Tag Archives: Wally Ishibashi

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.


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.


Kenoi Can Guide Big Island into Uncharted Future

Richard Ha writes:

Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has consistently made the point that in this changing world, we, too, must change. He pointed that out again recently: That our highest-in-the-nation electricity cost – which is 25 percent higher than O‘ahu’s – is too heavy a burden for the Big Island’s people to bear. To help the most defenseless among us, as well as our local businesses, we need lower cost renewable electricity; not higher cost electricity.

The mayor has consistently been in favor of finding lower cost alternatives to the status quo (which is, of course, dependency on
expensive fossil fuels). The Geothermal Working Group, co chaired by Wally Ishibashi and me and authorized by the Hawai‘i State Legislature, could not have carried out its work without the mayor’s backing. It was an unfunded mandate implemented by volunteers. The mayor just told his people, “Make sure they have what they need.”

Mayor Kenoi is a quick learner; one who gets both the big picture and the small one.

He led a delegation to Ormoc City, Philippines to see how 700 MW of geothermal energy was developed in a place with a population size similar to the Big Island. I was on that trip and saw how the Philippines is way ahead of us in assessing and utilizing its resource. It’s a great credit to Filipino leaders that, as the Philippines incorporates more geothermal into its grid, the country will be very well-positioned to cope in a world of rising oil

The Philippines produces a large percentage of the food its people eat, too, as compared to Hawai‘i. Our trip also resulted in a university-to-university relationship.

It’s not that geothermal is the only solution. But because we have geothermal here on the Big Island, that fact-finding trip was a responsible thing to do. That was a very practical, useful and cost effective trip Billy led.

Sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawai‘i is vulnerable to events out of its control, and is sailing into uncharted waters. It’s similar to when our early predecessors sailed up from the south to find a better life.

Who can I see leading today’s expedition that carries the Big Island to a better tomorrow?

I see Billy Kenoi as that leader.


Very Successful Meeting on Geothermal Facts

Richard Ha writes:

Approximately 100 people showed up last night at the Leilani Estate Community Center to learn the facts about geothermal energy.

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Some of the testimony – from folks who have worked at the geothermal facility, as well as those who live close by – was especially impactful. 

I took 10 minutes to talk about a danger we are facing: Rising oil prices. If we have sincere dialogue among all the parties, we can start to see that rising oil prices will threaten our social fabric – and most of all, our spirit of aloha. And maybe we can do something about it. But we don’t have the luxury of time.

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Why can’t we, here on the Big Island, have lower electricity rates than O‘ahu? It would lessen pressure on the most vulnerable families, help farmers compete, help businesses create more jobs and prevent the export of our most precious resource – our children.

Mike Kaleikini, Plant Manager of Puna Geothermal Venture, talked about the history of geothermal production, mitigation measures and safety regulations. Mike has a way of explaining complex issues that is easy to understand.

Don Thomas gave a talk about the technical side of the H2S issue, which had a big impact on the audience. Both Mike and Don are very credible, as they have actual, real-life experience and speak about facts that are verifiable.

I would say the crowd was 70 to 30 percent for geothermal. But it isn’t a matter of “us” against “them.” It was the discussion and sharing of information that was most important. At some point, I hope soon, we can come to grips with the larger issues of rising prices, and how we can maximize our resources in a smart and responsible way.

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To cap things off, Mayor Billy Kenoi showed up after the mayoral candidate debate in Pahoa concluded. He did a good job of explaining, in a commonsense way, why there is no need for the council bill. It is redundant and adds problems that are unnecessary.

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All attending were Councilman Fred Blas as well as Representative Faye Hanohano.

Late last night we received a note from Petra Wiesenbauer, Jan Kama and Loren Avedon, who organized the meeting:

Richard, Mike, and Don,

Mahalo for an outstanding presentation tonite to the residents of Leilani Estates and community members.  There were many comments after the meeting that people had a better understanding of how the plant operates and its impact on the community.  Whether or not they understand the difference between H2S and SO2 is questionable, but at least they feel more comfortable knowing that they are not as much at risk as they thought. 

