Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hawai`i to host energy, water, agriculture, military conference in September

The Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit and Expo (APRISE2014) will be held at the Hawai‘i Convention Center from September 15 to 17, 2014.

Over the past four years the conference has established itself as Hawaii's premier energy event of the year.

The conference has traditional political stump speeches, fascinating energy talks and cutting edge projects under development.

LaserMotive was highlighted in 2011. They won a Defense Department challenge by developing a plane with solar panels on the underside of wings.

Everything from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to helicopters and planes can avoid the need to have heavy fuels on board. They can be powered by ground-based lasers.

In 2013 Governor Abercrombie gave one of his famous “My Way is the Only Way” speeches.

The Governor announced that his three prong Action Plan – Interisland Transmission Lines, Smart Grids and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) – was the only path forward.

Failure to act, on this kind of an Action Plan, is not an option, not an option if we’re going to survive. We’re not willing to allow our engines for economic transformation to hit the brick wall of indifference.”

True to his often bombastic style, Abercrombie then chastised those with opposing positions describing them as those who focus on “inaction and words to no effect.”

He stressed that the three Commissioners on the Public Utilities Commission are “political appointments” there to do his will. Only months later he tried to get rid of PUC Chair Hermina Morita.

Governor Abercrombie described how carefully he balances his views and how weak his opponents are.

Our third strategy is to balance technical, economic, environmental and cultural considerations. Yes, we have to take points of view into account. But an opinion that is merely opinion is not going to be good enough. It has to be science-based. It has to be reality-based.”

Governor Abercrombie was largely speaking to a business audience, as he had back in March 2012 when he addressed the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce.

West Hawaii Today editor Reed Flickinger captured the Governor’s speech that day.

“’There will be no more obstruction from someone who found their cultural roots six minutes ago.’ 

Abercrombie then leaned further to the right and addressed environmental laws, sounding particularly and uncharacteristically conservative.

Moving projects forward, in light of environmental laws, is important, but he said he ‘helped write some of those laws’ and ‘they are not meant to stop things.’ ‘Historic preservation (laws) never meant ‘I don’t like it so I’m going to stop it.’

He spoke of his quest for authority to move past ‘pseudo-environmental’ and cultural issues to fast-track things, adding ‘if you don’t approve, throw me out of office; I am accountable.’

He then took a strong right jab at due process and a long stride from constitutional balance of powers and said he’d like to throw some of the environmental and cultural opponents of projects ‘out of court.’”

Governor Abercrombie will open the 2014 conference the month after the primary, where residents of the Aloha State will decide if they want to re-elect the Governor.

During the past three years the conference has been called the Asia Pacific Clean Energy (APCE) conference, sometimes confused with the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings.

 This year the conference has been renamed: Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summit and Expo (APRISE2014). The conference is aimed at global business, technology and policy leadership.

The four pillars of the conference are energy, agriculture, water and security.

The new buzz word is resilience. How fast can a system recover from a disaster?

Registration by August 15 lowers the cost of the conference by $100.

The full conference fee is $595 (Hawaii residents), $695 (Out-of-state Government/Academic/Start-up) and $1095 (Industry/Corporate).

Over 30 exhibitors have signed up including Hawaiian Electric Company, Hawaii Energy, Hawaii Gas, Hawai`i State Energy Office (DBEDT), First Wind, AECOM and Sempra.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hawaiian Electric's new rate case under scrutiny

By Henry Curtis

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is required to file a rate case with the Public Utilities Commission every three years.

In June Hawaiian Electric filed their latest rate case, asking the Public Utilities Commission to accept an abbreviated filing with no adjustment to rates.

On the one hand, having no rate hike might seem desirable because customers are tired of high rates. But rates can still rise because of numerous surcharges imposed on customers.

What HECO actually asserted was that they can save $16,000,000. 

The savings could reduce rates.

But instead HECO wishes to reallocate those savings to fund other programs.

HECO is apparently re-submitting its disapproved Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) Report albeit in a different format, in the current “abbreviated” rate case.

One of the largest proposed expenditures is on Smart Grid pilot projects.

There are arguments for and against a Smart Grid.

There is sharp disagreement about what a Smart Grid is.

At one end of the spectrum, anything added to the system that increases efficiency, reliability and/or resilience is smart.

At the other end of the spectrum, a smart grid is a sophisticated electric/telecommunications transmission grid system that can self-monitor and self-heal.

HECO pilot projects and research require less PUC scrutiny than full-blown programs.

Rather than face any community opposition, HECO appears to be seeing how much money they can spend on the pilot project before seeking authorization for the program.

