It Takes All Of Us: Help the Hawaii Island Energy Co-op

Help us make the case that a co-op utility model is in the Big Island’s interest by donating to our crowdfunding effort.

Before we can ask large investors for additional funding, we need to raise $50,000 to prove that the community is on-board with a coop for Big Island. The money will be used for planning and public outreach. (Actual purchase of the utility would be made with traditional financing sources.)

Donate here

Donate today and we’ll send you an “Own the Power” t-shirt and other cool HIEC swag.

Here’s the Hawai‘i Island Energy Cooperative’s story:

HIEC was formed after a huge offshore company announced in late 2014 that it intended to buy our local electric utility. Our board decided that as the deal was being evaluated, all options should be put on the table—including, and especially, an energy cooperative for Hawai‘i Island.

To date, HIEC has actively participated in public meetings and hearings hosted by the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission (PUC), offering expert testimony regarding the merits and benefits for the people of a Big Island cooperative.

Right now, HIEC needs your support. Before we can ask large investors for additional funding, we need to raise $50,000 to prove that the community is on-board with a coop for Big Island. The money will be used for planning and public outreach. (Actual purchase of the utility would be made with traditional financing sources.)

Donate today and we’ll send you an “Own the Power” t-shirt and other cool HIEC swag.

Why a coop? Local, democratic control, community-driven strategic priorities and potentially lower electric costs are just a few reasons. Under the coop model, profits would be returned to members or invested back into the coop; no dividends paid to the Mainland or to outside shareholders—the money stays local.

HIEC is connected to a national network of energy coops—more than 900 across the United States. If we are able to negotiate a deal to buy the utility, this affords us access to low cost capital as well as purchasing power for things like renewable energy development, pensions and information technology.

HIEC is not be alone. Our friends on Kaua’i operate the state’s only electric cooperative. We have been working closely with Kaua’i Island Utility Coop (KIUC) to build on its experiences. KIUC recently reached 90% renewable energy penetration and has returned $33 million to its members since 2002. We believe this is due to its cooperative business model—the ability to be nimble and rapidly respond to Hawai‘i’s changing energy landscape.

The decisions we make today on Hawai‘i’s energy future will have long lasting impacts. Help HIEC continue its work of being an active participant in the PUC process as well as keeping the community plugged in via social media, eNewsletters, farmers market pop-ups and coffee hours. The power can be in YOUR hands!

“Yoohoo! I’m Looking for an Uhu!”

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Kramer/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Recently I heard Suzanne Case of the Department of Land and Natural Resources speak about overfishing here in Hawai‘i, and what she said really rang a bell with me.

When I was growing up, my family lived on the ocean at Maku‘u. I can remember my Uncle Sonny being very concerned about not overfishing. I can really identify with concern about ocean resources.

When I was in Vietnam, I saw a school once of maybe 30 or 40 uhu, huge ones, ten-pounders. But in Hawai‘i, I only ever saw one or two at a time and I had no idea they swam in schools like that. So when I saw that big school in Vietnam I thought it must be a different species.

But Suzanne had a photo of a school of uhu just like that and she said that was their normal condition. I almost fell over. The consequences of overfishing became very clear to me.

It was fascinating to learn that some of our local communities are saying enough is enough and that they have to do something. Leslie Lang talked to Suzanne and found out more:


Our ocean fisheries have declined 75 percent over the last hundred years, says Suzanne Case, chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

In the past, Hawai‘i’s natural resources were controlled by kapu when we had the ahupua‘a system, but that sort of protection is long gone.

Today, some community groups are stepping forward to restrict fishing in their local waters in order to rebuild dwindling marine populations.

A community group in Ha‘ena, Kaua‘i was the first group to pass a set of community-based subsistence fishing rules. That was last summer, after they worked on developing the rules for 16 years.

The result is a co-management process with the state. “The state has to enforce the rules,” says Case. “The local community cannot go out and be vigilantes.”