And Petra Wiesenbauer, who lives in and runs a B&B in Leilani Estates, sent along some further comments of her own about the meeting (as well as the photos in this post):

I think it was an extremely good meeting last night. I am so proud of everybody for staying focused and respectful.

Don Thomas was absolutely excellent. It was so good to have him there with all the numbers of emissions, comparisons of different regions and being able to putting things into perspective, i.e., the Volcano blasting out 600 to 1,000 tons of stuff every day. He was able to dismantle some of the myths and clear up rumors and anxieties.

Mike was really, really good, too in making transparent what is going on at the plant and the strict restrictions they are under in regards to their monitoring, their chemicals and general equipment maintenance.

That the Mayor was able to come at the end was an added bonus and gave the whole meeting a great finale.

I talked to Jeff Melrose a little and he said, that they are working on a brochure/informational materials about disaster response/evacuation, safety and other community concerns regarding geothermal development. He is such a great guy as well and so knowledgeable about all the Big Island planning and land dealings. He thought it was the best meeting he has been to in a long time about this whole controversy and he thought it was amazing, that something like that had not been done much earlier.

I give so much credit for the course of the evening to Loren [Avedon], our moderator. He was great and made sure there were no lengthy statements, self indulgence, lamentations and other behaviors from any of the audience that could have been counterproductive to the outcome of the meeting.

 The whole meeting came about as a result of this note that had been sent around about the July 19th County Council meeting:

“There was something odd about today’s County Council meeting…all of us testifying at the Pahoa office were in opposition to the legislation, with the exception of three people.  Apparently the anti-geothermal group had received word that the bills would be postponed for 30 days.”

Those of us who attended the County Council meeting to override the Mayor veto of Bill 256 were prepared for more than 100 folks picketing the County building, and protesting loudly. But no one showed up.

The email back and forth resulted in someone asking me to post their testimony on my blog, which I did. Then on the 22nd, this note was sent around:

 “We would actually love to take you up on your offer to come here and give a talk to interested residents here in Leilani. It would be a good way to also promote the petition http://www.change.org/petitions/hawaii-county-council-petition, and therefore it would be great to do it as soon as possible. We were wondering if you had time on Tuesday at around 6:30pm. If not any other day that is convenient for you just let us know?”

By the next day, I had confirmed that Don Thomas, Wally Ishibashi and Mike Kaleikini would attend. All this happened really quickly.

With only two days notice, 100 people showed up, standing room only. I was amazed.

• Here is a recent Civil Beat article, titled “Arguments Against Geothermal Are ‘Absurdly Elitest,’ Says Scientist.

• You can still sign the Hawaii County Council petition here, which asks:

We humbly ask you to sign our petition before July 30th, 2012 asking the County Council of Hawaii to honor the Mayor’s veto of Bill 256, Draft 2. The bill would allow the County to create a one-mile safety buffer zone around the Puna Geothermal Power Plant. [Read more at the link]


Peak Oil in the Rear View Mirror; Geothermal in the Headlights

Last week Wally Ishibashi and I gave a presentation to the Hawaii County Council. There’s a video of our talk up now on local channel 52, where it will repeat from time to time.

Wally spoke about the Geothermal Working Group Report we gave to the legislature. I talked about “Peak Oil in the Rear View Mirror,” from the perspective of having been the only person from Hawai‘i to attend four Peak Oil conferences.

On Monday, I gave an essay presentation to the Social Science Association of Hawai‘i, whose members are prominent members of our community. This organization has been in operation since the 1800s.

From Kamehameha School Archives, 1886 January 21 -1892. Bishop becomes a member of the Social Science Association of Honolulu. All Bishop Estate Trustees and the first principal of Kamehameha Schools, William B. Oleson, are members. Members meet monthly to discuss topics concerning the well-being of society.

And yesterday I gave a “Peak Oil in the Rear View Mirror” presentation to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment (BAE) Committee.

