Tag Archives: Hydrogen

Why LNG is Such a Bad Risk

Richard Ha writes:

We are getting ready to make huge liquified natural gas (LNG) decisions, and LNG is a big risk. We need to understand the risk and who’s going to be left paying the price.

The first time I heard about shale oil and gas was at an Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conference. I attended five of those conferences, the only person from Hawai‘i to do so. Hawai‘i County paid for the trip to the 2010 ASPO conference, held in Washington D.C., and is still benefitting from that small investment.

That discussion about shale oil and gas though was at the 2009 ASPO conference, in Denver, and it turned into a sharp discussion between the geologist Art Berman and a drilling company executive.

Art said he had studied data from 4,000 wells in the Barnett Shale and found that the average well gave off 72 percent of its production in the first year.

The executive countered that his figures showed a hyperbolic curve indicating that production lasts for 22 years.

Somebody was wrong. Later I learned that hyperbolic curves only mean that the following year is less than the one previous.

I didn’t know the definition then, but common sense told me that at the end of 22 years, maybe just a gallon might be coming out per hour. I felt like the executive was just trying to sell stock.

Later, a study of 19,000 wells showed that the average well gave more than ninety percent of its production in its first five years. This was not rocket science – even a banana farmer could tell that you would need to replace one-fifth of the wells each year just to stay even. More if production is higher in the first few years.

As of 2010, it was common knowledge that the average shale oil and gas well depleted in a short time, and it was a subject of intense discussion among those of us who attended the ASPO conferences.

In the meantime, some of the folks out there trying to sell stocks were using the terms “resource” and “reserves” interchangeably in describing what was available. The phrase “Saudi America” started to be thrown around.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) finally estimated that the U.S. had an economically accessible shale oil supply of about 100 more years.

But David Hughes, a Canadian geologist, challenged the availability of the Monterey Shale oil due to its geological characteristics. Instead of being flat, the resource rock was wavy and squished. It was hard to access via horizontal drilling.

And then this March, the EIA quietly changed its estimate. In a low-key announcement, it readjusted its estimate of Monterey Shale oil availability – which was two-thirds of our national recoverable supply – downward by an amazing 96 percent.

I saw the announcement and realized its significance immediately. Readjusting the estimate of the US supply of oil downward by two-thirds was a huge, huge deal. But the news kind of just slipped by.

Shale gas has the same characteristics of shale oil – it depletes rapidly. If you ask me who I believe about shale oil and gas? Based on his track record, I believe the data and conclusions of David Hughes.

He based his studies on the same historical data and information the U.S. EIA used, but analyzed it in a more meticulous and targeted way. His data shows natural gas declining much, much faster than does the EIA. A recent University of Texas study agrees more with David Hughes than with the EIA.

This Peak Prosperity podcast features an interview with David Hughes talking about shale production and how he did his analysis. It’s a good interview (47:24). Alternately, you can read the transcript here.

On p. 300 of his report, in figure 3-116, Hughes shows an interesting graph of the EIA’s forecast for shale gas projections and how, in the long term, they are greatly overestimated.

At the end of Hughes’ study on natural gas, he cautions (click to enlarge) :

David Hughes report

Here on the Big Island, based on the precautionary principle, I would rely on geothermal rather than liquid natural gas for our electricity generation. A faster decline probably means a faster rise in natural gas price. If we rely on LNG, the rate payer will assume that risk.

And in Hawai‘i we do not have methane underground. So the bad effects of fracking does not apply to us at all. We have drilled 85,000 wells by now. It’s a mature industry that deals with H2S routinely.

In the future, geothermal could also help us solve our transportation problem by providing hydrogen for fuel-celled vehicles. The cost of hydrogen comes from either natural gas or from passing electricity through water. Eventually, the cost of making hydrogen from natural gas will pass the cost of making hydrogen from electricity from geothermal. Then we will have a permanent advantage over the rest of the world. That’s what we want!

Geothermal is climate change-friendly and as infinite as we can get—we will sit for 500,000 to a million years over the “hot spot.” And we are one of the few places in the world with these circumstances and this opportunity.

We have truly come to a crossroads in our history. We must put our personal agendas behind us and do the right thing for ourselves and future generations.