One argument goes -- the larger the wedge they can get into the doorway, the less likely the proposal will be stopped in the end.

Life of the Land and the Department of the Navy filed Motions to Intervene in the rate case.

On July 17 the Consumer Advocate wrote a letter to the Public Utilities Commission

“On June 27, 2014, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. ("Hawaiian Electric") filed a letter with certain attachments related to a 2014 test year rate increase application. …

At present, Hawaiian Electric's business and operations are subject to significant change as a result of the four orders issued by the Commission on April 28, 2014.

Hawaiian Electric is required to submit its Power Supply Improvement Plan ("PSIP") by August 26, 2014 that will state how it intends to integrate substantial amounts of variable renewable energy resources in a reliable and economic manner without significant curtailment of renewable resources.

Further, the ongoing investigation in Docket No. 2013-0141 may lead to structural changes to the existing decoupling mechanism.

The results from Docket No. 2013-0141 and the PSIP could have significant impacts on the determination of Hawaiian Electric's revenue requirements,' and the Consumer Advocate has concerns about the allocation of its resources towards reviewing the June 27 Letter as a rate increase application when the underlying assumptions may dramatically change as a result of Docket No. 2013-0141 and/or the PSIP.

Given the combination of the novel nature of the June 27 Letter and other ongoing regulatory matters, the next appropriate procedural step is not evident.

The breadth and scope of ongoing regulatory analyses are stretching the Consumer Advocate's ability to adequately allocate its resources.

Commission guidance on this matter would certainly clarify the necessary actions to follow Hawaiian Electric's June 27 Letter and the Consumer Advocate would proceed as appropriate to best serve the consumers' interests.”

The Public Utilities Commission must now decide how to handle to Consumer Advocate letter and Life of the Land’s Motion to Intervene.

The Public Utilities Commission may decide to wait until HECO files its Power Supply Improvement Plan before deciding what to do with the rate case.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cellana receives additional funding for algal-biofuel research

By Henry Curtis

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in July that Cellana will be given $3.5 million to further its research into algae-based biofuel and related products.

This new funding would bolster the $100 million already invested in the company.

The goal of the company is to use carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants to grow algae which could then be used as feedstock to make biofuels, marine and animal feed, cosmetics and industrial chemicals.

Cellana had been founded as a joint venture of HR BioPetroleum and Royal Dutch Shell PLC in 2007.

In 2008 Cellana signed a memoranda of understanding with Alexander & Baldwin and Hawaiian Electric Company and its subsidiary Maui Electric Company.

The joint venture would pursue development of an algae facility next to the Ma'alaea power plant on the island of Maui.

Royal Dutch Shell left the joint venture in 2011 and then HR BioPetroleum renamed itself Cellana.

HR BioPetroleum had been founded in 2004 by C. Barry Raleigh, following his retirement as the Dean of the School of Ocean, Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2003.

Former Hawaiian Electric Company CEO T. Michael May joined the Cellana board of directors in 2011. He is no longer associated with the project.

The dream of converting algae into biofuel and other useful projects is more than 70 years oil.

During WW2 German scientists proposed that microalgae be grown for food and fuel.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) mass produced algae on a rooftop in the 50s.

The University of California, Berkeley studied the algae to methane process in the 60s.

The US Department of Energy funded the Aquatic Species Program (1980-96). Twenty-five million dollars was invested by DOE.

There are three general problems with the generation of algae and its conversion to biofuel.

First is the percentage of oil found in the algae. The dream of algae scientists is to find or develop algae which is at least half oil. This may be possible through bioprospecting, genetic engineering and/or natural selection.

“We prefer to be in the tropical or subtropical regions because we want to rely on natural algae if possible, as opposed to genetically modified algae” said Cellana CEO Martin Sabarsky in 2011.

“We’re not opposed to genetically modified algae, we just think it’s easier to get regulatory and customer and partner acceptance when you’re dealing with natural strains.”

The second issue deals with removing the water content (drying out) the algae. This can create a smelly mess.

The third issue is the cost. To date, no one has penciled out a cost-effective process.

If algal-biofuel does pencil out in the long-run, it could be a game changer. Algae could provide green fuel for ground, marine and air transportation.

CELLANA LLC is listed with the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) Business Registration Division (BREG) as a “Foreign Limited Liability Company (LLC)” that was incorporated in Delaware.

“The purpose of the company shall be the further development and commercialization (including licensing and sub-licensing) of photosynthetic microbe-based co2 capture and biomass production technology and the production of the products (which consist of the following products that can be derived from photosynthetic microbes (a) feedstock for bio fuels products and for other substitutes for items currently made from petroleum and its derivatives, (b) fame, (c) proteins, and (d) carbohydrates and to engage in any and all activities related or incidental to the foregoing.”