She explained that they are switching to traditional fishing practices. “So that means no monofilament nets, one pole and line fishing, and you can’t fish during spawning aggregation. All of this means you fish more carefully, as opposed to you just go out and wipe out a whole school of uhu or weke because you can.”

Now Ka‘upulehu, in west Hawai‘i, is working on a similar process. “They’re talking about a closure – no fishing out to 20 fathoms for ten years,” says Case. “And the community, as far as I know, has committed not only to not fishing there, but to not displace their fishing efforts by going elsewhere. They’re serious about it.”

There was a formal public rulemaking hearing about this last Thursday.

The Ka‘upulehu Marine Life Advisory Council, formed in 1995, consists primarily of lineal descendants of people who go way back in the community. “There’s a lot of inherited local knowledge,” says Case.

The Council has also created a program called Makai Watch, which determined what to look for, who to call for enforcement if needed, and how to provide outreach to people who are users of the area in the first place, so they know the area’s rules.

These sorts of community-based action are happening elsewhere, too. Case says a Kipahulu, Maui group has imposed a voluntary three-year ‘opihi rest area. “They’re trying to get one of their key ‘opihi grounds that has been overfished to recover. They’re trying to let the remaining ‘opihi get big and have lots of babies. They’re not even waiting for state legislation – they put a voluntary ban in place. It’s not legally enforceable, but you want to respect it.”

In the old days, of course, natural resources were protected by the ahupua‘a system. “The ahupua‘a boundaries extended out beyond the reef,” she says, “so that included the estuaries and the fishponds and the near shore environment, and the reef and the outer reef, and then out into the deep, as well as the mauka to makai part. We had a pretty large population, with fish being a major source of protein.”

The ahupua‘a system worked. “It sustained the population,” she says. “Back in 1839, Kamehameha the Third codified the local control into law, and the konohiki had the right to put kapu on fish, or make some off-limits during the season, or the like. In the Mahele, those were actually identified as property rights.”

But then the system changed.

“In the overthrow, when Hawai‘i became a territory, the Organic Act of Hawai‘i in 1900 implemented full open access to fisheries, and there were a series of laws to codify the private ownership and konohiki rights and responsibilities for managing fisheries,” she says.

“The Organic Act provided that if you had a private property fishing right, you could register it but then the Territory could condemn it. So it was a very intentional act to total open-access to fisheries.”

Fast forward to the 21st century, when we are much more efficient – and less sustainable – at fishing. We can get into deeper water,  stay down longer, and GPS allows us to find big schools of fish.

“With the loss of local knowledge, too,” she says, “you may lose some very important elements, such as when certain fish spawn so you don’t fish during the spawning seasons. And how big fish are when they finally reach reproductive size.”

She points out that older, bigger fish are far more fertile than those just barely of reproductive size. “Unfortunately, we like to fish the big fish, which are by far the most productive. For instance, six-inch weke only spawn once a year and produce 90,000 eggs,” she says. Compare that to a twelve-inch weke that spawns four or five times a year, producing 45 million eggs each time. That’s 180 million eggs per year, instead of 90 thousand.

“So what we need to do to improve our fisheries is find ways to let the fish get bigger,” she says. “So that could be with the right kind of legislation, for a minimum catch size but also a maximum catch size so they can grow big in protected areas and spill over into the adjacent areas and help those areas restore their fisheries.”

But legislation takes time, and also depends on cooperation from the community. This is what’s happening in communities around Hawai‘i, as well as throughout the Pacific.

“The goal is to have fisheries rebound so there’s more fish for people to fish,” she says. “That’s the shared long-term goal and it requires a long-term commitment, not just short-term gain.”

PUC Testimony & HIEC Proposes Alternative Power Generation Plan

This is video of Marco Mangelsdorf of the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) testifying at the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission on February 9, 2016.

Below the video is the HIEC’s just-released alternative power generation plan, which would move the Big Island faster and cheaper toward cost-effective clean energies and reach close to 100 percent renewable years before the state’s 2045 target date.