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



Natural Gas, Hydrogen, & What Kids Learn in Fourth Grade

Richard Ha writes:

The online site Peak-oil.org has an interesting write-up about natural gas and essentially points out that its high decline rate will make the recent spike in natural gas relatively short-lived.

U.S. LNG exports: What Would Randy Udall Say?

There has been considerable talk in the US of late about not only future energy exports but even about using an “energy weapon” against Russia.  While that might be nice, it’s wishful thinking.

An energy commentator who thought in depth about the US’s energy policy back-story and the myth of oil independence was Randy Udall, who passed away suddenly in late June last year.  

On March 21, 2013, during one of his last presentations, Randy delivered some remarks, accompanying a set of power-point slides, which provide the type of cautionary background that Washington insiders—including his brother Senator Mark Udall and cousin Senator Tom Udall—should heed.

His complete remarks, now posted on YouTube, were recently transcribed by Steve Andrews; key points are listed below.  The first remark about natural gas exports is actually a response to a question from the audience; the remainder is from his loosely scripted remarks. 

  • This meme that we’ve got a 100-year supply of natural gas started at the Colorado School of Mines.  They have a volunteer group there called the Potential Gas Committee, but the Potential Gas Committee is not looking at proven reserves; they’re looking at how much carbon might there be in 5000 feet of the Mancos shale.
  • I look around and I start running the numbers.  You know how much we’ve produced in this part of the world, in Weld County and Larimer County and the DJ Basin and the Wattenberg field we’ve been drilling for 80 years?  Now, this field is primarily an oil field.  But in that 80-year period of time we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four months.
  • In the Powder River Basin, with those 25,000 natural gas wells, we’ve produced enough natural gas to run the US for four or five months.  When you look into it, there are only about six natural gas plays that are of any size; they’re dominated by three or four of the big ones—the Marcellus in Pennsylvania…maybe it will end up supplying five years’ of US gas demand over the next 60 or 70 years….

Read the rest

This next video—of Randy Udall speaking at the Colorado Renewable Energy Society meeting in 2013—shows what it looks like down there where we are fracking for oil and gas; it shows how the world looked millions of years ago when the oil and gas was forming. Ingenious human beings. This is a very good video if you are interested in this topic.

It’s also very interesting to see how ingenious the oil and gas industry folks are as they developed the technology that resulted in fracking. It’s incredible. But, as Nate Hagens points out, after shale oil and gas, it’s all gone. There’s no more. (I wrote about the global resource depletion authority Nate Hagens, his visit to our farm earlier this year, and his reactions to what we’re doing there.)

But, for us here in Hawai‘i, we can do what Iceland did. With cheap electricity, they make hydrogen on site and they have a hydrogen refueling station. I went over there and looked at it myself. The cars are rolling out now. They are eighty percent green and they will be ninety percent fossil free. We can do the same here with our curtailed and otherwise unused electricity.

We could also create a mini-ammonia processing plant. We really have a lot of interesting and real possibilities.

Leslie Lang, who helps me with this blog, and I were talking about this, and the importance of respecting the past while planning for the future, and she told me about a field trip her daughter took in fourth grade at Kamehameha Schools.

The theme was “Preservation vs. Progress,” and she went along to chaperone. She shared with me something she wrote about it at the time and I asked her if I could include some of her words here, because it really makes the point well that we must honor the past but lead the way into the future. I’m glad they are teaching that to our kids.

Unlike in the old days, when we followed the teachings of the missionaries,today and tomorrow our kids need to be the ones leading the direction based on a healthy respect for our history.

(Note too that we cannot just blindly follow what the folks in the cold country are doing, either. This is not cold country. Some things apply and some things don’t.)

From Leslie, on the fourth grade “Preservation vs. Progress” field trip she accompanied:

The teachers did a great job of talking about the importance of preserving our past, our wahi pana (sacred places), as well as how progress brings what is sometimes necessary change, and how we have to balance those things. We saw this first at Pu‘ukohola Heiau in Kawaihae.

Kamehameha was told that if he built a heiau at that site, he would be able to unite the very divided islands. The ranger explained that if you traveled from Kea‘au (where the school is) to Kawaihae (where the heiau is) in the old days, you’d travel through several different chiefdoms, many of which would be at war with each other. It would be dangerous and difficult. Those wars lasted for 500 years.

