Tag Archives: Hawaii

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  




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.


Testimony To PUC Supporting 50MW of Geothermal for Big Island

Richard Ha writes:

This is testimony that the Big Island Community Coalition (BICC) steering committee sent to the Hawaii PUC earlier this month. It is in support of the implementation of 50MW of geothermal energy for Hawai‘i island.

The BICC steering committee is made up of the following, all acting on their own behalf: David DeLuz, Jr., Rockne Freitas, Michelle Galimba, Richard Ha, Wallace Ishibashi, Kuulei Kealoha Cooper, Kai’u Kimura, D. Noelani Kalipi, Robert Lindsey, HM Monty Richards, Marcia Sakai, Kumu Lehua Veincent, and William Walter.

Our testimony:

To: Chair Hermina Morita

Commissioner Michael Champley

Commissioner Lorraine Akiba

Hawaii Public Utilities Commission

Email: Hawaii.puc@hawaii.gov

Re: Comments to PUC Docket: 2014-0183 (HECO/HELCO/MECO – PSIP: HELCO Power Supply Improvement Plan and PUC Docket: 2012-0092 (Geothermal 50 MW RFP for Hawaii Island)

Aloha PUC Commissioners,

The Big Island Community Coalition supports implementing 50MW of geothermal as soon as practicable. The high oil price case projected by the EIA 2014, predicts $150 per barrel oil by 2020. There is a direct correlation between oil usage and world GDP. A high oil price of $150 per barrel will adversely impact our tourism industry causing a severe recession.

Geothermal is one of the few ways available to mitigate high oil price. And, we need to move sooner rather than later.

Oil prices quadrupled in the last ten years and the folks who could pass on the costs did pass on the costs. Those who could not were the working homeless, kupuna on fixed income, single moms as well as others such as farmers who are price takers and not price makers. 

The Big Island has the lowest median income of the counties. Our electricity rates have been 25% higher than Oahu’s for as long as we can remember. That high electricity rate acts like a giant regressive tax. We are able to turn that around by enabling more geothermal.

The 23% curtailed electricity from geothermal can support making hydrogen at an affordable cost. This will help solve the green ground transportation problem. And, curtailed electricity can be the basis for making nitrogen fertilizer, without which we cannot feed all the people.

Mahalo, Commissioners.

Richard Ha

President, Big Island Community Coalition



Proposal to Require Upgrading to Septic Tanks

Richard Ha writes:

If you own your home and it has a cesspool, be aware that you may have to upgrade to a septic system. There will be new requirements for farms, too, but we don’t know yet what the new requirements might be.

An alert from the Hawaii Association of Realtors:

DOH Proposes to End Approving New Cesspools and Require Upgrade to Septic at Point of Sale 

There will be a public hearing on October 2, 2014, at 10 a.m. where the Department of Health will explain proposed amendments to the Hawaii Administrative Rules for the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, and Wastewater Branches. These changes to the Wastewater rules include an end to approving new cesspools for construction and provisions to upgrade existing cesspools to septic systems upon the sale of property.

You can find the proposed changes and the rationale for these changes to Ch. 11-62 for the Wastewater Branch on its website.

Some proposed provisions:

  • Proposing new language that requires upon sale of any building served by an existing cesspool, the building, no later than one hundred and eighty days after ownership transfer, shall be connected to a sewer or, where a sewer connection is not feasible, the cesspool shall be replaced with a new wastewater system, other than a cesspool.
  • Requires the owner of a commercial or shopping center to upgrade their wastewater system when they have a new tenant that opens a restaurant.
  • Imposes new requirements for farms.

The present rules allow for an exemption from a private wastewater treatment facility if the proposed subdivision is no more than 50 lots. After 50 lots, a private sewage treatment plant will be required. The new rules change the exemption to 15 lots. This is totally unreasonable as there is no way to amortize such a huge expense under so few lots. This virtually rules out subdivisions in the 16-50 lot size.

Some of the unintended consequences of the above are lenders will not want to lend on properties subject to conversion or the outcome will likely be that the cost will be born onto the Buyers in the way of higher housing costs. The argument by the Department of Health that Buyers and Sellers will not be adversely affected during the transaction is false speculation and truly misunderstands the real estate industry.

This issue is very important to Hawaii REALTORS® and their clients.  HAR believes it is unfair for the government to mandate that a property owner upgrade at the point of sale when the cesspool system was built using DOH standards and approved in writing by the DOH. These cesspools should be grandfathered.

