Tag Archives: Jason Moniz

Great Info Meeting on How Kaua‘i Formed its Electric Utility Co-op

Richard Ha writes:

We had an interesting presentation Friday from two executives from Kaua‘i’s electrical utility, the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). David Bissell is CEO, and Dennis Esaki was a founding member who only recently left the KIUC board.

Meeting

It was amazing to hear what KIUC went through to purchase Kaua‘i Electric Company and form the utility cooperative. The Kaua‘i County Council and mayor were originally against the purchase, and the PUC turned down its first purchase bid as not being in the best interest of the users. But the founding group continued to rework its plan and was ultimately successful the second time it presented a bid.

In total, it was about a two-year process and the group purchased Kaua‘i Electric Company in 2002 for $215 million. And, Esaki said, referring to the county administrators, “they’re all on board now.”

This month, Kaua‘i’s electricity rates are lower than any of the islands but O‘ahu’s (mostly because of the oil price decline). Most months, its rates are a little lower than the Big Island's and a little higher than Maui.

Since 2003, ratepayers have received $30 million in refunds and patronage capital — the amount of money left after all the bills are paid, and the co-op has met its lenders’ requirements. This is money that circulates back into the community. 

Members have $80 million in equity, which is what they own of the co-op. When the utility was purchased 12 years ago, it was 100 percent debt-financed, so the equity at that time was zero.

KIUC has gone from about five percent renewable energy in 2009 to 18 percent today. It will be at about 40 percent by the end of next year.

From the KIUC 2013 Annual Report (click to enlarge):

Annual report

  Annual Report p. 9

The organization of the co-op also reflects what the people of Kaua‘i want, because its board is selected by the people. Esaki and Bissel said that at first there was almost total, and repeated, board turnover as ratepayers regularly voted out board members who weren’t doing what they wanted. Eventually, they said, the board has stabilized.

Projects are financed through national co-op financing, which results in much lower financing costs.

You can watch a video of the meeting below. Thanks to Chester Lowrey for videotaping!

There was a lot of community interest in the KIUC presentation, with a good turnout from various community groups. The presentation was sponsored by three organizations:

The Big Island Community Coalition, the steering committee of which is made up of David DeLuz, Jr., Rockne Freitas, Michelle Galimba, myself, Wallace Ishibashi, Kuulei Kealoha Cooper, Ka‘iu Kimura, D. Noelani Kalipi, Robert Lindsey, H. M. Monty Richards, Marcia Sakai, Ku‘u Lehua Veincent, and William Walter.

The board of the Hilo-Hamakua Community Development Corporation, which is President Donna Johnson, Judi Steinman, Glenn Carvalho, Eric Weinert, Jason Moniz, Gerald DeMello, Colleen Aina, and Richard Ha.

And Hawai‘i Farmers and Ranchers United, which represents more than 90 percent of the farming goods produced on the Big Island.

Ed Olson donated the use of his Wainaku Executive Center for the meeting.

We have formed a steering committee to discuss this further. The committee consists of Gerald DeMello, Michelle Galimba, Wally Ishibashi, Donna Johnson, Eric Weinert, Vincent Paul Pontieux, Marco Mangelsdorf, Russell Ruderman, and myself. I’ll keep you posted on further developments.

Edited 12/21/14 at 10:45 pm; 1/5/15; 1/30/15.

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You’re Invited to a Community Meeting re: Hamakua Agriculture

Richard Ha writes:

Save the dates:

  • Wednesday, October 29
  • Wednesday, November 5
  • Thursday, November 13
  • 6-8 p.m.
  • Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School Bandroom

On these dates, the Hilo Hamakua Community Development Corporation will hold a series of community meetings to discuss agriculture on the Hamakua Coast. All are welcome (and refreshments are free).

We will take a 40,000 foot view of ag and its outside influences, and then look at the resources available to help us, such as the Daniel K. Inouye-Pacific Basin Ag Research Center (PBARC), the College of Tropical Ag and Human Resources (CTAHR), and the College of Ag, Forestry and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) at UH Hilo. 

There are many scientists researching various subjects. What do we want them to work on?