He talked about how the heiau was built, and had the kids try to lift a relatively small rock compared to some of the rocks in the heiau. Some of these kids could, and many couldn’t. 

The heiau was so important to Kamehameha, who believed he would receive the gods’ mana upon building it, that this happened: His younger brother was to be its kahu (priest), and he told the brother not to touch any of the rocks. But the brother did, he pitched in to help, and Kamehameha saw. He was worried about that disturbing the mana that he took the rocks his brother touched out in a wa‘a, a canoe, and went far out into the ocean and dumped them.

The rocks that make up Pu‘ukohola all came from Pololu Valley, about 25 miles away. They were passed hand to hand along a very long human chain of men. We know this because occasionally a rock was dropped, and then it was not used in the heiau so it was left where it lay. There is still a rough path of large pohaku, rocks, lining the route from Pololu to Pu‘ukohola. 

Just off Pu‘ukohola there used to an island called Puaka‘ilima, we learned. It was significant because the ‘ilima flower grew all over that island, and that’s a flower that is cherished for leimaking (and you need hundreds of blossoms to make one lei).

That treasured island was destroyed, blown up, when the state decided it needed to dredge the harbor so big ships could come in with food and supplies. 

Here was the point of that day’s lesson. Progress = change. We have all these people here and are not producing enough food on our own anymore, so we need ships to bring in enough food for us all to eat. That’s why they had to destroy the island. In this case, progress and preservation were at odds. 

Was this the only way to solve that problem? asked the kumu (teacher). I don’t know, she said. Was it the best decision? I don’t know, she said. I don’t know all the details.

“But some day it is going to be you children making these decisions. You are going to have to weigh preservation vs. change.” You have to know about the past and the present to make good decisions about the future, she told them.

Then we went to Kona, to the King Kamehameha Hotel. This is a touristy spot—but just at the back of the hotel is a very important historical place called Kamakahonu. Ahu‘ena Heiau is there, and that’s where Kamehameha died. It was both the end of the story we had been hearing of his life, and another demonstration of preservation vs. progress.

Before we got there, the kumu looked hard at the kids and talked to them for quite a long time about how we are not going there for the hotel, or to look at all the guests, or to talk about the pool. We were not going there to play. 

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “I like this hotel. It’s where I stay when I come to Kona. But that’s not what we are here for today.” She told them they were there to respect and learn about the heiau. 

Again she talked to them about focusing, and she told them this was going to be the hardest place of all to focus because of all the stuff, the playing, going on all around us. But she told them they needed to do so, to focus, to chant with their attention in the right place.

When they’d been at the Pololu overlook, they’d had this same reminder. When they were done there with their chants and their song about the place, tourists all around us broke into applause. Of course the tourists didn’t know, but it felt inappropriate because although, yes, these kids sound good, they were not entertaining. They were facing the valley and the ocean, not the people, and were paying their respects. 

And when that applause broke out, not one kid looked around, like they would have if it had been a concert for fun. They kept their focus and their attention. It was very interesting to see and not a little impressive.

So back to the hotel, where the kids walked through the somewhat crowded lobby single file and in silence. It was pretty impressive, because believe me these kids can also be normal fourth graders: loud and boisterous. But apparently they also know when not to be. It was really something—people stopped and watched.

We were expected, and hotel Security knew we were going to go into the heiau area beyond the normal kapu (keep out) signs. The kids chanted, and we heard more about the significance of that heiau, and again, Kumu talked about preservation (the heiau) vs. progress/change (the hotel). She presented it so well. She stressed again that someday they are going to be the ones who have to weigh the one against the other. That they have to know both the past and the present to determine the future.

The kumu kept stressing that they were giving these stories about the past to the kids and it was their kuleana, their responsibility, to remember them and pass them on. You cannot make good decisions about preservation vs. progress if you don’t know the importance of what is there to preserve, they said.

It was such an impressive and important field trip. I am not a fourth grader, and I got a hundred times more out of it than I expected. So well thought out and presented. Our kids are very fortunate to be learning such important lessons.


Big Island Getting Hydrogen-Powered Bus

Richard Ha writes:

Hawai‘i County is getting a hydrogen-powered shuttle bus. This is a significant step in the right direction for the Big Island.

Hydrogen will help with ground transportation, help other motors to do work, help with storage of energy and can even be used to make nitrogen fertilizer, leading to better food security.

