Tag Archives: Big Island Video News

Retreating To The 1950s Is Not The Right Strategy

Richard Ha writes:

I attended the anti-GMO Hawai‘i County Council meeting yesterday. I was there from 1:30 p.m., when it started, until the last testimony was heard at 6:30 p.m.

Tomorrow, the County Council begins discussing the two bills at the committee stage. If a bill is passed out by the committee, it would go to the full Council for two affirmative votes before passing into law.

My impressions of yesterday’s meeting:

The atmosphere this time was much more civil than last time around, and there were less than half the numbers of people on both sides. People testifying were more than 2-to-1 on the anti-GMO side.

It was my impression, though, that the people testifying pro-GMO (against the anti-GMO bills) produce 50 times more of the island’s food than do the people testifying against it.

Farmers pointed out that this ban only affects Big Island farmers, and that therefore their competitors would have a cost advantage. They asked how is it possible that farmers would become criminals for farming.

Papaya farmers said they want to see proof that papayas are unsafe. They said an exemption for papaya farmers is meaningless.

The anti-GMO side mostly talked about the safety of eating GMO food. They were also concerned about pesticide usage, large companies and pollen contamination.

As someone who traded chicken manure for banana keiki to start our banana farm 35 years ago, I have a unique view of agriculture. The rules and regulations nowadays make it much harder for new farmers to get started. I have watched business cycles come and
go, and lived with the effects of the key cost drivers.

To me, it is clear that the most important cost driver in our future will be energy cost. The effect of rising energy costs will be unlike anything I have seen in my 35 years of farming.

Relying on our natural resources, though, we can find a solution that will take care of all of us.

Retreating to the 1950s is not the right strategy.

Here is my testimony:

I am against both bills.

In the future, it’s all about energy. Oil price quadrupling over the last 10 years caused farmers’ costs to rise. As we all know, farmers are price takers, not price makers.

We are isolated and one of the least food-secure places in the world. How can we leverage our resources to find a competitive advantage.

We should leverage our sun energy.

Our location in the subtropics is both a plus and a minus. Plus, because we have constant sun, and a minus because weeds, insects and diseases thrive here.

  • Imagine if we could insert the gene that makes sweet potatoes resistant to fungus into Russett potatoes. It would save 15 sprays per crop. And it would be a brand new source of food for the Big Island.
  • What if we could develop crops that generate their own nitrogen from the air?
  • What if we could develop peaches, pears, apples, cherries that can thrive in our climate?
  • What if the crops we grow could repel insects?

These ideas are in various stages of development right now. They would leverage the plusses of our sunshine and decrease the minuses.

Less fertilizer, less pesticide, more food and more discretionary income would benefit organic and conventional farmers. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.

The result would be a lower cost of food for the “rubbah slippah” folks.

Two-thirds of our economy is consumer spending. If the rubbah slippah folks had extra money, they would spend and businesses would thrive. That would result in  a better life for all of us; not just some of us.

Both these bills criminalize farmers. If farmers follow federal and state laws, they become criminals.

Criminalizing farmers is a new concept. Farmers were revered in Hawai‘i’s history.

We should not be in a rush. Hawai‘i has the longest life expectancy in the nation for seniors. Let’s take a step back and figure out what kind of society we want for future generations.

Let’s think about this very seriously before we throw our farmers under the bus.

Have a look, too, at this editorial that Big Island Video News ran:

Not all genetically modified foods the same, A blanket ban on
them would be misguided


Biomass To Electricity: A Fancy Way To Talk About Firewood

Richard Ha writes:

At last week’s PUC meeting in Hilo regarding the Hu Honua Bioenergy project slated for Pepe‘ekeo, few members of the public objected to the project.

The hearing was required because HELCO is proposing to relocate a switching station. The proposed site is on a 13-acre parcel that June and I own; they want to buy half of the property. We notified the community associations that this was taking place several months ago, and, as a consequence, I do not plan on submitting personal testimony to the PUC.

At the PUC meeting, the Kamehameha Schools (KS) representative talked about forest products as an industry. What is more practical and proven than using firewood to boil water? This is what we need; it’s practical.

