Energy and Environment Blog

From Mauka to Makai

·By Sophie Cocke

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.

·By Sophie Cocke

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:

Energy & Environment

HECO Moves Forward With 6 New Oahu Solar Projects

The electric utility has submitted six new contracts to the Public Utilities Commission for review.

·By Sophie Cocke

Hawaiian Electric Co. is seeking approval for six, new solar projects on Oahu that have been waived from the competitive bidding process.

These projects, combined with a prior contract signed with NextEra Energy, which is in the process of buying the electric utility, total 222 megawatts, according to a HECO press release.

The projects, if approved by the Public Utilities Commission, will be sited in Waipahu, Waialua, Mililani, Waianae, Waipio and Waiawa.

Solar projects submitted to the PUC for review.


“Our companies have never before signed agreements for this much new renewable energy at one time,” Shelee Kimura, a HECO vice president, said in a press release. “This is a significant step toward transforming the generation portfolio on Oahu to achieve our aggressive, low-cost clean energy goals we put forth to the PUC in August.”

The average price of the seven, solar projects is 14 cents per kilowatt-hour, or about 11 percent below the current cost of generating electricity from oil, according to HECO.

HECO submitted a contract with NextEra to the PUC in October for a 15-mw solar farm in Waianae, which is still awaiting PUC approval.

All of the solar farms are in response to a HECO invitation to developers for low-cost renewable energy proposals. The PUC granted HECO’s request to waive the projects from the competitive bidding process, allowing the utility to move more expeditiously in acquiring clean energy.

The utility-scale solar projects represent a significant portion of Oahu’s present generation capacity of 1800 megawatts. HECO also has 260 megawatts of rooftop solar.


Hawaii’s Tuna Fishing Limits Challenged

A federal lawsuit wants to limit how many more bigeye tuna Hawaii's longline fleet can catch this year.

·By Nick Grube

Hawaii’s holiday sashimi could be in short supply this year if conservation groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, get their way in a lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday.

The organizations argue the National Marine Fisheries Services violated an international agreement to end overfishing of bigeye tuna when the agency announced Hawaii longliners could exceed their annual catch quota by using unmet allotments from other parts of the Pacific.

Hawaii’s bigeye tuna catch is the subject of a new lawsuit filed by conservation groups.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

Civil Beat first reported on the issue in October when U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz lauded the decision, saying it was important to boost the quota to make sure there was enough ahi on the islands for families to enjoy.

But the Center for Biological Diversity as well as other groups find the decision problematic for a number of reasons. Not only have big eye tuna been overfished for years, but longline fishing can be indiscriminate resulting in catching other species, such as sharks, dolphins and seabirds.

“The solution for saving bigeye tuna is not creating a new loophole so they can be fished even more,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Catherine Kilduff said in a press release. “We need to be smart about protecting this valuable resource, or soon it’ll be gone.”

Other parties to the lawsuit, which you can read here, are the Conservation Council for Hawaii and the Turtle Island Restoration Network. The organizations are represented by Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who is based in Honolulu.

Nonprofits Appeal Court Decision That Killed Kauai Anti-GMO Law

The Kauai County Council set aside $12,750 for the appeal last week.

·By Anita Hofschneider

Four nonprofit groups are appealing a federal court decision that overturned Kauai County’s highly debated anti-GMO law.

The Kauai County Council also approved up to $12,750 for the appeal last week.

Bill 2491, also known as Ordinance 960, required large agricultural companies to share details about their use of restricted pesticides, respect buffer zones when spraying pesticides, and disclose their cultivation of genetically modified crops.

A federal judge struck down the law last month, concluding that the county doesn’t have the right to regulate pesticides and genetically engineered crops.

Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho speaks at a news conference in front of Honolulu Hale about a federal court decision that struck down a Kauai County ordinance that requires biotechnology companies to disclose their cultivation of genetically modified crops and use of restricted pesticides on August 25, 2014.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The decision was a victory for the seed companies that opposed the new rules, including Syngenta Seeds, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Agrigenetics, and BASF Plant Sciences.

Ka Makani Hoopono, Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network North America and Surfrider Foundation, which had previously intervened to defend the county, announced Wednesday that they have appealed the decision. They are being represented by attorneys from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.