As petroleum prices rise, our hydrogen costs will remain stable. Eventually we will have a competitive edge over the rest of the world. It's a step down the path to making a better future for coming generations.

From US Hybrid:


June 17, 2014 – Honolulu, Hawaii – US Hybrid has been awarded a contract by the Hawaii Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies (HCATT) to design, integrate, and deliver its H2RideTM Fuel Cell Plug-In Shuttle Bus for operation by the County of Hawaii Mass Transit Agency’s (MTA) HELE-ON Big Island bus service. The project is funded by the State of Hawaii and Office of Naval Research via the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI).

Integrated at US Hybrid’s Honolulu facility, the 25 passenger shuttle bus utilizes a 30 kW fuel cell fueled by a 20 kg hydrogen storage and delivery system. The fuel cell and 28 kWhr lithium ion battery power the vehicle’s 200 kW powertrain, air conditioning, and auxiliary systems. Onboard batteries are recharged by regenerative braking. The US Hybrid fuel cell, powertrain, and vehicle controller optimizes power delivered by the energy storage and fuel cell power plant.

Upon notification of the award, US Hybrid’s President and CEO, Dr. Abas Goodarzi remarked: “At this critical time in energy advancement, we are honored to have our hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technology selected by HNEI, the Hawaii County MTA and HCATT to lead the way for the adoption of zero emission mass transportation throughout the State of Hawaii.”

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie commented: “I am proud of the state’s leadership role in providing the funding to introduce the first hydrogen fuel cell electric bus in support of public transportation in Hawaii. My vision is to leverage opportunities like this to introduce clean energy transportation services that utilize our own renewable energy resources to the benefit of our local economy, while helping the people of Hawaii get where they need to go.”

Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi added: “This new fuel cell electric bus is the first tangible step in realizing our vision of transforming the County of Hawaii public bus system into one that is powered by our island’s incredible renewable energy resources. Instead of exporting our citizen’s hard-earned dollars offshore, we will be able to keep this money in our local economy creating new jobs and protecting us from the swings of the fossil fuel markets. We would also like to thank the Governor for investing in this project and allowing us to lead the way for the rest of the State of Hawaii.”

HCATT Director Stan Osserman also expressed his support for the project: “This project demonstrates that Hawaii takes its role in leading the U.S. in clean transportation technology very seriously. We’ve already established ourselves as industry leaders with Department of Defense projects related to alternative fuel vehicles, and we are moving forward to make our counties and the state leaders in hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.”

HNEI’s Director, Dr. Richard Rocheleau echoed these sentiments: “We look forward to evaluating the performance of this system and helping to develop ways to reduce the cost of the hydrogen infrastructure to the point where private industry can lead future hydrogen development.”

The H2RideTM Fuel Cell Plug-In Shuttle Bus is scheduled for deployment with Hawaii MTA in early 2015.

About US Hybrid

Founded in 1999, US Hybrid Corporation specializes in the design and manufacture of integrated power conversion components for fuel cell, electric, and hybrid medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as for renewable energy generation and storage. US Hybrid offers comprehensive engineering expertise and experience in vehicle powertrains and components, including DC-DC converters, energy management systems, high-performance AC motors, and controllers. For more information, please visit www.ushybrid.com.


Managed by HTDC, HCATT has organized public/private partnerships between the federal government and private industry to develop advanced low emission and zero emission vehicles centered on electric drive technologies. Additionally, HCATT has entered into a partnership with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to introduce zero emission, hydrogen fuel cell/battery powered hybrid electric buses into the park to support environmentally friendly tours for the millions of annual visitors to the park.

About HNEI

The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute is an organized research unit of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM). The Institute performs research, conducts testing and evaluation, and manages public-private partnerships across a broad range of renewable and enabling technologies to reduce the State of Hawai‘i's dependence on fossil fuel for the benefit of the citizens of Hawaii. 


Preparing for Climate Change, The Overview

Richard Ha writes:

I was asked to talk this morning at the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties 2014 Annual Conference, which was held in Waikiki. I spoke on the panel called Preparing for Climate Change. Here’s what I said.


Aloha everyone. Thanks for inviting me.

Food security has to do with farmers farming. If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm!

The Hawaiian side of our family is Kamahele, from lower Puna. All the Kamaheles are related. The Okinawa side of our family is Higa. The Korean side of our family is the Ha name. It’s about all of us in Hawaii. Not just a few of us!