The Hawaii Association of REALTORS® has been discussing this issue in coordination with the Local Boards and will proceed in a coordinated effort, which may include a membership Call-for-Action.

There is an estimated cesspool residential property count of 50,000 on Hawaii, 14,000 on Kauai, 12,000 on Maui, 11,000 on Oahu, and 1,400 on Molokai.


Board of Agriculture Approves an Emergency Loan Program for Farmers, Ranchers

Richard Ha writes:

Yesterday, the state Board of Agriculture approved an Emergency Loan Program for farmers and ranchers who suffered damage due to Tropic Storm Iselle.

Governor Neil Abercrombie declared the entire state of Hawai‘i a disaster area due to the high wind and rain associated with Iselle. This authorizes the expenditure of state monies for disaster relief.

The main elements of the Board of Agriculture's emergency loan program are:

  • Maximum loan amount: $100,000
  • Terms to be determined on a case-bycase basis as needed. Consideration will be given to the applicants based on prior performance and projected cash flow based on reasonable assumptions of revenue and expenses.
  • Interest rate: 3 percent (Federal loan program may have lower interest rate)
  • The credit elsewhere requirement shall be waived for loans of $50,000 or less. 
  • The 3 year residency requirement for U.S. Citizens and permanent resident aliens shall not apply.
  • Collateral requirements may be modified or waived, as necessary, on a case-by-case basis. Whenever possible, the provisions of Section 155-11, Security for Loans, should be followed.
  • Emergency Loan Applications can be accepted until December 31, 2014.

How Things Work: A Disconnect

Richard Ha writes:

Take a look at this survey of “Hawai‘i’s Food and Ag Challenges Ranked in Order of Importance.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 1.20.27 PM

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Between October 2012 and December 2013, while the Hawai‘i Rural Development Council screened the film “Seeds of Hope – Na Kupu Mana‘olana” around our state, it asked viewers to fill out this survey about the issues discussed in the movie.

Survey takers ranked “Food Security” as our number one food and agriculture challenge (note that “GMO Agriculture” came in as lowest priority of the five issues discussed).

Statewide, 94 percent of survey takers thought Food Security should be either “top priority” or “important” as a state policy issue, and on the Big Island, 97 percent of people thought so.

This is what I have been saying, over and over. Food security is a critical issue out here, in the middle of the ocean, where we import most of our food. We need to have important and rational discussions, now, about how we will ensure we are food secure as conditions continue to get more challenging.

It’s a real disconnect to realize that 97 percent of people on the Big Island consider food security “important” or even “top priority,” and then to think about recent community support of the Hawai‘i County Council’s banning GMO/biotech solutions on the Big Island.

All I can come up with is that there are a lot of people who don’t see the whole big picture and who don’t see that there are unintended consequences:

  • Because only Big Island farmers are banned from using biotech solutions to agricultural problems, their competition (farmers on other islands and the mainland) will end up having lower costs and more successful crops
  • This will undeniably lead to a decline in agriculture on the Big Island
  • This will undeniably lead to less food security

We need to take a hard look at what we are doing now so that we head down the right path. The decisions we make now will affect not only us, but also our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Let’s make sure they are able to thrive and live a good, affordable, food-secure life here on the Big Island when it’s their turn.


The Cost of Farming

Richard Ha writes:

Now that the GMO discussion has stabilized, let’s move forward.

There is a big picture here that is not being discussed. In the coming weeks, I will be writing about various input costs of farming, because as costs go up we need to be planning and preparing. 

Today I want to discuss what farming looks like from a farmer’s point of view. 

Farmers were shocked back in 2008 when the cost of nitrogen fertilizer spiked. Ammonia is a key component for making nitrogen fertilizer, as well as plastics and pesticides, and the cost of ammonia is highly correlated with the price of natural gas.

Impact of Rising Natural Gas Prices on U.S. Ammonia Supply

Natural gas is the primary raw material used to produce ammonia. Approximately 33 million British thermal units (mm Btu) of natural gas are needed to produce 1 ton of ammonia. Natural gas accounts for 72-85 percent of the ammonia production cost, depending on the size of the ammonia plant and the price of ammonia (TFI (a)). Ammonia prices were weakly correlated with natural gas prices before 2000, but became strongly correlated after 2000….  Read the rest

Natural gas had been cheap, but its cost started rising and, in 2008, it reached $12/thousand cubic feet (mcf). I addressed the State Farm Bureau convention and told the farmers it was not their fault that fertilizer and input costs had risen so much and that their costs were suddenly so high.