“We stand with the people of Kauai,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit advocacy group, in a press release. “Contrary to the court’s unfortunate decision, they do have the authority to protect themselves from multinational corporations taking advantage

·By Sophie Cocke

Hawaiian Electric Co. is asking its Oahu customers to cut back on their air conditioners, limit hot showers, dishwashing and and cooking to avoid power outages this evening.

The hot, muggy weather, light winds and a downed power plant have contributed to heightened demand and decreased power supply, according to a HECO press release. A power plant owned by Kalaeloa Partners is out of service due to “unexpected repairs” and Oahu’s wind farms aren’t generating a lot of energy because of the low winds.

Customers are being asked to conserve energy between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

“Although Hawaiian Electric anticipates it will be able to serve the evening peak demand for electricity, available backup generation reserves will be very low,” according to the press release. “Should demand for electricity remain high and another unplanned loss of generation occur, power outages may occur.”


Is Whole Foods Profiteering on Anti-GMO Fears?

A journalist writing for the Daily Beast suggests the health food market chain has cynical motives.

·By Eric Pape

Are Whole Foods Markets cynically playing on the ignorance of anti-GMO consumers to maximize the company’s profits? That’s the core question raised by journalist Michael Schulson in his Sept. 15 article, “Whole Foods’ Anti-GMO Swindle.”

Schulson’s logic, laid out in the Daily Beast, is that the small “Non-GMO Project Verified” labels found on many products for sale in Whole Foods’ pricey stores are there to cash in on fear, rather than to protect consumers.

He describes what he sees as a sort of collusion of interests between Whole Foods, other health food companies and nonprofit lobbyist groups that are working to secure obligatory labeling. He argues that the labels create an “appearance of danger” and that such companies have a vested interest in stoking a “cultural conflict.”

Advocates on both sides of the GMO issue accuse the other side of being disingenuous or worse.

John Pritchett/Civil Beat

Some advocates of labeling are convinced that GMOs are terribly dangerous. Others say people should have the right to know what they’re eating.

The author suggests he isn’t a blind supporter of genetically engineered foods. If anyone says, he writes, “GMOs are 100-percent-safe-and-great-forever-and-ever-amen, then that person is lying to you.”

Research can’t yet speak with certainty about the long-term affects of consuming GMOs, but many of the world’s most respected scientific organizations and publications have concluded that genetically engineered foods are as safe to eat as other foods in the time frames they have studied.

“Embracing GMOs blindly has its risks, of course,” Schulson writes. “The

Capitol Watch

Report: GMO Labeling Opponents Triple Spending

Monsanto, Du Pont, others devote millions of dollars toward lobbying.

·By Nathan Eagle

Groceries, food makers and biotech companies opposed to laws that would require genetically modified products to be labeled have spent far more money lobbying this year than in 2013.

Reuters has reported that the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto, DuPont, Coca-Cola and others opposed to mandatory labeling spent $27.5 million during the first six months of 2014, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that supports GMO labeling. That’s up from $9.3 million in all of 2013.

Groups who support GMO labeling have disclosed spending $1.9 million in lobbying expenses during the first half of 2014, up from $1.6 million the previous year.

An aerial view of Monsanto Company’s fields on Molokai, part of Maui County.

GMA Vice President Mike Gruber told Reuters that the EWG report is “grossly misleading,” noting that the lobbying expenses go toward many other issues besides GMO labeling.

The GMO labeling issue is expected to resurface next year in the Hawaii Legislature, which has batted it down time and again in recent sessions.

Civil Beat reported last month that the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation plans to spend $400,000 as part of a public relations campaign to convince voters that genetically engineered farming is good. It’s partly in response to a ballot initiative in Maui County that would ban genetically modified farming until it’s deemed safe.

Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban put over $80,000 into ads on local TV stations last week. Civil Beat reported Monday that the ads are likely the first of many this election to focus on biotechnology

·By Sophie Cocke

Hawaiian Electric Co. is warning customers on Oahu who have hooked up solar systems to its grid without the utility’s approval to shut them down or utility workers will.

“After sufficient notice, if a customer does not disconnect the PV system and notify Hawaiian Electric, PUC rules give the utility authority to shut off the system and lock it to prevent interconnection until technical and other checks confirm it is safe,” according to a HECO press release. “Regular electric service will continue for customers with locked-out PV systems.”