I write an ag and energy blog Hahaha.hamakuasprings.com. It stands for three generations of us.

What is the difference between climate and weather? Neil DeGrasse Tyson, on Cosmos, describes it like the guy strolling down the beach with his dog. The dog running back and forth is the weather. The guy walking along the beach is climate.

Background: 35 years farming, more than 100 million pounds of fruits and vegetables. We farm 600 fee-simple acres which the family and 70 workers farm. Not having any money, we started out by trading chicken manure for banana keiki and went on to become the largest banana farm in the U.S. We were green farmers early. In 1992, we were first banana farm in the world certified Eco-OK by the Rainforest Alliance. In 2008, we were one of six national finalists for the Patrick Madden SARE award. We were one of the first farms in Hawai‘i to be food-safety certified.

When we needed to find a solution for a disease problem, we took a class in tissue culture and tried to culture the plants in our back bedroom. But there was too much contamination, from cat hair maybe. So we made our own tissue culture lab. We have our own hydroelectric plant, which provides all our electricity. Our trucks and tractors operate with fuel from Hawai‘i biodiesel.

My pop told me that, “Get a thousand reasons why no can.” I’m only looking for the one reason why CAN.

As we stroll along the climate change beach, there are two things that we notice.

The first is energy. Without energy, work stops. Petroleum products are finite and costs will rise. Farmers’ costs will rise and farmers’ customers’ costs will rise. How can we dodge the bullet?

I attended five Peak Oil conferences. The world has been using twice and three times as much oil as we have been finding. So the price is going to keep on going up. It will increase farmers’ costs and will increase the farmers’ customers’ costs. We need to do something that will help all of us, not just a few of us. Something that can help future generations cope.

That something is hydrogen. The geothermal plant can be curtailed at 70 MW per day. That’s throwing away 70 MW of electricity every night. The new eucalyptus chip plant Hu Honua can be curtailed by 10 MW for ten hours per night. The key to hydrogen is electricity cost. On the mainland it is made from natural gas. Here it can be made from running electricity through water. We are throwing away lots of electricity at night. We know that oil and gas prices will be steadily going up in the future. Hydrogen from our renewable resources will become more and more attractive as oil and gas prices rise. At some point we will have an advantage to the rest of the world. And as a bonus, hydrogen combined with nitrogen in the air will produce nitrogen fertilizer.

You may be interested to know the inside scoop about the lawsuit that Big Island farmers brought against the County.

Why? Clarity: Farmers are law-abiding citizens and we play by the rules. We thought that the Feds and the State had jurisdiction. We want clarity about the rules of the game.

Equal treatment: Only Big Island farmers are prohibited from using biotech solutions that all our competitors can use. How is that equal? It’s discriminatory against local farmers.

When the law was first proposed, they wanted to ban all GMOs. We asked what are papaya farmers supposed to do? They said, we can help them get new jobs, to transition. We were speechless. It was as if they were just another commodity. So farmers and ranchers got together and ran a convoy around the County building in protest. Then they said they would give the Rainbow papaya farmers a break. I was there when the papaya farmers had a vote to accept the grandfather clause for Rainbow papayas. There were a lot of young, second- and third-generation farmers there in the room.

In the end, the papaya farmers said, We are not going to abandon our friends who supported us when we needed help. That is not who we are. Then they voted unanimously to reject the offer. I was there and being a Vietnam vet, where the unspoken rule was we all come back or no one comes back, I could not have been prouder of the papaya farmers. That explains why the Big Island farmers are tight. Old-fashioned values. The rubbah slippah folks absolutely get all of this.

So who are these farmers? I am one. I don’t grow GMOs. It isn’t about me. I’ll make 70 this year and, like almost all the farmers, have never sued anyone. But there comes a time when you have to stand up for what is right.

The group we formed, Hawaii Farmers and Ranchers United, grows more than 90 percent of the farm value on the Big Island.

This is about food security. The GMO portion of food security is small. This is not about large corporations. It is about local farmers. It is not about organics; we need everybody. But organics only supply 4 percent of the national food supply and maybe 1 percent of Hawai‘i’s. Our organic farmers are not threatened by modern farming. Hawaii organic farmers are threatened by mainland, industrial-scale organic farms. That is why there are hardly any locally grown organics in the retail stores. It’s about cost of production. Also, on the mainland winter kills off the bad bugs and weeds and the organic farmers can outrun the bugs through the early part of summer. Hawai‘i farmers don’t have winter to help us.