(HILO, HAWAII, FEBRUARY 10, 2016)—Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) today released its alternative power generation plan that would move the Big Island faster and cheaper toward cost-effective clean energies and reach close to 100 percent renewable years before the state’s 2045 target date.

The HIEC plan, based on a new analysis of the island’s existing resources and estimates of potential new solar, wind and energy storage resources, presents a less expensive and cleaner alternative to previous plans.

“We are very excited to be able to propose a compelling, practical and doable plan that would accelerate our island’s clean energy transformation in a way that would yield significant benefits for the more than 83,000 electric customers here,” noted HIEC director and spokesperson Marco Mangelsdorf.

According to Mangelsdorf, “By building on the successes achieved by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to integrate high levels of cost-effective solar PV into the grid while adding just the right amount of storage to ensure system stability and reliability, HIEC would be better able to ensure a lower-cost, more balanced power supply portfolio.”

Through its analysis HIEC has developed a plan that includes:

No new fossil fuel generation

  • With the abundant availability of cost-effective renewable energy resources, there’s no need for any additional petroleum-based generation.
  • Any fossil fuel substitutions would be based on near-term cost advantages without requiring costly infrastructure improvements.

No liquefied natural gas infrastructure or long-term reliance on fossil generation

  • Alternative plan does not use LNG.
  • Opportunity fuels such as propane used for lower short-term cost savings with low conversion investments and quick paybacks.

Continued expansion of roof-top solar

  • Investment in battery and pumped storage would allow for additional roof-top solar with fewer technical concerns about system reliability.
  • Utility scale storage would avoid daytime curtailment and move excess roof-top generation to night time peaks.

Competitively priced, cost-effective utility-scale solar PV and wind

  • Utility-scale renewable generation, using Hawaii Island’s abundant solar and wind resources, would replace continued reliance on fossil generation.
  • Early retirement of fossil generation would occur as new renewables come on line.

Capital expenditures would be less compared to the current or future investor-owned utility model

  • Lower cost of capital due to non-profit status.

Lower cost solar and wind resources would replace LNG conversion costs. Greater efficiencies in overall operations

  • Coordinated quick response dispatch would back utility and roof-top solar generation with fossil units, thereby firming variable output for system stability.
  • Ability to integrate new low cost renewables as technologies and appropriate smart grid investments improve efficiencies.

Whether, where and when more geothermal energy will be brought on line to be left to the membership and democratically-elected board of the fully operational cooperative

In the Hawaiian Electric Industries-NextEra Energy merger proceedings now being held by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission,  NextEra has asserted that the primary question the Commission should ask itself is whether Hawaiian Electric ratepayers and the State of Hawaii would be better off with or without the sale going through.

HIEC has argued that the Commission should consider the merits of the cooperative ownership model for Hawaii Island.

Noted HIEC president Richard Ha, “Credibility, purpose and a focus on how to best serve and benefit the island’s 195,000 residents is what this cooperative is all about.  HIEC’s alternative power generation plan provides an important basis to establish that a cooperative does what its members want, not what is in the best interest of shareholders.  We are committed to a path to the island’s renewable energy future that will get us faster and cheaper to where we all want to go—an economy based on more affordable electricity and an environment that’s cared for.”

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 HIEC is on Facebook and Twitter @HiEnergyCoop 

Is Mauna Kea Really Sacred?

Peter Apo, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, recently talked about something that really struck me: He said the claim that the whole of Mauna Kea is sacred cannot be validated.

One thing that had been puzzling him, he says, is that in previous cultural clashes here in Hawai‘i, scholars always participated – but this time they were silent.

“With the TMT, there was this tremendous silence,” he said. “No one was speaking out.” So, he said, he did his own research, consulting with 12 or 13 leading scholars on the topic.

Cultural claims, he said, are validated three ways: by archaeology, oral tradition (“such as the Kumulipo”), or through present-day scholars.

“And the litmus test is there has to be a historical basis for that belief system or practice,” he said. “You have to show it was exercised in the past.  And you have to have a pattern of frequency. None of that was present, at least in my foray in the research.”