The utility doesn’t have an estimate on how many customers may have rogue systems hooked up to its grid, but there are ways for the utility to figure out if an individual customer is operating an unapproved solar system, according to HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.

solar panels

Blue Planet Foundation

Meter readers who see homes with rooftop solar systems can check them against a list of approved systems, he noted. If a customer’s electricity bill suddenly drops and stays low or at the minimum $17 per month fee, this could be an indication that they are using solar. Rosegg said another sign could be if a homeowner takes out a building permit for a solar system, but then never sends HECO a net energy metering agreement application.

HECO must approve the application in order for the customer to turn the system on and use HECO’s grid as essentially battery storage.

“So now we are starting to send out letters to those we suspect of having a system

Capitol Watch

Lava Flow Prompts Hawaii Governor to Sign Emergency Proclamation

Preparations underway as lava may cross highway near Pahoa soon.

·By Nathan Eagle

A new lava flow on the Big Island has spurred Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie to sign an emergency proclamation.

The lava, which is coming from vents that opened in June, is expected to reach the boundary of the Kaohe Homesteads as soon as Tuesday. If it continues to flow east-northeast, it will eventually cross Highway 130.

County officials have identified two abandoned roads — Railroad Avenue and Government Beach Road — to be improved and used as alternate routes should access be cut off by the lava flow.

The lava flow inches toward Kaohe Homesteads subdivision, a portion of which is seen at bottom right in this Sept. 3 photo.

Tim Orr/USGS

“Health officials are also advising all residents living near the lava flow to plan ahead for potential smoke from burning vegetation and low levels of sulfur dioxide,” Abercrombie said in a release Friday. “Conditions for nearby communities may vary widely due to the unpredictability of wind and weather.”

The disaster emergency relief period goes until Oct. 15, according to the proclamation.

Residents are also encouraged to enroll in local notification systems and monitor local radio and television broadcasts, the release says.

You can see more photos and track the flow’s progress on the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory’s website here.

Read the emergency proclamation below.

Food Industry Leverages Hawaii Court Ruling in Vermont GMO Labeling Fight

The Grocery Manufacturers Association cited an Aug. 22 decision by Judge Kurren blocking the Center for Food Safety from defending Hawaii County's GMO farming ban.

·By Anita Hofschneider

Opponents of Vermont’s new GMO labeling law are citing a recent federal court ruling in Hawaii to try to block the Center for Food Safety from helping to defend Vermont, Politico reported Wednesday.

On Aug. 22, Judge Barry Kurren denied the Center for Food Safety’s request to intervene on behalf of Hawaii County to defend the county’s new partial ban on genetically engineered crops. The Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and several other farming groups sued the county in June saying that the law was unfair and burdensome.

Politico reported that just five days after the ruling, the Grocery Manufacturers Association filed a notice of supplemental authority in its case challenging Vermont’s new GMO labeling law.

“CFS had failed to rebut the presumption of adequate representation by the government, and that amicus status would provide CFS sufficient means to express its views,” GMA argued.

Hawaii has become a hotbed for legislation and litigation regarding genetically modified farming as more residents have grown fearful of living near fields owned by Monsanto Company and other biotech giants.

Kurren recently struck down a Kauai County ordinance that required more disclosure from biotech companies, saying that counties don’t have the authority to regulate pesticide use.

A papaya tree on the Big Island.

Sophie Cocke/Civil Beat

The Beat

Ban Ki-Moon Sails on Hokulea, Hikianalia

UN secretary general pays visit to historic vessels in Apia, Samoa.

·By Chad Blair

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sailed aboard Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia in Apia Harbor, Samoa yesterday.

According to a press release from the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the UN leader joined the worldwide voyaging crew along with artist Wyland and Blue Planet founder Henk Rogers.

“Hōkūle’a, our voyaging canoe, threads together stories of hope as she voyages across the world’s oceans,” said Nainoa Thompson, president and master navigator of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. “We are inspired that His Excellency Ban Ki-moon and island leaders are coming together on Hōkūle’a’s deck around shared values of preserving and protecting our oceans.” 

Ban Ki-moon presented Thompson and the crew with a handwritten message in a bottle that he asked them to carry with them as they circle the globe.

Naiona Thompson and Ban Ki-moon go for a cruise.