This Big Island Video News video covers the meeting, and here are some things to especially note:

At the 3:00 minute mark, the KS representative expresses how this project could be the catalyst around which a forest industry could grow. Native trees, especially, take a longer time, and so a combination of native and non-native trees could make the forest industry viable.

As a scalable feedstock, trees work on the Hamakua Coast. They’ve been growing for 20 years. KS is crucial to making this big picture work.

Of course we won’t overdo it. Everyone knows what happened to Easter Island. We are talking about balance and proportion.

Early Hawaiians understood this; it’s why they sometimes had a kapu on fishing – in order to prevent overtaxing the resource.

At 6:50, David Tarnas presents Robert Rapier’s testimony. Robert was in Austin at the time, where he was lead speaker on the second day of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil conference. Giorgio Calderone and Jason Jeremiah, both from KS, and Noe Kalipi and I also attended that conference.

Robert lives in Waimea and we would love to claim him, but he is more of a national/international representative. He participates in the HECO Integrated Resource Planning process.

His testimony was that the Big Island needs a firm power alternative to oil, and that biomass and geothermal fit that description. His testimony is that the most efficient way to turn biomass (firewood) to electricity is to burn it.

At the 8:30 mark, Elaine Munro talks about the conflict between HECO’s fiduciary duty to the shareholders and the rate payer. She talks about the cost of capital and how the present model results in unnecessary higher costs to the rate payer. We all know that the model is broken.

Lynn Nakim, at 11:00 minutes, talks about environmental effects. Lynn is a neighbor of ours at Hamakua Springs. She uses solar panels for power.

At the 16:00 minute mark, a worker expresses his opinion. The money stays in Hawai‘i and provides jobs for Big Islanders, instead of being sent to foreign countries to pay foreign workers.

Making firm power electricity is mostly about making steam to turn a turbine. Burning wood to make steam is proven technology and will be cheaper and more stable than oil price in the long run.

From Big Island Video News:

HILO, Hawaii: The public expressed widespread support
for the Hu Honua Bioenergy project at Wednesday night’s Public Utilities Commission hearing in Hilo.

Hu Honua Bioenergy LLC is converting the former Hilo Coast
Power Company plant at Pepeekeo into a modern biomass energy facility. The 24-megawatt operation is expected to meet about 10 percent of the island’s electrical needs and about enough for 14,000 homes, once in operation.

Hu Honua has negotiated a power purchase agreement with
Hawaii Electric Light Company, which is subject to approval by the PUC. 
However, the hearing was triggered by the need to install transmission lines for the project, as explained by this HELCO engineer.

Nevertheless, the hearing created an opportunity for the public to share its views on the entire project.

Speaking in favor of the proposal, the growing forestry industry on the Hamakua Coast, where thousands of acres on the Hamakua Coast are occupied by Eucalyptus trees, ready for harvest….

Read the rest


Hilo’s PUC Meeting Successful: ‘Enough is Enough’

Richard Ha writes:

Monday night’s PUC hearing in Hilo went very well. The overwhelming sentiment was that enough is enough. People will not take any more electricity rate hikes.

Big Island Video News has posted a video about the PUC meeting.

VIDEO: Aina Koa Pono, HELCO rate hikes blasted at PUC hearing

October 30, 2012

Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Stephanie Salazar

HILO, Hawaii: Residents of East Hawaii packed the Hilo High School cafeteria, to tell the Public Utilities Commission what they think about a proposed electricity rate hike and and biofuel surcharge…. Watch the Big Island Video News video here.

It’s hard to remember that until the BICC dared say it, no one could imagine we could actually get lower rates. We have made good progress. People are now saying they want lower rates, and expecting it.

In its “Off the News” section this morning, the Star-Advertiser wrote:

Electricity bill too high? Wear slippers

“Not to make light of a serious situation such as rising electricity bills, or a consumer group’s desire to show solidarity.  In an era when pennies – and dollars – must be pinched to get by, solidarity over cost-of living issues is a good thing.