I was interested to note that the Hawaii County Council, the Social Science Association of Hawaii and OHA’s BAE committee were all overwhelmingly in favor of stabilizing electricity rates. It was clear to everyone that we in Hawai‘i are extremely vulnerable, and also so lucky to have a game-changing alternative.

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Hawaii is the world’s most remote population in excess of 500,000 people. Almost everybody and everything that comes to Hawaii comes via ship or airplane using oil as fuel. As isolated as we are, we are vulnerable to the changing nature of oil supply and demand. There is trouble in paradise.

I explained how it was that a banana farmer came to be standing in front of them giving a presentation about energy.

My story started way back when I was 10 years old. I remember Pop talking about impossible situations, and suddenly he would pound the dinner table with his fist, the dishes would bounce, and he would point in the air. “Not no can, CAN!” And at other times: “Get thousand reasons why no can, I only looking for the one reason why can.” He would say, “For every problem, find three solutions …. And then find one more just in case.”

Once he said, “Earthquake coming. You can hear it and see the trees whipping back and forth and see the ground rippling.” He gave a hint: “If you are in the air you won’t fall down. What you going do?”

I said, “Jump in the air.” He said yes, and do a half turn. I asked why.

He said, “Because after a couple of jumps you see everything.”

Lots of lessons in what he told a 10-year-old kid. Nothing is impossible. Plan in advance.

I made my way through high school and applied to the University of Hawai‘i. But I came from small town Hilo, and there were too many places to go, people to see and beers to drink. I flunked out of school.

It was during the Vietnam era, and if you flunked out of school you were drafted. Making the best of the situation, I applied for Officers Candidate School and volunteered to go to Vietnam.

I found myself in the jungle with a hundred other soldiers. It was apparent that if we got in trouble, no one was close enough to help us. The unwritten rule we lived by was that “We all come back, or no one comes back.” I liked that idea and have kept it ever since.

I returned to Hawai‘i and reentered the UH. I wanted to go into business, so I majored in accounting in order to keep score.

Pop asked if I would come and run the family chicken farm. I did, and soon realized that there would be an opportunity growing bananas. Chiquita was growing the banana market and we felt that we could gain significant market share if we moved fast. But, having no money, we needed to be resourceful. So we traded chicken manure for banana keiki.

A little bit at a time we expanded, and after a bunch of transformations, we became the largest banana farm in the state. Then about 20 years ago we purchased 600 acres at Pepe‘ekeo and we got into hydroponic tomato farming.

Approximately seven years ago, we noticed that our farm input costs were rising steadily, and I found out that it was related to rising oil prices. So in 2007, I went to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conference to learn about oil. What I learned at that first ASPO conference was that the world had been using more oil than it was finding, and that it had been going on for a while.

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In addition to using more than we were finding, it was also apparent that the natural decline rate of the world’s cumulative oil fields needed to be accounted for. The International Energy Association (IEA) estimates that this decline rate is around 5 percent annually. This amounts to a natural decline of 4 million gallons per year. We will need to find the equivalent of a Saudi Arabia every two and a half years. Clearly we are not doing that, and will never do that.

At the second ASPO conference I attended, in Denver in 2009, I learned that the concept of Energy Return on Investment (EROI) was becoming more and more relevant. It takes energy to get energy, and the net energy that results is what is available for society to use. In the 1930s, getting 100 barrels of oil out of the ground took the energy in one of those barrels. In 1970, it was 30 to 1 and now it is close to 10-1.

Tar sands is approximately 4 to 1, while some biofuels are a little more than 1 to 1. And, frequently, fossil fuel is used to make biofuels. That causes the break-even point to “recede into the horizon.”

But the EROI for geothermal appears to be around 10 to 1. And its cost won’t rise for 500,000 to a million years.

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After the oil shocks of the early 1970s, the cost of oil per barrel was around the mid-$20 per barrel. That lasted for nearly 30 years.

In this graph above, one can see that oil would have cost around $35 per barrel in 2011, had inflation been the only influencer of oil price.