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Henry Curtis: a self-interview

Why did you come to Hawai`i?

In 1987 I became involved with California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) in door-to-door campaigns to educate the public on environmental issues and to get legislation passed.

In 1991 I was one of six people to test the idea of expanding membership in the Sierra Club through door-to-door canvassing.

We canvassed Los Angeles for two weeks; the first day we went into Long Beach.

Later in 1991 I came to Hawai`i as part of an effort by U.S. PIRG to establish an office here.

As the plane took off to return me to California in 1992 -- I felt this incredibly strong pull pulling me back. I knew then that I had found my home.

What are you values?

I believe that answers lie within; that inward critique, analysis and reflection leads answers to questions. Why I am here? What is my purpose?

At a broader level, in seven generations no one alive then will know anyone who is alive now. Will the planet be better off or worse off as a result of my life?

I believe in diversity, tolerance and an understanding of different cultures and groups.

Who are your heroes, your mentors?

Besides my partner Kat, I’ve had three people over the course of my life who have greatly influenced me.

One of them is Jose Rizal (1861-97), the Filipino nationalist, novelist, poet, ophthalmologist, journalist, and revolutionary.

I spent six years attempting to write my only short story.

It attempts to interconnect Rizal’s struggles with the Kingdom of Hawai`i during the turmoil of the 1880s and 1890s.

As a child what career paths fascinated you?

I always thought I would wind up in biology, physics or computers. I loved differential equations.
I grew up on Star Trek.

Along the way I studied economics. My focus was on agricultural investment and trade.

I got into environmental activism purely by accident, or because of some grand design. I needed a job.

How did you come to Life of the Land?

Twenty years ago this month I attended a meeting of the Life of the Land Board of Directors. Eight months later I would become the Executive Director. Five months later I hired Kat Brady.

I served on the Sierra Club county and state executive committees, and was considered a candidate to be the Executive Director.

I became involved with the Ahupua`a Action Alliance, a coalition of environmental and Hawaiian activists.

I went to the library at the University of Hawai`i and went through 100+ years of microfiche, seeking an understanding of Hawaiian history and the history of the environmental movement.

I decided that Life of the Land offered the best opportunities to make a difference.

The organization was widely credited with founding the environmental movement in Hawai`i.

The group had worked on a broad range of issues: housing, jobs, forming eight O`ahu Neighborhood Boards, water, land, open government, energy, working with Hawaiian groups, public access, pesticides, hazardous waste, etc.

The organization had fallen on hard times; most people felt it had perished years ago.

How did you become involved in energy?

The Outdoor Circle and Malama O Manoa called me up in March 1996 and asked Life of the Land to join them in fighting HECO’s proposed Wa`ahila Ridge / Kamoku-Pukele 138-kV Transmission Line.

To educate myself on energy I spent 40 hours a week for 13 years reading documents and talking to people about energy.

One of the first things I did was to go to the Public Utilities Commission and pour through their microfiche.

Why did you start the ililani media blog?

In 2007 I took `Olelo community television’s producing, editing, directing and video camera training course. I was hooked!

I established the ililani media site and started writing some articles.

I was the first media person to interview then PUC Chair Carlito Caliboso.

I read that serious blogs are blogs that post articles every day. From 2010 to 2013 I wrote blogs sporadically for the DisappearedNews blog.

Last fall I interviewed PUC Commissioner Lorraine Akiba and asked Civil Beat the run the interview.

The editor stated that they run community pieces but not interviews.

So I posted it on my media site and decided to become a serious blogger. Since then I have averaged one article per day and my blog has had over 100,000 hits.

Where is in your future?

I have no idea. Life is exciting. I am at heart an optimist.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Disclosure: The Hawai`i Supreme Court and SB 2682

Two landmark actions are inter-related.

The Hawaii Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on July 16, 2014.

 The court’s decision is applicable to the mass exodus of people serving on boards and commissions following

The 2014 Legislature passed SB 2682 which requires financial disclosure by people serving on powerful state boards and commissions.

The Governor allowed the bill to become Act 230 without his signature.

On November 5, 2011 U.S. State Department special agent Christopher Deedy fatally shot Kailua resident Kollin Elderts during an altercation at a Waikiki McDonald’s.

The case was tried in 2013 before Circuit Judge Karen Ahn.  The trial ended in a hung jury.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and TV station Hawaii News Now sued to have sealed transcripts released.