“Long story short,” he says, “the claim [of the entire mountain being sacred] could not be validated.”

He write about this in more detail at Let There Be Light on the TMT at Civil Beat:

This research has led me to some conclusions. First, there are indeed places on Mauna Kea that are sacred. These are places where Hawaiians have continuously participated in traditional and customary practices; so there are unquestionably specific geo-cultural sites on Mauna Kea that are protected, and the practices that are associated with these sites meet all the defining criteria of being traditional and customary.

But the extension of sacredness to the entire mountain and the air column above it gives rise to questions about how much cultural validation there is for the idea that this pre-empts any and all other uses of the mountain.

I found no documentation indicating that Mauna Kea, as a whole, is sacred. I could not find any reference to any blanket of sacredness over the entire mountain and the air column in any of the usual sources of validation — not even in the Kumulipo Hawaiian creation-origin chant, or in the writings of Native Hawaiian historians of the 19th century like Samuel Kamakau, David Malo, John Papa ‘I‘i and Kepelino.

Beyond the blanket-of-sacredness claim, there is nothing else on record to suggest any validated sacred places would be disturbed by the construction or operation of the TMT.

Validated sacred places include the peaks of Pu‘u o Kūkahau‘ula, Pu‘u Poli‘ahu and Pu‘u Lilinoe, Lake Waiau, and various heiau (temples), ‘ahu (altars), ana (caves), lua kā ko‘i (quarries), and ilina (burials).

In fact, I believe the decision about the TMT’s location was made to ensure that no sacred site was violated, nor access to any sacred site impeded. The telescope was also sited below the summit to minimize its visual obtrusiveness. Read the rest

This rings very true to me.

My Pop helped to bulldoze the road to the summit of Mauna Kea back in about 1964, and when I think back to that time, none of my Hawaiian relatives at Maku‘u ever said one word against it. No one ever even hinted it was against religious and cultural practices. I don’t remember our relatives ever telling us that the mountain was forbidden territory.

Pop was proud of what he was doing, and my brother Robert used to fuel up and service his bulldozer.


See the name at the top of the TD 30? That’s my dad. (I’m a junior.) This picture of my Pop operating his bulldozer on the summit of Mauna Kea is from a PBS clip that you can see here.

There was no mention of anyone up on the mountain protesting when Pop was building the road, because there wasn’t anybody protesting. There was never any feeling he was doing anything against the culture. There was no discussion about it, period.

Peter Apo said something that makes so much sense to me:

“The TMT presents probably the greatest opportunity – the greatest cultural opportunity, religious opportunity – that we will ever have to do the one thing that is at the center of every cultural group. That is, search for the ancestors. Our story of creation begins with the night of Pō, with the darkness. I’m assuming that at some point in time, with projects like the TMT, we will actually be able to go back and find the Night of Pō. I cannot think of anything more significant than that.”

I agree, and I don’t think it was a bad thing that Pop helped build that road. We humans are always trying to climb up to the top of a mountain to see what’s on the other side. I’m curious to see back in time.

My concern is that we are shutting off the opportunity to possibly learn the answer to the greatest question mankind ever asked: “I wonder what’s on the other side?”

Win an Agricultural Lease and Farm Start-Up Money

The Mahi‘ai Match-Up 2016 is coming up. I was a judge for one of the Match-ups before. It’s a good program.

Here’s how Kamehameha explains it:

At Kamehameha Schools, we partner with the community to work toward a sustainable Hawaiʻi by supporting the local farm industry and increasing food production here on our islands. We are proud to once again team up with Pauahi Foundation to present the:

Mahi‘ai Match-Up 2016
Agricultural Business Plan Contest

Registration deadline: February 29, 2016

Submit your agricultural business plan by February 29, 2016 for a chance to win an agricultural lease* from Kamehameha Schools and start-up money from Pauahi Foundation. First place winner receives $20,000 and second place prize is $15,000. The competition is open to farmers, aspiring farmers and other agricultural producers including ranching, fishery and nursery proprietors.

