That’s an example of insightful leadership. We decided to prepare a co-op option in case an opportunity arose. If we had waited to start when an opportunity came up, it would have been too late.

The co-op model allows for nimble and flexible strategic planning. I told Pearl Johnson that it isn’t the strongest, largest or smartest that survives, it’s the one that can adapt to change.

A board of directors directs a co-op model. In the case of Kaua‘i’s co-op, nine members sit on the board. The terms are staggered and every year three positions become vacant, which allows the co-op to quickly respond to changes. It is especially important now because declining natural resources require us to be nimble, flexible and strategic, as Mina points out.

What we should consider is which business model will give the next generations tools they need to cope in an uncertain future.

There are many qualified people the board can hire to help with technical analyses.

The HIEC is not opposing the NextEra/HEI merger. What we are doing is positioning ourselves to be a viable option.

The Big Island has a huge advantage in working to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. We already have 40 percent renewables, and HELCO itself projects 92 percent renewables by 2030. It appears that we could probably avoid LNG entirely.

When I visited Iceland several years ago, they showed us an oil-fired plant that had been on standby since the 1970s. We could do that, too. I don’t see many opportunity costs foregone. If we change nothing at all, the co-op model would still have the advantage of some tax savings.

If we are successful in acquiring HELCO, we will need legislators to work with us to make legislation that will encourage the usage of “curtailed” (thrown away) power.

As we move toward the future of 100 percent renewable energy, we must remember that this is about all of us, not just a few of us. The co-op has an incentive to lower costs.

So yes, we do agree with Mina. We’re waiting.

40+ Hawaii Politicians Say Let’s Explore Public Utility for Big Isle

A Civil Beat article lists more than 40 politicians interested in exploring the idea of a utility cooperative or other options, rather than the proposed for-profit NextEra/Hawaiian Electric merger.

From Civil Beat:

State, County Lawmakers Want to Explore Public Utility Option for Hawaii

A diverse group of more than 40 elected officials wants more options on the table as the merger deal between NextEra and Hawaiian Electric is being considered.


More than 40 state and county lawmakers united Thursday in a commitment to explore the potential of public utilities in Hawaii.

Their announcement comes as the Public Utilities Commission considers approving the proposed $4.3 billion sale of Hawaiian Electric Industries to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

…“Public utilities don’t need higher rates to make profits for shareholders, and as a result they tend to have significantly lower rates than for-profit utilities across the country,” state Rep. Chris Lee, who heads the House Energy and Environment Committee said at a news conference in the Capitol.

He was flanked by 20 other lawmakers who support looking at fundamentally changing the monopoly for-profit utility model that has served Hawaii for the past 100 years.

Among the supporters was Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin, who said the county will be the biggest consumer of electricity in the state, even surpassing the military. Council members Ikaika Anderson and Kymberly Pine joined him.

House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang, along with fellow Republican Rep. Cynthia Thielen, also said the public utility option needs to be explored.

“As Republicans and Democrats, we have differences,” Fukumoto said. “But we can all agree that the skyrocketing cost of electricity is detrimental to local familites. Until NextEra provides a framework for customer savings, it would be irresponsible not to explore options like co-ops and other alternatives.”

Read the rest

Chris Lee also spoke about this on Hawaii Public Radio recently. Listen here (10:11):

Cost-Effective For Whom? Responding to NextEra

I cringed when I saw this morning’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald article NextEra Adviser: Co-ops Not Cost-Effective. Now NextEra, the company hoping to acquire Hawaii Electric Industries (HEI), has a Massachusetts-based spokesman speaking for it.

NextEra says it’s sensitive to Hawai‘i, but this spokesman is from Massachusetts. It’s exactly what many of us are wary of – mainland advisors with no idea of the complexity of the issues. The NextEra spokesman didn’t even seem to know that the Big Island has an abundance of natural resources quite different from what’s available on the mainland.

NextEra says if it purchases HEI in its proposed $4.3 billion deal, it would let us have an advisory board – but that doesn’t really mean anything. An advisory board wouldn’t have any power. It would be the same thing as a representative to Congress back in the Territorial days.

NextEra would be investor-owned, which means its goal would be to make money for it investors and shareholders. That would be the priority. If it benefits the Hawai‘i ratepayer at all, that would be incidental.

Contrast that with the co-op, which is non-profit and it is not taxed (that savings is returned to the ratepayers). Right there, even without making any other changes, a co-op already saves money compared to an investor-owned utility because it pays no taxes.

The co-op is not going to tell you exactly what it is going to do. We are going to set the framework so we and future generations will always be equipped to make decisions and do what is best as conditions change. There’s no way we can know now what the future holds.

Co-ops have a nine-member board of directors, with each member having a staggered term. Every year, three positions come up for election. This keeps it sensitive to what’s going on in the community. The co-op’s board structure is a self-correcting mechanism that is responsive to what the people are thinking as attitudes change over time. You don’t see that in a powerful company that’s located far away.

A company like NextEra tells you what it’s going to do and then locks it in – because that’s how it makes money for its investors. Not because it works for the local community, or saves money for ratepayers.