That said, it was interesting to see that the Big Island Community Coalition opposed to a surcharge to finance the use of biofuels to produce power, urged its members to wear rubber slippers to last night’s public hearing as a show of uniform solidarity. This being Hawaii, what other footwear would folks don for a pau hana (after work) forum?

Of course this may have been a smart strategic move. This way the PUC might have scanned the room and figured that every last person was opposed.  It also ruled out slippers as a footwear choice for commission members, too….”

It was a civilized hearing and most of the many testimonies were on point.

About 150 people were in attendance and it was a diverse audience, including: Faye Hanohano, Fred Blas, Jeff Melrose, Richard Onishi, Russell Ruderman, PGV people from Nevada, Jim Albertini, Deborah Ward, Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, Mililani Trask, John Cross, Ka‘u people, ILWU, IBEW, Carpenters, Laborers, HELCO group, the Aina Koa Pono (AKP) core group, Sierra Club and other community members.

Other than HELCO, AKP and those who needed to be cautious, most of the rest were allies of low-cost electricity.

In today’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Mayor Billy Kenoi made it very clear that he is against the AKP project for several reasons.

Kenoi criticizes biodiesel proposal

By ERIN MILLER Stephens Media

Aina Koa Pono’s biodiesel proposal isn’t a good deal for Hawaii County residents, Mayor Billy Kenoi said Monday, hours before the Public Utilities Commission was set to begin its first Big Island hearing on the subject.

“This to me looks like one of those deals, after 10, 20 years, we ask how did we let that happen?” Kenoi said. “Ultimately, there is no benefit to the people of the Island of Hawaii….” 

Read the rest

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald also wrote about the PUC meeting itself.

Online Extra: HELCO rate hikes blasted

Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

No more increases.

That seemed to be the main message relayed to members of the state Public Utilities Commission on Monday night by more than 100 Big Isle residents who showed up at a public hearing at the Hilo High cafeteria to weigh in on two separate electricity rate hikes proposed by Hawaii Electric Light Co. Inc….

Read the rest here

Tonight is the West Hawai‘i PUC meeting (Tuesday, October 30, 2012) at 6 p.m. in the Kealakehe High School cafeteria.

And the third and final meeting will be held this Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 6 p.m. at Farrington High School.

Wear your rubbah slippahs!


Video about Community Opposition to the Geothermal Bill; Tomorrow is the Vote

Richard Ha writes:

Tomorrow morning is the vote about overriding Mayor Billy Kenoi’s veto of Bill 256. Please come to the Hilo County Building tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., if you can (details about where to meet us, etc. here) and show your support to leave the veto in place.

There’s lots of background about this at the links above, if you haven’t been following the topic. And here’s some more about it. See the video and/or read about the issue at Big Island Video News:

VIDEO: Leilani Estates group opposes geothermal bill

July 31, 2012

Residents concerned about geothermal buffer zone in Bill 256

LEILANI ESTATES SUBDIVISION, Hawaii: On the eve of an important veto override vote at the Hawaii County Council, both sides of a “heated” geothermal issue are planning to make a strong showing during the meeting to voice their opinion. Read the rest or see the video here


Sign Online Petition to Support Mayor’s Veto of Bills 256 & 257

Richard Ha writes:

Lots of folks are starting to organize so they can get their voices heard re: the attempt to override Mayor Kenoi’s veto of County Bills 256 & 257.

One example is these Leilani Estates folks, near Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), who have set up this online petition in support of the mayor’s veto.

I recommend signing this petition. Anyone who supports the mayor’s veto (regardless of whether you live in Puna) can sign. Click here for the petition.

Background: I previously wrote about the bills here. In that post, you’ll read that I testified against the bill, “which alters the geothermal royalty funded-Geothermal Relocation and Community Benefits program, takes away community benefits, and creates a one-mile ‘buffer zone’ around the Puna Geothermal Venture plant.”

This video from Big Island Video News gives some information about the bills, too. The Mayor says everything is in place to do what needs to be done without taking away community benefits.

Thanks to Governor & Legislators for Signing Local Farming Bills

Richard Ha writes:

If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.