The cost of oil spiked in 2008, contributing to or causing the worst recession in history. In fact the last 10 recessions were related to spiking oil prices.

From late 2008 until mid-2009, the price of oil dropped as demand collapsed for a short time. But demand picked back up and the price of oil has climbed back to $100 per barrel – in a recession.

It is important to note that we in the U.S. use 26 barrels of oil per person per year, while in China each person uses only two barrels per person per year. Whereas we go into a recession when oil costs more than $100 per barrel, China keeps on growing. This is a zero sum game as we move per capita oil usage toward each other.

What might the consequences be as China and the U.S. meet toward the middle at 13 barrels of oil per person?

People are having a tough time right now due to rising energy-related costs. Two thirds of the economy is made up of consumer spending. If the consumer does not have money, he/she cannot spend.

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How will we keep the lights on and avoid flickering lights? Eighty percent of electricity needs to be firm, steady power. The other 20 percent can be unsteady and intermittent, like wind and solar. So the largest amount of electricity produced needs to have firm power characteristics.

There are four main alternatives being discussed today.

  1. Oil is worrisome because oil prices will likely keep on rising.
  2. Biofuels is expensive and largely an unproven technology. The EPA changed its estimation of cellulosic biofuel in 2011 from 250 million gallons to just 6.5 million gallons because cellulosic biofuels were not ready for commercial production.
  3. Biomass or firewood is a proven technology. Burn firewood, boil water, make steam, turn a generator – that’s a proven technology. It is limited because you cannot keep on burning the trees; they must be replenished. And it’s not clear where that equilibrium point is. There are also other environmental issues.
  4. That leaves geothermal.

The chain of islands that have drifted over the Pacific hotspot extends all the way up to Alaska. This has been going on for over 85 million years.

It’s estimated that the Big Island, which is over the hot spot now, will be sitting atop that hot spot for 500,000 to a million more years.

Of all the various base power solutions, geothermal is most affordable. Right now it costs around 10 cents per Kilowatt hour to produce electricity using geothermal, while oil at $100 per barrel costs twice as much. The cost of geothermal-produced electricity will stay steady. Allowing for inflation, geothermal generated electricity will stay stable for 500,000 to a million years, while oil price will rise to unprecedented heights in the near future.

Geothermal is proven technology. The first plant in Italy is 100 years old. Iceland uses cheap hydro and geothermal. It uses cheap electricity to convert bauxite to aluminum and sells it competitively on the world market. With the resulting hard currency, it buys the food that it cannot grow.

Iceland is more energy- and food-secure than we are in Hawai‘i. Ormoc City in the Philippines, which has a population similar to the Big Island, produces 700MW of electricity with its geothermal resource, compared to our 30 MW. Ormoc City shares the excess with other islands in the Philippines.

Geothermal is environmentally benign. It is a closed loop system and has a small footprint. A 30 MW geothermal plant sits on maybe 100 acres, while a similarly sized biomass project might take up 10,000 acres.

In addition, geothermal can produce cheap H2 hydrogen when people are sleeping. It is done by running an electric current through water releasing hydrogen and oxygen gas. One can make NH3 ammonia by taking the hydrogen and combining it with nitrogen in the air. That ammonia can be used for agriculture. NH3 ammonia is a better carrier of hydrogen that H2 hydrogen.

The extra H atom makes NH3 one third more energy-dense than H2 hydrogen. It can be shipped at ambient temperature in the propane infrastructure.

The use of geothermal can put future generations in a position to win when the use of hydrogen becomes more mature.

If we use geothermal for most of our base power requirements for electric generation, as oil prices rise we will become more competitive to the rest of the world. And our standard of living will rise relative to the rest of the world.

Then, because two thirds of GDP is made up of consumer spending, our people will have jobs and we will not have to export our most precious of all our resources – our children.

In addition, people will have discretionary income and will be able to support local farmers, and that will help us ensure food security.