Keep in mind, it’s not the biggest or the strongest that survive; it’s the ones that can adapt to change. NextEra is by far the biggest (but so were the dinosaurs, and they’re not around anymore).

Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative is big enough (it will be part of a 900-member cooperative association with its own, healthy, financial institution) and it’s about adapting. It’s about doing what we have the opportunity to do for the Big Island right now – changing our energy utility to a cooperative model –  so we, and future generations, can adapt to changing conditions as needed, and survive and thrive.

Community Listening Sessions: The PUC Wants To Hear

This is probably the last chance in this generation to have a say in how our electric utility is run.

The PUC is going to travel around the state in September holding “community listening sessions.” They want to know what we think about the HEI/NextEra merger application.

Here on the Big Island, we want to ask the PUC to consider a co-op model, similar to the Kauai Island Energy Cooperative.

The reason I say it’s probably our only opportunity is because you have to have a willing seller to put such a plan into place, and in the absense of something earth-shattering, this probably won’t come up again in our lifetime. It’s speak up now, or miss our chance.

It’s definitely in our best interest to show up at these PUC meetings and ask them to consider our co-op model: the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative. Otherwise we miss our chance to make a change for the better.

If you are not clear on what a co-op model would look like, it’s really very simple: We’re only suggesting a change in the business model of how the electric utility operates, and that means three essential differences from how things operate now.

Some people will say we don’t have enough qualified people. Well, let’s say we didn’t change any of the employees running Hawaiian Electric, but only changed the business model. There goes that argument. There is no argument.

Essentially, there would just be three differences.

1)    The co-op would be an investor-owned, non-profit utility that does not pay taxes, and the money we save would go straight back to the people.

2)    The co-op would be a non-profit model that existed to do what the people want. People would elect the board of directors, and if people were not happy with the board of directors, they could fire them by not electing them again.

3)    People always wonder if the co-op would have enough money. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, or NRECA, which is made up of 900 co-ops in the United States, owns its own finance company; its own bank. Its whole objective is to manage co-ops. That’s why they are called co-ops—they cooperate with each other. They have plenty of money.

It’s not any more complicated than that. The big question here is which business model will work best for the people in terms of managing our utility. This is not rocket science.

It’s important that we show up and speak up when the PUC asks us to. Attend the meetings next month — I’ll post when and where they are — and ask the PUC to consider the co-op. Ask them to consider what’s really best for the people of the Big Island.

Hurricane Ignacio Update: Sunday 2:45 p.m.

Update, 8:45 p.m.:

Civil Defense, Young Brothers and everyone lifted the Tropical Storm watch. We dodged the bullet again. Thanks, everyone!


It’s been quite a hurricane season already this year!

Right now we are watching Ignacio. At 2:45 p.m. today, Hawaii County Civil Defense announced that Hurricane Ignacio was posing an “anticipated reduced threat.” It’s still a Category 3 hurricane, currently with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour and higher gusts, and right now it’s about 380 miles east of Hilo moving 12 miles per hour to the northwest. They say it’s gradually weakening.

Everything indicates, too, that it’s moving more to the north of the islands now and will move parallel to the Hamakua coast. This is good, but what worries me is the size of the hurricane. As it moves along its path, spinning counterclockwise, its winds affect us on the Hamakua coast first. This is a big coastline up alongside a mountain, so it operates like a valley. The winds come from the north and are forced up against the slopes of the mountain. The energy doesn’t go over the top of the mountain, but runs down the slope and is concentrated along the Hamakua coast from the north to the south.

That’s why we’re still a bit concerned about this one. That’s good news that it’s weakening, but its winds are still 115 miles per hour and it only takes 55 mph winds to flatten a banana tree.

So they can say what they way to say, but at the moment those winds are traveling at 100-something miles per hour, so am I going to go catch a plan to Honolulu because I’m so sure nothing’s going to happen here? I don’t think so!

But we’ve secured everything at the farm that needs to be secured. So we’ll wait and see.

Take care everyone. The update from Hawaii County Civil Defense is here:

This is a Hurricane information update for Sunday August 30th at 2:45PM.

As of 2:00 PM this afternoon Hurricane Ignacio was continuing on a northwest track at 12 miles per hour and remains a category 3 hurricane. Ignacio was located approximately 380 miles east of Hilo and recording sustained winds of 115 miles per hour with higher gusts. Hurricane force winds extend outwards from the center up to 30 miles and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 160 miles.

Although the National Weather Service Tropical Storm Watch for Hawaii Island remains in effect, the present track and gradual weakening of Ignacio is presenting with an anticipated reduced threat to Hawaii Island. Based on the anticipated and improved forecast outlook, evacuation centers will not be opened at this time. The Civil Defense Agency will continue to maintain close communication with the National Weather Service and monitor the system. 

All DOE public schools and private schools will be open tomorrow.

In addition all government offices will be open for normal business. 

