Tag Archives: Richard Ha

An Interview & Also a Visit to a Co-op Finance Corporation

Richard Ha writes:

Henry Curtis of Ililani Media recently interviewed me about the energy co-op. He asked me, “Why a co-op?”

Here’s the interview:

Richard Ha owns Hamakua Springs Country Farms, served as Board Chairman of Ku`oko`a Inc., the entity which sought to buy the HECO Companies, a member of the business-based Big Island Community Coalition (BICC) which seeks lower electric rates, and a partner in the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) which was granted party status in the Public Utilities Commission’s HECO-NextEra's Merger proceeding. HIEC is represented in the docket by three McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP attorneys: David Minkin, Brian Hirai and Peter Hamasaki….

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Also, a couple weeks ago I visited the national headquarters of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC) in Virginia. There is a strong national association of 900 utility co-ops that exists to help its members, and it owns that finance company, the CFC, which has assets of $26 billion and is a non-profit, so it pays no taxes.

I met with the CFC's senior staff and briefed them about our attempt to be ready should an opportunity arise that allows us to present a credible offer to purchase Hawaii Electric Light (HELCO) and convert it to an energy cooperative.

They told me their resources are at our disposal.

It was very eye-opening to see that we are not alone. It hit me that ours would not be a small, stand-alone co-op, but one of 900 utility co-ops in the nation, with all the ancillary services that comes with that. The technical expertise we would be able to call upon is huge – exponentially greater than what we would have access to as a stand-alone co-op, out here in the middle of the Pacific.

Back on Dec 21st, I wrote about when a group of Big Island community people organized a briefing by David Bissell, the CEO of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC) and Dennis Esaki, one of the original founders of KIUC.

Subsequently, we formed a steering committee to investigate the possibility of creating an energy cooperative for the Big Island. That was three months ago. Since then, we registered the co-op, obtained the services of a law firm, and asked the PUC to let us participate in the docket involving the merger request of NextEra and HEI/HECO. Our request was approved.

We have set up a website with information about our efforts, the folks involved, a press release, news articles, and a place for folks to sign up if they want to help us in our efforts.

A co-op is about all of us, not just a few of us. It’s run by a board of directors that is elected by its members. Each member has one vote. Excess revenues are returned to the members in proportion to their usage. 

We are not alone. 

This morning I saw that State Rep. Nicole Lowen just introduced HR105 expressing support of "further discussion of the possibility of local ownership and control of electric utilities."

I will write more as we move forward.

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Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative Files With PUC

Richard Ha writes:

The Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative (HIEC) has gotten quite a bit of press coverage in the past few days. Last week, we submitted an application to the PUC to intervene in the pending sale of Hawaii Electric Industries (HEI) to NextEra Energy.

HIEC logo

Our HIEC spokesman Marco Mangelsdorf answers some questions about it just below. Following his answers, you can see excerpts from and links to newspaper articles about HIEC from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Pacific Business News, and Honolulu Civil Beat.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Provided by Marco Mangelsdorf, director and spokesman for HIEC, President, ProVision Solar, Inc.

What’s my connection to HIEC?

I was invited by Richard Ha, business owner of Hamakua Springs and community leader, to get involved with a group of Big Island residents who were interested in exploring the possibility of emulating the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative model established on Kauai.  We are seeking to get a seat at the table in the Hawaiian Electric Industries-NextEra docket by proposing an option, depending on the course of the proceedings, that offers the possibility of democratic ownership and control of the island’s energy infrastructure, through a duly elected board, to the residents and communities of the Big Island.

Are you doing this because you see the end of the PV industry in the state?  Are you leaving your company?

I will continue to manage ProVision Solar as the solar electric industry in the state continues to adapt to the unique challenges in our Aloha State.  Solar PV will continue to be a major part of the Hawaii’s efforts to become more energy independent for years and decades to come.

Do you see any conflict between continuing to be at ProVision and working with HIEC?

I see congruence between what I’m doing in my business to empower Big Island homes and businesses as far as promoting energy independence and working toward greater local control of the island’s energy infrastructure.

Is HIEC against the proposed merger?

HIEC takes no position either for or against the proposed merger.  HIEC desires to explore through the proceedings the unique perspective, goals and objectives of the residents and communities of Hawaii Island, and depending on the outcome of the proceedings, consider whether a different ownership model for energy services on Hawaii Island may provide a positive alternative.  A sound discussion should include evaluation of the pending transaction in relation to potential future options that may be in the public interest for the unique interest of the island of Hawaii.  HIEC’s participation can assist the development of a sound record by providing a Hawaii Island focused perspective.