After 2008, the price of natural gas declined dramatically because of shale oil and shale gas production. It dropped below $3/mcf. Right now it’s slightly higher, a little over $4/mcf,  because of winter home heating. 

So we’ve seen the effects of high natural gas prices on farming input before, back in 2008, and we know it will go up again.

What exactly is the outlook for the price of natural gas and therefore fertilizer, plastics and pesticide costs?

On the mainland, thousands of wells produce natural gas. Keep in mind, though, that the average gas well produces 90 percent of its total production – 90 percent of everything it’s going to ever produce – in its first five years. In contrast, Saudi Arabia oil fields have lasted for more than 50 years.

It’s only common sense that natural gas prices are going to rise, and therefore our farming input costs will go even higher. The only question is how fast and how high?

Coming up I’ll write about what people are predicting, as far as when prices will go up and how high they will go.


The New Ahupuaa, Revisited

Richard Ha writes:

This is a post I wrote back in 2007. I recently reread it and realized it's the same story as what's happening today. It's six years later, and people still don't realize we don't have time to fool around.

I'm going to rerun the post here.


October 10, 2007

I spoke at the Hawai‘i Island Food Summit this past weekend, which was attended by Hawaiian cultural people, policy makers, university researchers, farmers, ranchers, and others.

The two-day conference asked the question, “How Can Hawai‘i Feed Itself?”

I felt like a small kid in class with his hand raised: “Call me! Call me!”

I sat on one of the panels, and said that our sustainability philosophy has to do with taking a long-term view of things. We are always moving so we’ll be in the proper position for the environment we anticipate five, 10 and 20 years from now.

I told them I had a nightmare that there would be a big meeting down by the pier one day, where they announce that food supplies were short because the oil supply was short and so we would have to send thousands of people out to discover new land.

I was afraid that they would send all the people with white hair out on the boats to find new land—all the Grandmas and Grandpas and me, but maybe not June.

Grandmas and Grandpas hobbled onto the boats with their canes and their wheelchairs, clutching all their medicines, and everybody gave all of us flower leis, and everyone was saying, “Aloha, Aloha, call us when you find land! Aloha!”

I spoke about where we want to be in five, 10 or 20 years. We know that energy-related costs will be high then. And that we need to provide food for Hawai‘i’s people.

We call our plan “The New Ahupua‘a.”

In old Hawai‘i, the ahupua‘a was a land division that stretched from the uplands to the sea, and it contained the resources necessary to support its human population—from fish and salt to fertile land for farming and, high up, wood for building, as well as much more.

Our “New Ahupua‘a” uses old knowledge along with modern technology to make the best use of our own land system and resources. We will move forward by looking backward.

• We plan to decouple ourselves from fossil fuel costs by developing a hydroelectric plant, which will allow us to grow various crops not normally grown at our location.

• We are moving toward a “village” concept of farming, and starting to include farmers from the area, who grow things we don’t, to farm with us. This way, the people who work on our farm come from the area around our farm. We will help them with food safety, pest control issues and distribution.

• We are developing a farmers market at our property on the highway, where the farmers who work with us can market their products.

• We will utilize as much of our own resources for fertilizer as possible, by developing a system of aquaponics, etc.

This “New Ahupua‘a” is our general framework for the future. It will allow us to produce more food than we can produce by ourselves. It is a safe strategy, in case the worst scenario happens; if it doesn’t, this plan will not hurt us.

It is a simple strategy. And we are committed to it.

My assessment of how we came to be here and where we need to be in the future is this: In the beginning, one hundred percent of the energy for food came from the sun. The mastodons ate leaves, the saber tooth tiger ate the mastodon and we ate the tiger and everything else.

The earth’s population was related to the amount of food we could gather or catch. And sometimes the food caught and ate us. So there were only so many of us roaming around.

Then some of us started to use horses and mules to help us grow food. As well as the sun, now animals provided some of the energy for cultivating food. We were able to grow more food, and so there were more of us.