To apply or for more information, visit

UH Hilo Offering New ‘Energy Science’ Certificate

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo will begin offering a certificate in Energy Science in the Fall 2016 semester, pending official approval by the UH Hilo Curriculum Committee, which is expected.

“Energy science is a really critical component of our future,” says Bruce Mathews, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management. “It’s tied right in with our local agriculture. Our energy is dependent on outside resources, and nutrients used as fertilizers are derived from outside energy, too. We are so dependent on imported fossil fuel – oil and coal. For us to become self-reliant is extremely critical.”

He says they hope to eventually offer a whole undergraduate degree in Energy Science; currently, there is no such undergraduate program in the U.S.

From the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo:

The conversion of energy to useful forms for humans, its distribution and its impact are among the most pressing issues of our time. They are at the same level as climate change, population growth and social justice. The Certificate in Energy Science provides students with extensive, integrated knowledge about this field – enough to access entry-level jobs. The courses take advantage of the Island of Hawaiʻi’s privileged opportunities in solar, wind, biofuel, tide and geothermal energies, with field trips planned according to the course subject matter.

The management and policy concentration has an emphasis on policy, yet it requires at least two courses with significant technical content. It is intended for students majoring in humanities, social sciences, business and similar fields. It can lead to potential careers in energy policy or management. The technical concentration is a more rigorous program consisting of year-long surveys of energy science and biofuels as well as a laboratory course. This concentration will prepare students for graduate work in the energy field. It is intended for students in the natural sciences or CAFNRM. It will lead to potential careers in technical areas.

The certificate program offers two tracks. The first is for non-science majors and focuses on energy policy.

Mathews talks about what he calls a gap between policy people and science. “If you can get some policy types more informed about energy science, it can better inform policy,” he says. “A lot of people in the college feel that many of our issues in society today come about because policy-trained political scientists and lawyers don’t have a deep enough breadth of knowledge in the sciences to be as effective as they could be when, as politicians, they are making decisions for our future.”

“There’s sort of a postmodern philosophy that has gone beyond the age of reason,” he says. “It’s the idea that ‘Whatever you believe is fine.’ And, ‘If I believe it, then it’s true.’ It’s about belief, rather than judgements that are based on the best evidence, and I think that will be a huge challenge to Hawai‘i as we move forward on energy. For instance, when people believe all geothermal is bad no matter how it’s done. How will be move forward on these resources if people think like that?

“That’s why we wanted to have that part of the curricula open to students who are not of a scientific nature,” he says.

The second Energy Science Certificate track, a more rigorous one, is for people with natural science backgrounds.

He says they are also working on offering Energy Science courses for non-credit through the university’s continuing education program, though that’s not available yet.

While the program officially starts in the fall, two Energy Science courses will be offered this summer.

Hilo Physics Professor Philippe Binder will teach in and has taken the lead on promoting the Energy Science program. Engineering professor Shihwu Sung, whose focus is biomass, was recently hired to teach in the new certificate program. Next, says Mathews, they will hire an assistant professor who focuses on managing energy grid systems and energy efficiency in rural areas.

He says his biggest worry is that students won’t sign up for the program because they are fearful of the science. “Students are coming to college inadequately prepared from high school and I see it all the time when I talk to high school students,” he says; “they have a huge fear of the physical sciences.”

He says, though, that Dr. Binder realizes this and is willing to help. “As long as a student is motivated,” says Mathews, “he’s willing to tutor students and will open up office hours to do this. For this program to be successful, it’s going to take encouragement and intervention. We will also make courses as engaging as possible, with exciting field trips and laboratories. Places like the Natural Energy Lab, HELCO, Pacific Biodiesel, and people in the solar sector have said they will do anything they can to help us with these courses. There’s a lot of support in the Hilo community for this program. We welcome other support from industry, too, in terms of interaction with students, and hiring students as interns.”