Is HIEC making an attempt to buy HELCO?

It’s important to note that HELCO is not for sale at this time.  So no, HIEC is not submitting an offer to purchase HELCO.  HIEC is positioning itself as a possible option worthy of consideration to take Hawaii Island in a different energy direction, depending on the course of the proceedings.

Would a coop lead to lower energy bills on the Big Island?

HIEC believes that a case can be made that there would be lower energy costs to the consumer over time through tax exempt status, lower cost of capital and no shareholder profits, greater efforts to develop less expensive island-based power sources, promotion of education, markedly improved energy efficiency, and the accelerated adoption of appropriate advanced technologies.

What’s the position of HIEC regarding geothermal energy?

The residents and communities of the Big Island, through an elected board of directors, would decide what choices and directions to take as far as energy sources and policies under the coop.

What’s the position of HIEC regarding a interisland power cable from the Big Island to the other islands?

The residents and communities of the Big Island, through an elected board of directors, would decide what choices and directions to take as far as energy sources and policies under the coop.

What’s the position of the HIEC regarding this or that particular or specific issue on the Big Island?

The residents and communities of the Big Island, through an elected board of directors, would decide what choices and directions to take as far as energy sources and policies under the coop.

What would make HIEC different from a standard electric utility coop?

The cooperative would have a more diversified focus compared to a standard electric utility by focusing on greater overall energy independence, higher renewable energy generation, and enhanced sustainability through a comprehensive and integrated approach to all energy-consuming sectors on the island.

Has HIEC been working with Kauai Island Utility Cooperative? 

HIEC has been in contact with KIUC and they have been supportive.  In the event that HIEC is successful in establishing an energy coop, it is likely that synergies would exist between the two islands that would enable both to benefit by working together in certain areas. 

From the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

By Susan Essoyan

The Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative is seeking a seat at the table as the Public Utilities Commission considers the proposed merger of Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra Energy.

The new nonprofit cooperative association, registered with the state Feb. 9, was formed by business and community leaders to explore the possibility of creating an energy co-op on Hawaii island.

The Hilo-based co-op filed a motion Feb. 11 to intervene in the Public Utilities Commission docket on the proposed $4.3 billion merger between NextEra and HEI. But it is not taking a position for or against the deal, according to Marco Mangelsdorf, spokes­man and a director of the co-op.

Instead, it hopes to ensure that commissioners consider the island's energy needs and the potential benefits of a cooperative model of utility ownership during their deliberations. Read the rest

From the Hawaii Tribune-Herald:

By Colin M. Stewart

What if Hawaii Island residents owned their own electric utility?

That’s the question being posed by a nonprofit group that filed on Feb. 11 a motion with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission to intervene in the pending $4.3 billion sale of Hawaii Electric Light Co’s parent company, Hawaiian Electric Co. (HEI), to NextEra Energy.

The Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative is a group of Big Island community and business leaders exploring the idea of public ownership, according to group spokesman and director Marco Mangelsdorf.

“We seek to participate in the discussion of the unique perspective of the residents of our island, and, if appropriate, explore an option that would make for a fundamental change in the landscape of energy production and consumption on Hawaii Island,” he said via a press release. “Being able to have more direct control over Hawaii Island’s present and future energy profile would provide us with an extraordinary opportunity to showcase what can be done on our island on many different and innovative levels.” Read the rest

From the Pacific Business News:

By Duane Shimogawa

A group of community and business leaders on the Big Island have formed an organization to explore the potential benefits of a community-based cooperative ownership structure similar to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, and they want a closer look into NextEra Energy's $4.3 billion acquisition of Hawaiian Electric Co.

The Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative recently filed paperwork to intervene in the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission docket on the proposed acquisition, which involves HECO's Big Island subsidiary, Hawaii Electric Light Co. Read the rest

From Honolulu Civil Beat:

By Sophie Cocke

Big Island business and community leaders have formed a nonprofit coop called the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative to explore taking over Hawaii Electric Light Co., a subsidiary of Hawaiian Electric Co.

The co-op would be owned by ratepayers, similar to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. However, the co-op is interested all of the island’s energy sectors not just the electric grid.