Farmers will be at the meeting to share their knowledge and experience.

Are you looking for land to farm? Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate with be there, and the Hamakua Ag Co-op has vacant land.

John Cross, former land manager for C. Brewer/Hilo Coast Processing, will attend. Did you know why all the sugar cane equipment had tracks, rather than rubber tires? Did you know that the plantations frequently planted banyan trees as significant landmarks? 

Jeff Melrose will be at the meetings. He recently did a study that's a snapshot of agriculture on the Big Island. He will talk about on what is grown on the Hamakua coast and why.

Come and talk story with the presenters, learn where you can get additional information, and speak up on what you would like to know more about in the future.

Ag & food security symposia

 

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Farmer: “I’m Tired of Defending My Life’s Work”

Richard Ha writes:

Yesterday I testified before the Hawai‘i County Council. I was testifying against Act 79, which would prohibit GMOs not already growing on the Big Island.

Note: We do not grow any GMO on our farm.

But the point I was wanting to make is that farming used to be an honorable profession where you could make a living. Now farmers are losing money right and left, wondering whether they will continue to farm, and they are not encouraging their children to do so.

If we farmers are going to survive, we are going to need access to the most modern techniques and technologies. This Act would cut off our ability to use modified crops that are resistent to disease, if needed. It would mean foregoing potential help, like when the banana industry faced a virus 15 years ago. At that time, they started working on genetically modified techniques that would have helped the banana industry greatly, though ultimately it didn’t happen.

Genetic modification also saved the papaya industry here in Hawai‘i; without the Rainbow papaya, we would no longer have a papaya industry at all.

Jason Moniz also testified yesterday. He was representing the Hamakua Farm Bureau and requested the bill be killed, saying it threatens the “well-being” of farmers and ranchers.

“Frankly, I’m sick and tired of having to defend my life’s work,” he said.

This feeling is increasingly being discussed at dinner tables in the farming community. They are asking themselves, “Is it worth it” to continue farming?

What will happen when all our farmers get out of the business?

My testimony:

My name is Richard Ha, and I’m representing Hamakua Springs
Country Farms. 

Hamakua Springs Country Farms is a 600-acre, fee simple,
diversified Ag farm. We have produced multi-millions of pounds of fruits and vegetables over the years. We have 70 workers who work with us and have more than 30 years of experience in producing food 

1. Farmers are being pitted against each other. This is not good. We need all farmers to help provide food for an uncertain future.

2. Farmers have been losing ground, not gaining ground. Even if you give farmers free rent, it is not guaranteed that they will make money. A UHERO report shows that ag, as a percentage of GDP, has been steadily declining. Food security depends on farmers farming. If the farmers made money, they would farm.

3. Farmers are right now making plans to quit and sell their lands. They cannot tell their children with a clear conscience to carry on, when all they see is conflict and no support. 

Here is a solution. Cheaper electricity can give us a competitive edge. The mainland uses oil for only two percent of its electricity
generation. We use it for more than 70 percent. That is why farmers have a hard time doing value-added. Any food manufactured on the mainland with electricity embedded in it has a competitive edge over us. 

Seventy nine percent of the students at the Pahoa School complex take advantage of the free/reduced lunch program, and qualification is determined by family income. That means the Pahoa area has the lowest family income in the state! Pahoa is number one in the state. Ka‘u is second, and Kea‘au is third.

Our electricity rates have been higher than Oahu’s for as long as anyone can remember. That means less of our education dollar is going to actually teaching Big Island students. Yet, education is the best predictor of family income.

If we could lower and stabilize our electricity cost, farmers,
distributors and retailers would have lower refrigeration costs. Food costs would go down. Farmers could manufacture value-added food products and increase their income stream. Lower cost electricity means people would have extra spending money to support local farmers. More of our education dollar would go to kids’ education, thereby increasing his/her chance of gaining a higher family income. 

Two-thirds of the economy is made of consumer spending. If the people had extra money, they would spend it. Businesses would benefit and there would be more jobs.

There is no free lunch. Let’s concentrate on finding out where we can give ourselves a competitive advantage and go do it. We need to look at the bigger picture. Not “no can.” CAN!

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