The prosecution is re-trying the case.

The Hawai`i Supreme Court issued a five-zero decision was written by Justice Pollack. Concurring were Chief Justice Recktenwald and Justices Nakayama, Browning (in place of recused Justice Acoba) and Kubo (in place of recused Justice McKenna)

The court documented the historical record of public disclosure and provided  citations.

The legal framework utilized by the ali`i transitioned from the kapu system to the use of public trials by jury during the 1820s. (Sally Engle Merry, Colonizing Hawaiʻi: The Cultural Power of Law)

Queen Liliʻuokalani reported that during her trial by a military tribunal in February 1895 the courtroom was ‘crowded with curious spectators.’ (Liliuokalani, Hawaiʻi’s Story by Hawaiʻi’s Queen).

The Queen’s trial was ‘open and well attended, and was covered in the daily press.’ (Jon M. Van Dyke & Paula Henderson, Trial of a Queen)

Similarly, the “Massie” case, a 1932 high profile murder case that made headlines across the country was attended by a "standing-room- only crowd of spectators.”  (David Stannard, The Massie case: Injustice and Courage; The Honolulu Advertiser)

 The U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings on the constitutional basis of public access.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .”

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that “the right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the first amendment.” The qualified right of access is based upon the “two complementary considerations” of “logic and experience.”

Under the “experience” consideration, a right of the public to attend trials relies on “whether the place and process have historically been open to the press and general public” because a “‘tradition of accessibility implies the favorable judgment of experience.’”

Under the “logic” consideration, the right of the public to attend a criminal proceeding relies on whether “public access plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular process in question.

The United States Supreme Court has identified six “societal interests” that are advanced by open proceedings, all of which are present in this case.

One of the societal interests “is that public access to criminal proceedings discourages perjury.”

“Public observation of juror examination will discourage perjury because members of the public who might be able to contradict false testimony will not learn of that testimony unless the proceedings are open to the public.”

That issue is at the heart and soul of SB 2682.

Some people who wanted to keep their financial information secret argued that if the Hawaii Ethics Commission lacked sufficient staff to review potential conflicts-of-interest then the Ethics Commission should get more staff.

That approach is inefficient, counterproductive and a waste of taxpayer resources.

The general public has a great deal of specialized knowledge relating to issues ruled upon by state boards and commissioners.

Allowing the public to look for potential conflicts-of-interest will be efficient and effective.

Furthermore public disclosure will increase public confidence that policy makers are acting in the public interest.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Goal of 100% Renewable Energy is a Bad Idea

By Henry Curtis

It is often said that we have the same goals, but different approaches.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say we head towards the same buzz word phrases but have very different interpretations of what that means.

One of the great confusions is what is meant by renewable energy.

Einstein wrote e=mc2 which simply means that matter and energy can be converted to each other.

Energy and matter can’t be created or destroyed, they can only change forms.

Thus “renewable energy” is a scientific contradiction; it is a man-made construction, an artificial definition, used to shape public perception.

Hawai`i and Vermont use the term quite differently.

Hawai`i defines nine categories of renewable energy of which only one has to be derived from renewable sources.

"’Renewable energy’ means energy generated or produced using the following sources: 
(1)  Wind; 
(2)  The sun; 
(3)  Falling water;
(4)  Biogas, including landfill and sewage-based digester gas;
(5)  Geothermal;
((6) Ocean water, currents, and waves, including ocean thermal energy conversion;
(7)  Biomass, including biomass crops, agricultural and animal residues and wastes, and municipal solid waste and other solid waste;
(8)  Biofuels; and
(9)  Hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources."

The only thing positively excluded from the above list is nuclear.

After all, the sun enables life to exist.

Solid dead plant life progressively becomes biomass, peat, lignite (brown coal), sub-bituminous coal, bituminous coal, anthracite (glossy black coal) and graphite.

Other dead plant life becomes petroleum and natural gas.

Thus oil, gas and coal are stored solar energy.

In Hawai`i, except for a two-year period, biofuel is considered to be renewable energy even if it is made using large amounts of coal/petroleum/gas and small amounts of biomass.

Former Congressman Abercrombie co-authored a bill to encourage offshore natural gas drilling to enable the extraction and shipment of natural gas to the Midwest to convert corn into green ethanol.

Vermont’s definition focuses on time, flow and process rather than categories.

“’Renewable energy’ means energy produced using a technology that relies on a resource that is being consumed at a harvest rate at or below its natural regeneration rate.