Most importantly, this is about pro-science and anti-science. That is why farmers are stepping up. We know that science is self-correcting. It gives us a solid frame of reference. You don’t end up fooling yourself. In all of Hawai‘i’s history, now is no time to be fooling ourselves.

My pop told me that there were a thousand reasons why No Can. He said, look for the one reason why Can! He said to look for two solutions to every problem and one more, just in case.

He would pound the dinner table and dishes would bounce in the air and he would point in the air and say, “Not no can. CAN!”

We can have a better world for future generations. It’s all common sense and attitude.



‘Triple Bottom Line’ Approach to Renewable Energy

Richard Ha writes:

We need a “triple bottom line” approach to renewable energy options. They need to be socially sustainable, environmentally sustainable, and economically sustainable.

World-renowned economist, Nobel laureate, and New York Times best-selling author Joseph Stiglitz spoke on this at UH Manoa. His lecture, “Where long-term and short-term goals converge: Using sustainability as an impetus for economic growth,” starts at the 21:30 mark of this video.

Social sustainability has largely been ignored in many approaches to renewable energy solutions. The Big Island has the lowest median family income in the state, and that is not socially sustainable. Hawaiians leaving their ancestral lands in greater and greater numbers in order to look for work is not socially sustainable.

We need to pay more attention to this. Finding solutions that give folks on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder more spending money will benefit all of us, because two-thirds of our economy is made up of consumer spending.

Energy and agriculture are inextricably tied together, and the agricultural industry is vulnerable because of its dependency on energy. Nitrogen fertilizer, plastics, chemicals, etc., are all byproducts of petroleum.

What can we do to dodge the bullet? We can maximize the resources we have available to us here in a sustainable way.

On the energy side, we have geothermal, which will be available to us, according to the scientists, for 500,000 years. On the ag side, we have a year-long growing season. These are both huge advantages. We need to leverage them so we have a competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

Geothermal electricity puts us on the right side of the cost curve. And as natural gas prices rise, we will be able to competitively make hydrogen. We can use that hydrogen for transportation, as well as to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer.

In the ag industry, we should be maximizing technology to help us with disease and insect control, thereby lessening our dependency on natural gas.

Our tourism industry is also at risk as jet fuel rises in cost. But with the same low-cost electricity that helps our farmers and their customers, we would lower the walk-around cost of the average tourist’s budget. This would both support our tourism industry and bring money into our local economy.

From Peak Oil News:

GEOG Researchers Address Economic Dangers of ‘Peak Oil’

Researchers from the University of Maryland and a leading university in Spain demonstrate in a new study which sectors could put the entire U.S. economy at risk when global oil production peaks (“Peak Oil”). This multi-disciplinary team recommends immediate action by government, private and commercial sectors to reduce the vulnerability of these sectors.

Read the rest

In the final analysis, we can no longer think and act in silence. We need a long-range systems approach, based on the three pillars of sustainability – social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and economic sustainability.

If you’d like to know more, sign up at the Big Island Community Coalition and we’ll send you an occasional email letting you know what we’re doing and how you can help.

[The link is not working from this blog, though the BICC website is up. Please go to www.bigislandcommunitycoalition.com.]


A Big Picture Look

Richard Ha writes:

Yesterday I sat in Judge Nakamura’s courtroom full of people both for and against the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) being built on Mauna Kea. I looked over at Kealoha Pisciotta, who has led the opposition all these years, and thought about how much I admire her.

As I sat there, I thought back to 2008, when rising oil prices started being such a big concern. At the top of my mind then was finding an economic alternative to tourism and opportunities for keiki education, both of which the TMT will provide. Locating the TMT here is a great opportunity, and I put a lot of effort into supporting it.

As I sat there yesterday, I thought, too, about how the TMT will help the Big Island cope with our rising energy costs and changing economy; because of it, money will flow into our economy instead of out. It will bring 10 years of construction jobs, and $1 million/year toward Big Island student education for each of more than 55 years. More importantly, it will bring to the Big Island an attitude of “Not, No Can. CAN!”