“All universities are increasingly having to operate like businesses and try to generate revenue,” he says, “but there are some things the state needs to realize are important to our future. These sorts of programs have to be supported and go forward. When problems arise, it will be more costly if we don’t have people in the state who are trained about our food and energy problems. The nexus of food, water and energy is the core. We need a lot of energy to grow our food, and we can’t grow the food without water. It’s all connected to the future of humanity, and so these are areas that need to be critically protected.”

“We will also miss out on federal grants and such if we don’t have a program in place for them,” he says. “It’s critical for us in securing research money down the road.”

Mathews says an Energy Sciences certificate, which will take two to three semesters to complete, will give a student a leg up in terms of entering the energy sector after college.

“Companies like HELCO and those in the solar industry, for instance, will appreciate someone who has training in energy sciences. It’s a starting point.”


Richard says he couldn’t be happier that UH Hilo is moving toward a degree in Energy Science, something that is not currently offered anywhere else in the U.S.

“I’m especially interested in this because a group of us are promoting the benefits of an energy utility co-op. Doing work that is effective as well as affordable is most important. It’s all about doing work and it takes energy to do work.”

“I am very pleased to have enabled Nate Hagens to be the program’s first guest speaker,” he says. “I am going to see if we can bring in more world class speakers in the months and years to come.”

What a Difference a Decade Makes

Back in 2002, which was a long time ago, we were doing just fine.

That’s the year we were a finalist in the Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture, given by Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE).

SARE’s mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education.

SARE’s Patrick Madden Award for Sustainable Agriculture recognizes farmers or farm families who advance sustainable agriculture through innovation, leadership and good stewardship. The award is named for SARE’s first director, Patrick Madden, who was a pioneer in the movement toward a strong, independent agriculture.

I believe the rise in oil prices starting around 2005. It had a lot more impact than is easily identified.

From the Patrick Madden Award page of SARE:


Kea’au Banana Plantation, Hilo, Hawaii

  • 800 acres of bananas on two plantations
  • Long-term view, minimizing agri-chemicals, erosion and water use
  • “Eco-friendly” labels; crew of 70 workers enjoy profit-sharing

“I had a philosophy that we should take a long-term view of how we affect our workers, our community and the environment. So far, this also has meant profitability for our company.”

Richard Ha

Coping With Our Agriculture and Energy Problems

There was a good article about agriculture and energy in today’s Civil Beat. Eric Pape interviewed me and also Kyle Datta of the Ulupono Initiative for this article:

Living Hawaii: What Is Sapping The Energy Of Our Farmers?
Even with low oil prices, the deck is stacked against farmers like Richard Ha on the Big Island. But some argue new strategies can turn things around.

One solution to the problems we are having with energy and farming on this island is to do more cooperative buying and selling, where people join together and help each other.

We are an island of small farmers, and if big farms don’t work here, the only way to approximate being big is to join together. It’s cooperation. It’s really our only option, because otherwise we cannot compete on a large scale.

Tonight is UH Talk on Energy, Economy & Environment

Nate Hagens speaks at UH Hilo tonight. He calls his talk, ‘A Bird’s Eye View of the Future: Energy, Economy and Environment’

Richard HaHe will speak about our need to adapt for the changes happening around us. He feels strongly that it’s today’s young people who should be concerned, because it’s their time coming up, and he will discuss what we need to do to make their world a better place.

Click to hear a short preview of what Nate will discuss. He’s a good speaker and I recommend his talk highly.

He speaks tonight at 6:30 p.m. at UH Hilo’s UCB 100.

Only 2 Days to ‘A Bird’s Eye View of the Future’

Would you like to see ‘A Bird’s Eye View of the Future: Energy, Economy and Environment’?

Nate Hagens is speaking the day after tomorrow – Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. – at UH Hilo in UCB 100.

Richard HaHe will speak about our need to adapt for the changes happening around us. He feels strongly that it’s today’s young people who should be concerned, because it’s their time coming up, and he will discuss what we need to do to make their world a better place. Bring a young person or two with you if you can!

Click to hear a short preview of what Nate will discuss. This will be a very good talk and I highly recommend you attend. Mark your calendar!