The co-op association emerged in recent weeks with the announcement that Florida-based NextEra Energy has entered into an agreement to purchase HECO — a deal that is expected to close by the end of the year. Last week, the Hawaii Island Energy submitted an application to Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, which must approve the sale, to intervene in the review of the merger. Read the rest

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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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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

Chart

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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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Amazing Video Clip on the Mountain!

Richard Ha writes:

One day when I was on the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board’s Thirty Meter Telescope committee, along with Roberta Chu and Bob Saunders, Bob asked me what my father’s name was. I told him, and he said, “I want to show you something.”

He had a CD of the PBS Hawaii video called First Light, which was about the building of the first telescope atop Mauna Kea. He played it for me and then stopped it and said, “Look at that! What is that?”

I was stunned. It was a video clip of my pop operating his bulldozer on the summit.

(Used here with permission of Leslie Wilcox/PBS Hawai‘i)

Back in 1964 or so, Pop had a contract to help build the road to the top of Mauna Kea. I was away at school then, so I don’t know all the details.

Here’s a clip from the video. Look at the name across the top of the TD 30 there: “Richard Ha.” That was my pop. I’m Junior.

Richard ha sr bulldozer

Life really has a way of coming full circle, doesn’t it!

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Kids Learn How to Create a Tomato

By Leslie Lang 

Richard recently contributed tomato flowers for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo.

The cocktail tomato flowers were for a hands-on demo where kids learned about putting a tomato flower in sterile culture and growing their own tomato. They practiced removing flower petals with their fingers, and then saw how the scientists prepare the flowers under sterile conditions using forceps to remove the petals. The scientists put the flowers into a tissue culture and let the kids take them home and observe them developing into green tomatoes and then ripening.

Tomatoes3

It was the Ms. Foundation for Women (with support from foundation founder Gloria Steinem) who started “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” back in 1992; it started out as “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.” Sons were added in 2003. More than 37 million people participate every year at more than 3.5 million workplaces in the U.S., and there are more participants in over 200 other countries. Pretty impressive numbers!

From the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation:

Exposing girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives does during the work day is important, but showing them the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future, and allowing them to begin steps toward their end goals in a hands-on and interactive environment is key to their achieving success.

PBARC participates once every three years, inviting employees to bring their children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. Each child, too, can bring a friend.

Tomatoes3

Scientists set up displays and demos, usually hands-on, to demonstrate aspects of research and agriculture. Some of this year’s sessions had kids learning how to extract purple pigment from “red” cabbage, how to detect whether papaya seeds were genetically modified for ring spot virus, and drafting hibiscus cuttings. There was a short “genomic number cruncher” session, too.

“For the most part they are very engaged,” said research horticulturalist Tracie Matsumoto. “We keep the displays short, less than 30 minutes, and hands-on. One year we had a dead baby pig that we set up outside three weeks before the event, so the kids got to see the maggots and decaying carcass. That same entomologist who did that also set up a colony of sweet potato weevils one year, where the kids could put their arms in and let them crawl on their arms. Another year, we were extracting banana DNA and the kids got to take home DNA in a test tube.”

Because the facility recognizes that not every child wants to be a scientist, they also show the kids around all the other PBARC departments, so they see the various jobs that keep the facility going. They hear what the duties are for employees in administration, computer networking, janitorial and landscaping, payroll and purchasing. They learn that it takes more than just scientists to keep that operation going.

“We know students over the course of their lives are going to have multiple jobs and bosses and maybe careers, too, so we like to expand their expectations of what careers could be,” said Suzanne Sanxter, a biological laboratory technician and coordinator of the Daughters and Sons program.

Over the years, about 175 children between the ages of 7 and 18 have attended a PBARC Daughters and Sons event. This year there were 20 more, and all were asked to fill out surveys at the end of the day. PBARC must have really done something right, because each demo was listed as more than one students’ favorite, and reviews were glowing. A sampling:

How was your day at PBARC?

  • Awesome and super fun, because we got to do a lot of things.
  • It was the best and I wish there was more but I can’t wait for the next time I get to go.
  • Amazing!

What did you like the best?

  • I liked all of it, it was really fun the one that I liked the most was the tomatoe one and the calerpiler.
  • All the subjects
  • Going upstairs to see the wires.

What did you like the least?

  • I loved all of it.  All of them was really fun. I do not have any dislikes.
  • Nothing
  • Nothing

What experiment would you like to do next year?