In 2007, I’d met Gail Tverberg at my first Peak Oil conference in Houston. A former insurance actuary whose job was to price insurance risk, she is someone who approaches the world oil supply problem from a risk management perspective. I helped bring her to the Big Island to give presentations, and she observed that our dependence on tourism makes Hawai‘i very vulnerable.

In 2008, shale and gas production hadn’t yet started in earnest. Natural gas prices were very high at $12/thousand cubic feet. According to a USDA analysis, there was an 80 percent correlation of natural gas price to ammonia fertilizer cost, and that had a frightening effect on local farmers. The price of natural gas dropped to $2/mcf, and now it’s around $4.50/mcf. This, coupled with a subsequent increase in natural gas supply, has given us some breathing room. But it’s only temporary.

We have another fairly unique opportunity to protect ourselves against seriously rising energy costs, which are already impacting our lives negatively and will continue to go up if we don’t make changes:

Geothermal energy.

After having attended five Association for the Study conferences (the only person from our state to do so) I’ve found that it’s all a matter of 1) cost, 2) what works and 3) comparative risk.

Geothermal addresses all three of those points. It’s inexpensive compared to using oil to produce our energy; we already know that it works; and after decades of experience with it here, the comparative risk is low.

It also allows the possibility of making hydrogen, which we can use to fuel our ground transportation, and also ammonia fertilizer for farmers. There are a lot of wins there.


Iceland & Hydrogen Fuel

Richard Ha writes:

This is a video about Iceland's hydrogen project.


Now that fleets of fuel cell vehicles are being readied for roll out, Iceland is prepared and ready to get off petroleum for its land and sea transportation.

We can do the same with our curtailed – thrown away! – wind, geothermal and solar power.

I took these photos, posted on their hydrogen refueling station wall, in Iceland in 2011. They give a good, easy-to-read overview.

1. Iceland hydrogen refueling station

Bamboo hydro 006

Bamboo hydro 006

Bamboo hydro 006

Bamboo hydro 006


‘La La La La La’

Richard Ha writes:

Farmers and other Ag and business people on the Big Island are in disbelief – to put it mildly – that Mayor Kenoi signed Bill 113, the anti-GMO bill, last week, without first putting together a group to research the science and investigate the serious, unintended consequences we know will result.

But farmers are very practical and play the position that exists on the chessboard, not the position they wish they had. Most of us are moving into strategic contraction mode now.

For example, we had an application in to the USDA to dedicate 264 acres of our farm into agricultural land for perpetuity. We had been going through the vetting process over the last two years and had already been told we were among the top three state projects, as determined by a Department of Land and Natural Resources subcommittee.

I just received a letter Friday asking for more information about our application, with a comment from the Western Region director stating that our project had the highest priority.

I wrote back saying we are withdrawing our application. Nothing personal; just playing the position that now exists. Instead, we will subdivide the property so we have options as we go forward into a future that has some new uncertainties.

If there’s an upside to the mayor signing the bill, it’s that maybe now we will finally take a real look at the current Peak Oil crisis and how it affects the Big Island’s food self-sufficiency situation, and come to grips with finding long-term solutions.

Being open to safe scientific advances when needed (a.k.a. biotech or “GMO”) would have been a way to decrease our dependence on petroleum products, such as pesticides and fertilizers, and increase our island’s food self-sufficiency.

Geothermal energy is another no-brainer that will protect us from rising energy costs. Utilizing geothermal energy – which according to geophysicists will be available to us for at least 500,000 years – we can have stable electricity at an affordable price. As another benefit of geothermal, we can take the currently “curtailed” (collected but unused) electricity and make hydrogen for ground transportation; and by combining it with nitrogen in the air, we can make fertilizer that doesn’t depend on petroleum products and continue to get more and more expensive.

But Senator Ruderman doesn’t see this and wants to kill geothermal energy.

Why? Where is he steering our ship? It feels rudderless.

These are turbulent times. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was on CNN yesterday saying that despite dumping money into the economy, businesses are sitting on a lot of cash and not investing, and banks are not lending because it’s too risky. 

He said that the level of uncertainty is like it was during the Great Depression. The next Fed chair will have to manage the interest rate, and too high an interest rate will roil the stock market. He said, “It’s hard to manage psychology.”