(A) For purposes of this subdivision (2), methane gas and other flammable gases produced by the decay of sewage treatment plant wastes or landfill wastes and anaerobic digestion of agricultural products, byproducts, or wastes shall be considered renewable energy resources, but no form of solid waste, other than agricultural or silvicultural waste, shall be considered renewable.

(B) For purposes of this subdivision (2), no form of nuclear fuel shall be considered renewable.

(C) The only portion of electricity produced by a system of generating resources that shall be considered renewable is that portion generated by a technology that qualifies as renewable under this subdivision (2)

(D) After conducting administrative proceedings, the board may add technologies or technology categories to the definition of “renewable energy,” provided that technologies using the following fuels shall not be considered renewable energy supplies: coal, oil, propane, and natural gas.”

Some states define renewable energy to include energy efficiency. 

Decreasing the amount of fossil fuel needed to pipe oil and gas through pipelines, and making fossil fuel generators more efficient so they can produce more electricity with less fossil fuel, can be considered improvements in efficiency.

A few years ago Hawai`i defined energy efficiency as renewable energy, and even went so far as to say that ice made from night-time use of fossil fuel which could be melted during the evening to offset peak energy demands also counts as renewable energy.

The goal is a buzz word phrase.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Governor Abercrombie spoke to conservationists about climate change

By Henry Curtis

The 22nd Annual Hawaiʻi Conservation Conference met this week at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center.

On July 17, 2014, there was a Plenary Session titled, “Navigating Change: A Dialogue with Island Leaders on Climate Change.”

The planned format was that four panelists would each give brief opening remarks, then answer a series of questions from the facilitator and then respond to audience questions.

The panel was scheduled to last 60 minutes but actually lasted 75 minutes.

Due to the lengths of the brief introductory talks, there was not time for a single question from anyone!

Governor Neil Abercrombie was well received. His talk was interrupted on several occasions by clapping.

Governor Neil Abercrombie spoke on the difference between environmentalists who are seeking to find ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions and conservationists who are accepting of the climate change reality and who are working on mitigation.

There is emerging a differentiation between environmentalism and conservation. Conservationists and environmentalists are not necessarily speaking the same language. 

And I think that this needs to be addressed. 

I believe there is an element of ideological fervor that is coming into the discussion that takes place. And we have to be very, very careful I think that we don’t form a version of a left wing Tea Party.”

By the end of this century many coastal areas and low-lying areas, including most of Waikiki and Kailua are expected to be underwater. Many people believe that there needs to be greater coastal set-backs for proposed construction projects.

Governor Abercrombie disagreed.

What about the oceans rising”? I don’t want to read any more letters to the editor saying, ‘Let’s move everything back a mile.’ Right? 

I mean, please, that isn’t going to happen. You’ve got beach front property still for sale. Okay. I’m not going to go down there … and say no you can’t do it.”

One of the scarier elements of climate change is the acidification of the oceans.

National Geographic provides a great description of ocean acidification.

For tens of millions of years, Earth's oceans have maintained a relatively stable acidity level. It's within this steady environment that the rich and varied web of life in today's seas has arisen and flourished. 

But research shows that this ancient balance is being undone by a recent and rapid drop in surface pH that could have devastating global consequences. …

When carbon dioxide dissolves in this ocean, carbonic acid is formed. This leads to higher acidity, mainly near the surface, which has been proven to inhibit shell growth in marine animals and is suspected as a cause of reproductive disorders in some fish.

On the pH scale, which runs from 0 to 14, solutions with low numbers are considered acidic and those with higher numbers are basic. 

Seven is neutral. Over the past 300 million years, ocean pH has been slightly basic, averaging about 8.2.

Today, it is around 8.1, a drop of 0.1 pH units, representing a 25-percent increase in acidity over the past two centuries.” 

Coral skeletons and coral reefs will dissolve when the pH reaches 7.8.

Many scientists expect that this will occur by the end of the century.

Governor Abercrombie spoke on mitigation, on finding ways of dealing with the threat.

What about reefs? Nature already has a way of dealing with when the ocean comes up.

Now some of them aren’t going to work because the ocean is rising, right? But we’re going to have to think about that.  Maybe the 21st century version of the creation of reefs to help us to deal with that.

I don’t know if it will work, but we’re on it, we’re moving. We’re trying to come up with answers.”

The Governor concluded his talk with one of his proposed solutions, training the next wave of students.

You gotta have little kids with 80% of the brains developed by the time they’re four years old already having the development opportunities made available to them. You gotta get them into the 21st century.

Every child in the state has to have a tablet, has to be computer literate, and it has to be before they get into kindergarten or there’re already behind.”

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