Polynesian Voyaging Society

The message stated, “I am honored to be a part of Hōkūle’a’s Worldwide Voyage. I am inspired by its global mission. As you tour the globe, I will work and rally more leaders to our common cause of ushering in a more sustainable future, and a life of dignity for all.” 

The sail represented the theme of the worldwide voyage, Mālama Honua, or “Care for Our Island Earth.”

The secretary general with in Samoa for an ongoing United Nations Small Island Developing States conference focused on island nations that are vulnerable to climate change.

“People often say we are in the same boat,” Ban Ki-moon said at the conference. “I would say we

·By Anita Hofschneider

The Maui County Clerk has released the wording of a ballot initiative that would ban genetically engineered crops, and it appears no one is happy with it.

A group called Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban says the title is confusing and wants it to be corrected.

“The ballot title as presently phrased is misleading and deceptive toward both proponents and opponents equally,” said the group’s spokesman, Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez in a statement.

Asked if the organization would consider filing a lawsuit over the wording, the group’s field coordinator Doug Gray said in an email, “Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban is considering all appropriate actions to ensure that a clear, fair and unbiased ballot title is presented to the voters of Maui County.”

The SHAKA Movement, the organization behind the voter initiative, is also unhappy.

“We don’t like it as they left the word ‘moratorium’ off the title,” the group’s spokesman, Bruce Douglas, said in email. He noted that the bill was called a moratorium when it was heard in the Maui County Council.

“Now all of a sudden they changed the name after a year of it being officially called a moratorium,” he said. “It’s just wholly inappropriate and we are extremely disappointed.”

Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo said his office wrote the title and question based on the proposed ordinance as well as input from both sides of the issue.

Read the ballot measure for yourself:

MAUI: Voter Initiative: Genetically Engineered Organisms

Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of

·By Nathan Eagle

The feds have decided that no corals in Hawaiian waters are worth protecting under the Endangered Species Act at this point.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that 20 new corals will be listed as threatened, but they are all found in the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific.

The original petition, filed in 2009 by the Center for Biological Diversity, sought protections for 83 reef-building corals — nine of which are found in Hawaii.

Coral on the north shore of Oahu, August 2014.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

In 2012, NOAA proposed protecting 12 of those as endangered and 54 as threatened. But after two more years of public testimony, outcry from fishermen and threats of lawsuits by environmental groups, the list was boiled down to 20. 

“The final decision is a result of the most extensive rulemaking ever undertaken by NOAA,” Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said in a release. “The amount of scientific information sought, obtained and analyzed was unprecedented.”

NOAA received roughly 32,000 comments through electronic submissions, letters and oral testimony during public hearings. 

The feds attributed the significant departure from the 2012 proposed rule to the public comments and availability of new scientific papers on climate change and coral habitat, distribution and abundance. 

“Coral reefs are one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth, providing habitat for many marine species,” Sobeck said. “Protecting and conserving these biologically rich ecosystems is essential, and the Endangered Species Act gives us the

Energy and Environment Blog

‘If You’re the Bad Guy, Everybody Needs to Know’

Hawaii Environmental Council talking invasive species, climate change at annual planning meeting.

·By Nathan Eagle

Glenn Teves, the longtime University of Hawaii agriculture extension agent on Molokai, is tired of everyone being so nice.

“If you’re the bad guy, everybody needs to know,” he said. “The nursery industry is the bad guy.”

Teves is part of the Hawaii Environmental Council, a 15-member group (minus four vacancies) that was holding its annual strategic planning meeting Thursday at the Capitol.

A stream runs through a forest on Kauai. The Hawaii Environmental Council held their annual planning meeting Thursday, discussing ways to protect native ecosystems.

The council spent the morning hearing from experts about the ecological and economical problems caused by invasive species and climate change that Hawaii must confront. The afternoon session was slated to focus on goals for the coming year and strategies to achieve them.

Teves and others blame the nursery industry for bringing in bugs and plants that damage Hawaii’s natural ecosystems and cause other problems.

The nursery industry was hardly the only one to be singled out during the discussion. The Department of Agriculture was noted for its lack of enforcement teeth, the Attorney General’s Office was mentioned for sitting on proposed rules that could make a difference and the military and all its airfields were blamed for not being more responsive to the problem.

The council falls under the purview of the Office of Environmental Quality Control, led by its new director, Jessica Wooley, who was confirmed last legislative session.

Check out the meeting’s agenda here and look to Civil Beat later for a full report.