  • The experiment that I would want to do is the calipilier one, the tomatoe and the planting one in the patiow.
  • Anything.
  • Looking in the microscope.

What would you like to learn more about – plants or insects?

  • What I would want to learn more is witch plant or fruit and inscect is the most endangered.
  • How many years does a lemitoad (nematode ?!) stay alive.
  • Insects.

Tomatoes3

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‘Behind the Plug & Beyond the Barrel’

Richard Ha writes:

I spoke on behalf of the Big Island Community Coalition (BICC) at the Hawai‘i Island Renewable Energy Solutions Summit 2014 on April 30th, which was titled “Behind the Plug and Beyond the Barrel," and here's what I said: 

BICC mission

Good morning. Thanks for the introduction. I will use just this one slide, and you can read our mission statement on it, which is to lower the cost of electricity. “To make Big Island electricity rates the lowest in the state by emphasizing the use of local resources.”

I would like to spend some time talking about who makes up the BICC.

Dave DeLuz, Jr. – President of Big Island Toyota.

John Dill – Contractors Association, and Chair of the Ethics Commission

Rockne Freitas – Former Chancellor Hawai‘i Community College

Michelle Galimba – Rancher, Board of Agriculture

Richard Ha – Farmer

Wallace Ishibashi – Royal Order of Kamehameha, DHHL Commissioner

Kuulei Kealoha Cooper- Trustee, Jimmy Kealoha and Miulan Kealoha Trust.

Noe Kalipi – Former staffer for Sen Akaka, helped write the Akaka Bill, energy consultant

Kai'u Kimura- Executive Director of ‘Imiloa.

Bobby Lindsey – OHA Trustee

Monty Richards – Kahua Ranch

Marcia Sakai – Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs, former Dean of UH Hilo, College of Business

Bill Walter- President of Shipman, Ltd., which is the largest landowner in Puna.

These folks are all operating in their private capacities. I'm chair of the BICC, and the only person from Hawai‘i to have attended five Peak Oil conferences. I've visited Iceland and the Philippines with Mayor Kenoi's exploratory group.

As you can imagine, the BICC has strong support all across political parties and socioeconomic strata. People get it in five minutes.

Oil and gas are finite resources, and prices will rise.  One note about natural gas: the decline rate of the average gas well is very high. Ninety percent of the production comes out in five years. This is worrisome.

Hawai‘i Island relies on oil for sixty percent of its electricity generation; the U.S. mainland only two percent.

As the price of oil rises, our food manufacturers and producers become less competitive, as we all know. Food security involves farmers farming. And if the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.

What can we do?  By driving the cost of electricity down, the Big Island can have a competitive edge to the rest of the world.

Since rising electricity rates act like a giant regressive tax, lowering electricity rates would do just the opposite. And since two-thirds of the economy is made up of consumer spending, this would be like "trickle up" economics. If the rubbah slippah folks had extra money, they would spend and everyone would benefit.

 The lowest-hanging fruit:

1. Geothermal. Allows us to dodge the finite resource bullet. It is the lowest-cost base power. The Big Island will be over the hot spot for 500,000 to a million years.

2. We throw away many lots of MW of electricity every night. Hu Honua will probably throw away 10 MW for ten hours every night. PGV, maybe 7 MW for ten hours.

3. Wind, too.

Maybe HELCO will allow us to move the excess electricity free. They don't make any money on the throwaway power now, anyway. What if we used it for something that won't compete with them? Then people could bid for the excess, throwaway power for hydrogen fueling stations, to make ammonia fertilizer, and to attract data centers. Hawaii could become the renewable energy capital of the world. People would love to come here and look at that. As airline ticket costs rise, the walk around cost in Hawai‘i would not.

The BICC call for lowering electricity costs could leave future generations a better Hawai‘i.  And that is what we all want.

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My Op-Ed: ‘We Need Cheaper Electricity’

Did you see the op-ed in yesterday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser? In case you didn’t, this is what I submitted to them:

***

We Need Cheaper Electricity

By Richard Ha

Here is the single most important need facing Hawai‘i today. Everything else radiates from it:

We need cheaper electricity.

It can be done. Recently the Big Island Community Coalition, along with others, helped stop some fairly significant electricity rate hikes from showing up on everybody’s HELCO bills.

And we are very lucky to have resources here, such as geothermal energy, that we can use to generate much cheaper electricity.