The High Surf Warning issued for the east facing shores of Hawaii Island will remain in effect through 6:00PM Tuesday evening. Surf heights are expected to increase today and build to possibly 15 to 20 feet. Residents in low lying coastal areas and boat owners are advised to take necessary precautions. 

Please monitor your local radio broadcast for additional updates.

Kalakaua at Lick Observatory

Did you know that Kalakaua was a true astronomy buff? He sailed across the ocean and rode a stagecoach up to the Lick Observatory outside San Jose.

My friend Peter Matlock, who just visited Lick Observatory, sent me this account of his visit:

My wife and I were recently at the University of California’s Lick Observatory, built outside San Jose back in 1880. 

For all those invoking the monarchy as they protest at the new leading location for astronomy, it might be useful to remind them that one of the first visitors to Lick, and an evident supporter, was King Kalakaua.

When Kalakaua made the trip in the 1880s, there was a single lane dirt road and it took 4 to 5 hours to travel by stagecoach from San Jose—and this after the voyage to get from Hawai`i to San Jose in the first place.

It still takes a high sense of dedication to and appreciation for the science of astronomy to make the trip to the Lick Observatory. Today it’s an hour drive and an elevation gain of over 4,200 feet from San Jose up a twisty narrow mountain road (365 turns, many hairpins)—often with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other (and generally no guard rails).

I thought you might like to see some pictures I took there, as well.


When the Lick Observatory  was built, it had the then-largest refracting and reflecting telescopes in the world.

This facility was the leading astronomy facility at the end of the 19th century and has a long tradition of scientific innovations and discoveries. These include the almost immediate discovery of the fifth moon of Jupiter, use of photography and spectroscopy to record data and revolutionize our ability to probe and understand the universe, development of adaptive optics technology to improve resolution of astronomical images in real time, and Lick’s newest telescope—the Automated Planet Finder to discover planets outside our solar system.
The Lick Observatory continues to be a pioneer facility in astronomy.  

Cheaper Electricity: The Need Hasn’t Changed

Every so often I’m going to repost something here that I feel is still significant.

This article, which I submitted to the Big Island Chronicle and ran in April 2014, talks about some of the important principles behind why we formed the Big Island Community Coalition. It still applies.


A Call For Cheaper Electricity

Here is the single most important need facing Hawai‘i today. Everything else radiates from it:

We need cheaper electricity.

It can be done. Recently the Big Island Community Coalition, along with others, helped stop some fairly significant electricity rate hikes from showing up on everybody’s HELCO bills.

And we are very lucky to have resources here, such as geothermal energy, that we can use to generate much cheaper electricity.

Here’s why this is so important:

• We need enough food to eat, and we need to grow it here, instead of relying on it coming to us from somewhere else.

Food security – having enough food to eat, right here where we live – is truly the bottom line. We live in the middle of an ocean, we import more than 80 percent of what we eat, and sometimes there are natural or other disasters and shipping disruptions. This makes a lot of us a little nervous.

• To grow our food here, we need for our farmers to make a decent living: “If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.”

The price of oil, and of petroleum byproducts like fertilizers and many other farming products, keeps going up, which raises farmers’ costs. They cannot pass on all these higher costs, and they lose money.

We use oil for 70 percent of our electricity here in Hawai‘i, whereas on the mainland they use oil for only 2 percent of theirs—so when the cost of oil increases, anything here that requires electricity to produce is less competitive. And farmers in Hawai‘i also pay four times as much for electricity as do their mainland competition, which puts them at an even bigger competitive disadvantage. Fewer young people are going into farming and this will impact our food security even further.

HELCO needs to be a major driver in reducing the cost of electricity. We believe that HELCO is fully capable of providing us with reliable and less costly electrical power, and ask that the PUC reviews its directives to and agreements with HELCO. Its directives should now be that HELCO’s primary objective should be making significant reductions in the real cost of reliable electric power to Hawai‘i Island residents.

At the same time, we ask that HELCO be given the power to break out of its current planning mode in order to find the most practicable means of achieving this end. We will support a long-range plan that realistically drives down our prices to ensure the viability of our local businesses and the survivability of our families. All considerations should be on the table, including power sources (i.e., oil, natural gas, geothermal, solar, biomass, etc.), changes in transmission policy including standby charges, and retaining currently operating power plants.

This is not “us” vs. “them.” We are all responsible for creating the political will to get it done.

Rising electricity costs act like a giant regressive tax: the people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder get hurt first, and hardest. If our energy costs are lower – and we can absolutely make that happen – our farmers can keep their prices down, food will be cheaper, and consumers will have more money left over at the end of the month. This is good for our people, and for our economy.

We have good resources here and we need to maximize them. Geothermal and other options for cheaper for energy. We also have the University of Hawai‘i, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and others that help our farmers.

To learn more about achieving cheaper electricity rates, consider joining the Big Island Community Coalition (bigislandcommunitycoalition.org; there’s no cost). We send out an occasional email with information on what we’re doing to get electricity costs down, and how people can help.

Remember the bottom line: every one of us needs to call for cheaper electricity, and this will directly and positively impact our food security.