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Sophie Cocke

Sophie Cocke is a reporter for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at or follow her on twitter at @sophiecocke.
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Courtesy of Puna Geothermal Venture

Hawaii Electric Light Co. has selected Ormat Technologies to provide an additional 25-megawatts of geothermal energy to the Big Island.

The company, with headquarters in Reno, Nevada, already operates the state’s sole geothermal plant, Puna Geothermal Venture.

Puna Geothermal plant on the Big Island.

Courtesy of Puna Geothermal Venture

The selection closes a drawn-out competitive bidding process that the electric utility initiated in November 2012. Companies were asked to resubmit bids after the utility said the proposals came in too high.

“Ormat was selected based on numerous criteria, including attractive pricing, technical design and capability, financial soundness, as well as commitment to resolving all environmental issues and to working with our Hawai‘i Island communities,” Jay Ignacio, HELCO’s president, said in a press release.

A formal contract for the energy still needs to be negotiated and submitted to the Public Utilities Commission for review, according to a HELCO spokeswoman.

More than 47 percent of the Big Island’s electricity is currently generated from renewable resources, including wind, hydro, rooftop solar and geothermal, according to HELCO.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Mayor Kirk Caldwell will deliver his third annual State of the City address on Tuesday at 8 a.m. at Foster Botanical Garden.

It’s an invitation-only event, as was the mayor’s first address in 2013.

The address will be lived streamed on, and KITV Mobile, and the Hawaii News Now mobile app, and at, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. 

Last year, the mayor’s speech emphasized his focus on alleviating homelessness, meeting his island-wide road repaving goals and his efforts to create a more bike-friendly city.

The mayor also touted the city’s legal triumphs over rail opponents, allowing the project to move forward.

However, this year Caldwell is facing a political hot potato with the rail project as costs have soared, contributing to a $900 million budget shortfall. The mayor has been lobbying state officials to extend the General Excise Tax to pay for the project. Rail officials have warned that the project could run out of cash by this summer.


Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell at his 2014 State of the City address.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Blue Planet Foundation

Hawaii’s solar industry has lost 400 jobs since 2013 and currently employs 2,200 people, according to a new report released by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit solar research organization.

The 15 percent decline was quickly panned by the local solar industry, which blames Hawaiian Electric Co. for the job losses.

For economic and technological reasons, HECO has slowed the amount of rooftop solar it’s allowed on its electric grids.

“It’s outrageous that Hawaii — with all of its abundant sunshine — is losing the economic and environmental benefits of a vibrant solar industry. The blame for this loss rests on Hawaiian Electric.” Robert Harris, a spokesman for the Alliance for Solar Choice, said in a Thursday press release. “For almost two years now, Hawaiian Electric held up the solar industry on a false premise. The solar industry consistently maintained, and now Hawaiian Electric finally admits, that vastly higher amounts of rooftop solar can be installed on the grid.”

HECO still leads the nation, however, in the percentage of customers who have installed rooftop solar on their homes — about 12 percent — and the utility has recently loosened restrictions on solar installations on Oahu.

Hawaii’s solar market has been particularly robust because of the state’s high electricity rates, which are the most expensive in the country and in recent years have averaged three times the national average.

More data from the report:

PF Benley/Civil Beat

Councilman Ron Menor introduced a resolution on Thursday that would establish a city housing office in charge of affordable housing and housing for the homeless.

The Department of Housing would have cabinet-level status, ensuring that affordable housing issues receive high priority, Menor said in a press release.

Resolution 15-43 directs the City Charter Commission to review the proposal and approve a charter amendment that would be placed on the ballot during the 2016 election.

Marin Tower, one of the city’s affordable housing properties

PF Benley/Civil Beat

“We have a housing and homelessness crisis and the city needs to be bold and proactive,” Menor said in a statement to the media. “In this regard, I think the timing is right for a serious discussion to occur about whether a housing department is needed on the city level.”

This fiscal year the city appropriated $42 million to help house the homeless, as part of its Housing First initiative.

Menor noted that the other counties have such offices. Honolulu’s was eliminated in 1998.

The new department would take over the duties of the current Department of Community Services as it relates to affordable housing by July 1, 2017. It would also absorb a new housing office that Mayor Kirk Caldwell created this year for the same purpose, called the Strategic Development Office. That office is administratively attached to the community services department.

“Right now, the administration of the city’s housing programs appears to be somewhat fragmented and lines of accountability blurred, and so it sometimes is tough to figure out who’s

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Honolulu City Council have placed a major emphasis on a so-called Housing First strategy that places the most chronically homeless individuals and families into long-term housing. It’s a trend that has been gaining momentum on the mainland in recent years.

The tents of homeless people line both sides of Olomehani Street in Kakaako near the Ohe Street intersection.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In Room for Debate, the New York Times dissects some of the arguments for and against the policy. An excerpt:

More cities have adopted a homeless policy which might seem like common sense — give homeless people housing. Proponents say it saves money over time and is more humane.Opponents call it a naive approach to a complicated problem, which also costs too much.

Read the discussion here.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Senate Water and Land Committee has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Carleton Ching, Gov. David Ige’s pick to lead the Department of Land and Natural Resources, for Wednesday, March 11 at 10 a.m.

The hearing, which will include public testimony, will take place at the State Capitol in room 229.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Laura Thielen, will vote on whether or not to approve Ching’s nomination, though the vote is purely advisory.  The full Senate will then take up Ching’s nomination.

Carleton Ching

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige’s nomination of Ching to lead DLNR immediately sparked opposition from local environmental groups and critics who find his background in land development troubling, as well as his lack of experience in the protection and conservation of natural resources — DLNR’s stated mission. As head of DLNR, Ching would also chair the powerful land board and water commission.

Ching is currently on leave from Castle & Cooke, one of Hawaii’s major landowners and developers, while he awaits confirmation.

Numerous environmental groups issued statements on Wednesday expressing their continued opposition to Ching’s nomination in light of the scheduled hearing.

“DLNR deserves an expert at its helm,” Marti Townsend executive director of The Outdoor Circle, said in a statement to the media.  “After marathon meetings with community leaders over the last month, Mr. Ching still has not demonstrated a command of the subject matter.”

Ching was also criticized for his tenure as president and vice president of the Land Use Research Foundation in a joint statement

Courtesy of ProVision Solar

Hawaii far outpaces other states when it comes to rooftop solar with now nearly 12 percent of customers pulling electricity from their own photovoltaic panels, compared to a .5 percent national average.

But the state’s solar boom has hit major hurdles in the past couple years as Hawaiian Electric Co. has faced technological and economic challenges in adding more solar to its grids.

ProVision Solar

Hawaii’s solar troubles are gaining national attention. From The Guardian:

“The economic obstacles also have been formidable. After a century of receiving power from utilities, customers are now generating their own power and helping the grid to balance supply and demand via smart appliances that can curtail electricity demand when required. To manage this more complex relationship, utilities must invest in new infrastructure. Buying surplus power at retail rates via credits to homeowners with solar panels also creates a revenue drain. ‘Essentially, the utility is now competing with its own customers,’ said Bentham Paulos, a clean energy consultant.”

Read the full story here.