Mahalo to Governor Abercrombie, Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, Agriculture Chairpersons Senator Nishihara and Representative Tsuji, and to legislators who recognize that farmers have to make money in order to keep farming.

From Big Island Video News:

Hawaii Governor signs local farming bills, includes puuhonua

June 17, 2012 | Government & Politics, State News

FRIDAY, July 15, 2012 – Governor Neil Abercrombie today signed a number of measures into law including two bills that are aimed to benefit local farmers who want to sell their products and/or establish agricultural-based commercial operations.

Senate Bill 2375 authorizes agricultural-based commercial operations in agricultural districts which will increase our farmers’ability to sell their products and promote food sustainability for the islands. Senate Bill 2646 is intended to promote and support diversified agriculture by exempting certain nonresidential agricultural buildings that are on commercial farms from county building permit requirements.

“To truly support our local farmers we must empower them,”said Governor Abercrombie. “These measures not only provide for that to take place but it also promotes diversified agriculture. I want to thank the Legislature for recognizing the importance of helping our farmers.”

Senator Donovan Dela Cruz who introduced SB 2375 stated, “Farmers are being forced to diversify their products in order to make ends meet while continuing to provide local food for the community. This bill allows for additional opportunities for them to create revenue.”

Read the rest of the article, including several other ag-related measures Governor Abercrombie signed into law.


Kudos to the PUC!

The recent PUC decision denying a HECO/Aina Koa Pono biofuel contract was a landmark decision. Kudos to the PUC for understanding precisely what was at stake. Very impressive!!

See this Big Island Video News story about the decision.

My observations:

  • The process was not transparent, and people had a difficult time understanding the issues.
  • Cellulosic biofuels is not proven technology, so it’s high risk.
  • Filling oil tanks with long term biofuel contracts would block cheaper alternatives, like geothermal, from gaining critical mass.
  • Ratepayers would have financed the risk. And ratepayers are not venture capitalists.
  • Businesses would have seen their electricity rates go higher than they were with electricity generated by oil, making their products even less competitive to mainland competition. And food security would have suffered.
  • Social consequences would have included fewer government services, less charitable giving and more working homeless. It would have put stress on our spirit of aloha.

We can and must do better for our future generations. As Steve Jobs always said, “We need to think different!”

Not, no can, CAN!


Video: Geothermal Energy Forum

Over the weekend I participated in a geothermal energy forum here in Hilo.

We have got to start doing something.

Screen shot 2011-08-30 at 9.47.49 PM

The coverage is from Big Island Video News, and it starts like this:

HILO, Hawaii: The public courtship concerning the future use of Geothermal Energy continued with this forum in Hilo on Saturday.

A large and varied panel of specialists discussed the sustainable energy that is abundant on Hawaii Island, a growing candidate to lead the Hawaii towards energy independence.

Many faces seen in previous forums were present: including Richard Ha, local farmer and co-chair of the Geothermal Working Group, back from a recent trip to Iceland where he gathered information of that nation’s use of geothermal power.

A mix of government and utility officials, and business persons rounded out the panel….

See the rest here.


Ku‘oko‘a Partners Speak at Crowded Kona Town Meeting

Richard and some of his Ku‘oko‘a partners spoke at a well-attended Kona Town Meeting the other day, and what an interesting meeting it was.

Richard Ha

Watch a video of the talks, taken by Big Island Video News: Ku’oko’a details bid to buy HEI at Kona Town Meeting.

Geothermal energy touted as last hope for Hawaii energy future

Video by David Corrigan | Voice of Stephanie Salazar

Its been several weeks since the Geothermal Working Group submitted their preliminary report to the 2011 State Legislature.

Its also been weeks since the co-chair of that effort, Hamakua farmer Richard Ha, made public his lofty goal of buying  HELCO, the island’s power company, along with some partners.

At a well attended Kona Town Meeting on Tuesday night, residents got the chance to hear the details about both of these developments, first hand….See the rest

The whole thing is worth a listen. You’ll hear Richard start speaking at 3:41 and then enthusiastic applause breaks out at around 4:50 when he says, “Maybe what we need to do is buy the electric utility out.”