I do not see people paying attention to this, so let me extrapolate from what he’s saying: As a result, regular folk are not earning as much money. As a consequence of that, the government will not be able to tax people at a level needed to keep services going, such as maintaining roads (which, of course, requires products made from petroleum).

How far will this go on before we can no long maintain our infrastructure the way we are accustomed to, or take care of our poor people who need help?

What Alan Greenspan is talking about is serious business, and he’s certainly not the only person saying it.

This all boils down to the cost of energy, and how we utilize our resources in a smart and efficient manner.

I’ve gone to five Peak Oil conferences now, and have learned that experts there are all, consistently, saying that the net energy available to society is decreasing as it gets more difficult to get the energy. The consequence of this is less growth, which means less money for the government to perform the services we need to continue living the way we live. Where will the money come from?

Another expert who is highly respected is actury Gail Tverberg. She is as credible as anyone I’ve heard, and she too says it all boils down to the cost of energy. Not availability, nor how much oil still exists, but how much it costs to obtain it – and we all know those costs are only going higher. She writes

Oil and other fossil fuels are unusual materials. Historically, their value to society has been far higher than their cost of extraction. It is the difference between the value to society and their cost of extraction that has helped economies around the world grow. Now, as the cost of oil extraction rises, we see this difference shrinking. As this difference shrinks, the ability of economies to grow is eroding, especially for those countries that depend most heavily on oil–Japan, Europe, and the United States. It should not be surprising if the growth of these countries slows as oil prices rise…. Read the rest

Using GMOs to help leverage our year-round growing season was a workaround, and in my opinion, it was much less risky than what Alan Greenspan, Gail Tverberg and other experts say is coming.

We need to take action and prepare for these changing conditions. If it turns out they were wrong, no harm/no foul. If they are right, using GMO's to avoid petroleum costs in fertilizer and pesticides would have helped us immensely; and using geothermal energy will improve our lifestyle measurably.

Note that I’m not just talking about this – the whole situation scared me enough that we went and put in a hydroelectric system for the farm.

This is not about the sky falling. It’s about common sense. It’s all a matter of how much risk we are willing to take.

We need to decrease our dependence on petroleum, and our energy costs. Rising electricity costs affect the price of our food, and they take away discretionary income from the rubbah slippah folks. Consumer spending makes up two-thirds of our economy.

It’s foolish for us to put our thumbs in our ears and our fingers over our eyes and sing, “La la la la la,” but that’s what seems to be going on around here. 

We’d better have a clear-headed discussion about our future.


Iceland Rocks

In the 1970s, the Icelandic people made a decision to use geothermal in a big way. The decision was made around the time of the “oil crisis.”

Now, 50 years later, you can see the results. More than 90 percent of their houses are heated by geothermal. The people are warm in their homes, and they don’t have to cut firewood.

Hawaii monitors for Hydrogen Sulfide much more than Iceland does. We were about 100 yards away when I took that video. You wouldn’t want to be right in the stuff, but no one seemed very concerned.

I have not seen one overhead utility line. Except for the heavy transmission lines, they are all buried underground.

Hawai‘i could be like this, too.

I’m standing on a black sand beach that stretches as far as you can see in both directions.

Black sand beach

These would be perfect imu rocks! Very porous.

Imu rocks

This next picture could have been taken somewhere on the Big Island.


The rocks in Iceland look like our rocks. It all comes from the same place.

The Icelandic folks have their electricity supply situation completely under control. They focused on affordable and renewable.

This is a small, camouflaged geothermal well that is used only for heating. It brings up heat from around 2,000 feet down and is piped to homes in the area. These are spread around the city and one hardly notices them.

Small geothermal well

Hydrogen is made on site using cheap electricity and water. This is still experimental.


And they take every opportunity to make multiple revenue streams. Think “exporting tomatoes using artificial light and heat from cheap geothermal.” And raising tilapia. We can learn a lot from these folks.

Roald Marth (left) and I met with Ambassador Luis E. Arrega (middle).


When Iceland transitioned to geothermal, they kept some of their old, oil-fired generating units in place. We drove by one yesterday and were told that in 50 years, they have never had to fire it back up.

(To be continued)

Catch up on the Icelandic Saga:

Part 1, Enroute to Iceland, With a Stop in New York 

Part 2, Still in Iceland, Still in Shorts