Here’s why this is so important:

• We need enough food to eat, and we need to grow it here, instead of relying on it coming to us from somewhere else.

Food security – having enough food to eat, right here where we live – is truly the bottom line. We live in the middle of an ocean, we import more than 80 percent of what we eat, and sometimes there are natural or other disasters and shipping disruptions. This makes a lot of us a little nervous.

• To grow our food here, we need for our farmers to make a decent living: “If the farmers make money, the farmers will farm.”

The price of oil, and of petroleum byproducts like fertilizers and many other farming products, keeps going up, which raises farmers’ costs. They cannot pass on all these higher costs, and they lose money.

We use oil for 70 percent of our electricity here in Hawai‘i, whereas on the mainland they use oil for only 2 percent of theirs—so when the cost of oil increases, anything here that requires electricity to produce is less competitive. And farmers in Hawai‘i also pay four times as much for electricity as do their mainland competition, which puts them at an even bigger competitive disadvantage. Fewer young people are going into farming and this will impact our food security even further.

HELCO needs to be a major driver in reducing the cost of electricity. We believe that HELCO is fully capable of providing us with reliable and less costly electrical power, and ask that the PUC reviews its directives to and agreements with HELCO. Its directives should now be that HELCO’s primary objective should be making significant reductions in the real cost of reliable electric power to Hawai‘i Island residents.

At the same time, we ask that HELCO be given the power to break out of its current planning mode in order to find the most practicable means of achieving this end. We will support a long-range plan that realistically drives down our prices to ensure the viability of our local businesses and the survivability of our families. All considerations should be on the table, including power sources (i.e., oil, natural gas, geothermal, solar, biomass, etc.), changes in transmission policy including standby charges, and retaining currently operating power plants.

This is not “us” vs. “them.” We are all responsible for creating the political will to get it done.

Rising electricity costs act like a giant regressive tax: the people on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder get hurt first, and hardest. If our energy costs are lower – and we can absolutely make that happen – our farmers can keep their prices down, food will be cheaper, and consumers will have more money left over at the end of the month. This is good for our people, and for our economy.

We have good resources here and we need to maximize them. Geothermal and other options for cheaper for energy. We also have the University of Hawai‘i, the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center and others that help our farmers.

To learn more about achieving cheaper electricity rates, consider joining the Big Island Community Coalition (bigislandcommunitycoalition.com; there’s no cost). We send out an occasional email with information on what we’re doing to get electricity costs down, and how people can help.

Remember the bottom line: every one of us needs to call for cheaper electricity, and this will directly and positively impact our food security.

Richard Ha is a farmer on the Big Island’s Hamakua coast, a member of the state’s Board of Agriculture, and chairman of the Big Island Community Coalition.

***

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Ag Committee Hearing a Success; Meeting With Sen. Ruderman

Richard Ha writes:

The state's Committee on Agriculture hearing was today, and they approved the governor's nominating me for a second term on the Board of Agriculture. It was a unanimous vote. The next step is that the nomination will go to the full Senate.

I told the committee that my role on the board will be to encourage food security, which involves farmers farming, and if the farmers make money the farmers will farm. There are two parts to that, I said: lowering the farmers' costs, and lowering the farmers' customers' costs. I said that energy and agriculture are inextricably tied together, and that we have natural resources that can lower farmers' costs as well as farmers' customers' costs.

Also, Senator Ruderman asked to meet with me today, and we had a good talk. He apologized for his choice of words, and I accepted his apology. I told him I understand, and that these things happen and I didn't take it personally.

He said, "I'm still buying your tomatoes, you know," meaning for his natural foods stores. I told him, "I know." 

He was under the mistaken impression that I am anti-organic, and I told him that by no stretch of the imagination am I anti-organic. I think we need all farmers as we go into our uncertain future and try to feed everybody. I told him I would be an advocate for organic farmers on this board, actually.

He told me if I grew organic tomatoes, he'd pay me more for them, and I said I would look into it. 

We discussed that we should be talking with each other more, to seek common ground, and I told him I'm more than happy to do that. I think we can start to have a civil conversation, respect each other and try to figure out where we want to take the Big Island in the future. 

After we talked, I said, "So, you going to still buy my tomatoes or what?" We had a good laugh. It was a good meeting and I was happy with it.

I always come back to the most important thing we need to take into the future is the spirit of aloha. I feel that very strongly.

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