Spoke to the Hawaii County Council’s Energy Committee

Wally Ishibashi and I gave a briefing to the Hawai‘i County Council Energy Committee yesterday. We are co-chairs of the Geothermal Working Group, which submitted its final report in time for this legislative session. Wally briefed them on the Working Group report, and I briefed them on the four Peak Oil conferences that I have attended.

People testifying commented about public safety such as evacuation plans and gas emissions, as did council members. As co-chairs, Wally and I are strongly in favor of addressing safety issues. Nothing is more important. The Working Group suggested streamlining procedures, but never at the expense of public safety.

Although the working group was not required to abide by the sunshine law, Wally and I believe in transparency, so we operated in the spirit of that idea as we worked on the Geothermal Working Group report.

We’ve had about 25 meetings with the community and we strongly believe that we must continue to “talk story.” The discussion must start from the ground up, and we encouraged the council members to arrange opportunities for us to engage their constituents.

The council members expressed support for energy independence, and for geothermal in particular. They are very aware of the vulnerability we face because we are located in the middle of the Pacific, where we rely on fossil fuels to sustain most of our lifestyle. It is about safety: physical, economical and societal safety.

I shared my perspective after having attended four Peak Oil conferences. The most significant thing that has changed recently is that the price oil is now being driven by increasing demand, rather than abundant supplies. For the past 150 years, it has been driven by abundant supplies.

That’s why we now have oil that costs $100 per barrel, even in a recession. If world economic activity increases, the price will go even higher. The changes that will come from this will be profound, and the effects will have human consequences. The rubbah slippah folks understand this clearly.

I offered my opinion that we do not have the luxury of waiting 10 years. I think that we may be lucky to have five years to make meaningful change. It is clear that we are moving too slow in terms of safeguarding the well-being of our people.


Hawaiian Perspectives in Support of Geothermal

Over the weekend I was on the panel of a Hilo Community meeting called “Hawaiian Perspectives in Support of Geothermal Development.” It was held at the UH Hilo, and I estimate that about 50 people attended. By far the majority of the folks there were in favor of geothermal development, provided it is done in a pono way.

Each panel member spoke about his/her area of interest.


From left to right, this is Wallace Ishibashi, co-chair of the Geothermal Working Group, and member of the Royal Order of Kamehameha; Robert Lindsey, Big Island OHA trustee, Geothermal Working Group member; Mililani Trask, Hawaiian legal rights attorney and consultant to Innovations Development Group

I talked from the point of view of a banana farmer who, five years ago, found his operating costs rising, and attended three Peak Oil conferences to learn how to position his business in a future of rising oil prices.

I talked about how there are serious outside forces at work. The world has been using twice as much oil as it has been finding, and has been doing so for the last 20 years. The winds of change will soon be blowing and oil prices will be rising. It is very serious, and we cannot afford to insist on individual agendas. It is no longer about us now; it is about future generations.

There are many ways that we can deal with depleting oil.

HECO’s plan of fueling with biofuels will cause electricity rates to rise. Rising electric rates means that folks on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder will be the first to have their lights shut off.

There are people who advocate small scale, individual solutions to energy independence. This approach will encourage those who are able to leave the grid to do so, and leave the folks that are unable to leave to pay for the grid.

Another, much better, alternative is to bring more geothermal on line. Geothermal is proven technology, clean and lower in cost than other base power solutions. The more geothermal we use, the more we protect ourselves from future oil shocks.

I told the group what I had asked Carl Bonham of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization: If we can maximize geothermal as our primary source of base power, will we become relatively more competitive to the rest of the world as oil prices rise? He said yes.

I told the group that we are lucky to have the options that we have, especially geothermal. Very few in the world are as lucky.

In modern Hawaiian history, our economy has taken, taken, taken and the culture has given given given. We are at a unique time now when the economy can give and the culture can receive.

Do we dare dream of prosperity for future generations? I believe that most felt that geothermal was the way to get us there.

There are a thousand reasons why “No can.” We are looking for the one reason why “CAN!”