About 150 years ago, we discovered oil. With oil we could utilize millions of horsepower to grow food—and we didn’t even need horses. Oil was plentiful and cheap; only about $3/barrel. We used oil to manufacture fertilizer, chemicals and for packaging and transportation.

Food became very, very plentiful and we started going to supermarkets to harvest and hunt for our food. Hunting for our food at the supermarkets was very good—the food did not eat us and now there are many, many, many of us.

But now we are approaching another change to the status quo—a situation being called “Peak Oil.” That’s when half of all the oil in existence is used up. Half the oil will still be left, but it will be increasingly hard to tap. At some point, the demand for oil—by billions and billions of people who cannot wait to get in their car and drive to McDonalds—will exceed the ability to pump that oil.

Food was cheap in the past because oil was cheap. Five years ago, oil was $30/barrel but now it’s over $80/barrel. Now that oil is becoming more and more expensive, food is also going to become much more expensive.

In the beginning the sun provided a hundred percent of the energy and it was free. Today oil is becoming very expensive, but sun energy is still free.  The wind, the waves, the water—they are all free here in Hawaii. It’s the oil that is expensive.

For Hamakua Springs, the situation is not complicated at all. We need to use an alternate form of energy to help us grow food!

With alternate energy, we should be able to continue growing food—and maybe local food can be grown cheaper than food that is shipped here from far away.

I told the Food Summit attendees that we farmers need to grow plenty of food so that others can do what they do and so we continue to have a vibrant society. If we don’t plan ahead to provide enough food, and as a consequence every family has to return to farming to feed themselves, it would be a much more limited society. People would not be able to pursue the arts, write books, explore space. We would have way fewer choices – maybe only, “What color malo should I wear today?”

There was a feeling going through the Food Summit’s crowd that we were a part of something very important and very special. What I found different about this conference is that people left feeling that this was just the beginning.

We are going to take action.



What Darwin Said

Richard Ha writes:

This was my testimony at yesterday’s Hawai‘i County Council hearing on the anti-GMO bill, Bill 113. I advocated for killing the bill and starting over with a study that brings forth good science.

I am Richard Ha. I have been a farmer for 35 years, farming
bananas and hydroponic tomatoes. During this time, we have grown more than a hundred million pounds of food.

And now we are a few weeks away from putting in a hydroelectric generator. It’s about adapting to change.

The most significant thing that has happened in my career is
that oil prices quadrupled in the last 10 years, causing farmers’ input costs to rise. Oil costs and farmers’ costs are inextricably tied together – as the oil price rises, farmers’ cost rise. Since farmers are price takers, rather than price makers, Big Island farmers have not been able to pass the cost on.

We do not grow GMOs, and I do not have any financial interest in any biotech company. I am just concerned about how we adapt to change. Darwin said it is not the strongest, nor smartest, that survive, but the one that can adapt to change.

Conventional farmers on the Big Island are getting hurt in
the GMO cross fire. This bill criminalizes our small farmers and will raise their cost of production. It will discourage farmers from farming and threaten our food security.

Bill 113 cites the precautionary principle. All the major scientific organizations in the world, though, say that GMO foods are safe.

Hawai‘i has the longest life expectancy for senior citizens in the whole country.

Yet we are willing to ignore the effect of rising food costs on the most defenseless among us. These are the kupuna on fixed incomes, single moms, the working homeless, the rubbah slippah folks.

Hector Valenzuela, at the last Council hearing, advised organic farmers to seek high-end niche markets. He knows organics cannot provide affordable food for most of us. I agree. More than 90 percent of the food calories produced on the Big Island is produced by conventional farmers. Bill 113 will make the conventional farmers less competitive and less able to adapt to change. And that will threaten our food security.

Bottom line is how are we going to feed all of us. We need
to provide affordable food for the most defenseless among us. It is not a solution to provide food that people cannot afford. Biotech solutions can be a part of the solution. They will benefit everyone.

We should not throw that option away.

The Big Island has the lowest median family income in the state. We must find a way to provide lower cost food for the most defenseless among us. This is where the precautionary principle should apply. There are real social consequences to low median family income.

There are more Hawaiians living outside of Hawai‘i than live
in Hawai‘i. If we do not figure out how to provide affordable food, even more Hawaiians will be living outside of Hawaii.

Kill this bill, and start over with a study group that includes the stakeholders, including conventional farmers. It is not a matter of who is right, so much a matter of what is right. Good luck; this is not easy.