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Hawaii’s Endangered Coral Reefs Add Value

Coral Reefs Provide Flood Protection Worth $1.8 Billion Annually — Key Reasons Hawai’i Must Protect This State Asset

For anyone who visits or lives in Hawai’i, and who dives or snorkels Hawaii’s various island reefs, it’s obvious the reef has been in trouble for some time.   This has been especially true since the supercharged El Nino climate event of 2015-16, which hit the islands hard and precipitated a major coral die-off.  By some estimates, there now is a 90% loss of coral — especially hard hit is Hawaii Island’s west shoreline.

The once robust and dominant reef cover of Hawaii’s brain coral is now mostly dead, but with some recently reported isolated signs of minor recovery.<

2019 – outer reef wall off of Kakapa Bay, Hawaii Island

A new UN report released this week, compiled by hundreds of scientists from 50 countries, concluded that the Earth is losing species faster than at any other time in human history.  And, thanks to climate change, coastal development and the impacts of activities such as logging, farming and fishing, roughly 1 million plants and animals are now facing extinction.  The UN report calls for rapid action at every level, from local-to-global, to conserve nature and use these finite resources sustainably.

The report’s good news is that many ecosystems now at risk can (should) be protected, preserved, and can become sustainable contributors to the local economies dependent on these natural assets.

The biggest obstacle to investing in natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and reefs, is that experts until now have not figured out how to value the protection that these habitats provide in economic terms. But a new report published by the USGS addresses that problem by focusing on Hawaii’s and the planet’s most bio diverse ecosystems: coral reefs.

This USGS report shows that coral reefs in U.S. waters, from Florida and the Caribbean to Hawaii and Guam, provide our country with more than $1.8 billion dollars in flood protection benefits every year. They reduce direct flood damages to public and private property worth more than $800 million annually, and help avert other costs to lives and livelihoods worth an additional $1 billion. Valuing reef assets and their benefits to society is the first step towards mobilizing resources to protect them.

USGS estimates the value of reefs in terms of flood protection, but the agency fails to consider the environmental values and the economies of scale which are derived from Hawaii’s marine assets — more specifically, Hawaii’s tourism, fishing, and near shore marine food supply. 
Califlower Death Widespread Shallow Reef To Open Ocean]

Breaking Waves and Blocking Floods

In 2017, tropical storms alone did over $265 billion in damage across the nation.

Reefs act like submerged breakwaters. They “break” the force of waves and drain away their energy offshore, before flooding coastal properties and communities.

Man-made defenses, such as sea walls, can damage adjoining habitats and harm species that rely on them. In contrast, healthy reefs enhance their surroundings by protecting shorelines and supporting fisheries and recreation, from diving to surfing.

The flood protection benefits that reefs provide across the U.S. are similar to those in more than 60 other nations. In a separate study, Nature Communications reports that the global cost of storm damage to the world’s coastlines would double without reefs.

Local Flood Protection Value

USGS employed a study model of more than 60 years of hourly wave data for all U.S. states and territories with reefs — a total area of over 1,900 miles — we developed flood risk maps projecting the extent and depth of flooding that would occur across many storms, both regular and catastrophic, with reefs present and then without them. They calculated these values in grid cells that measured just 100 square meters, or about 1,000 square feet — the footprint of a small house.

They also overlaid flood risk maps employing the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify people and properties at risk — and benefiting from the presence of reefs — in each location.

It is well known that coral reefs are under heavy stress from climate change, which is warming oceans, causing coral bleaching. Pollution and over-fishing are also doing serious damage.

As the UN report on biodiversity loss notes, Earth has lost approximately half of its live coral reef cover since the 1870s. And that trend leaves 100-300 million people in coastal areas at increased risk due to loss of coastal habitat protection.

The USGS report was also able to identified economic benefits reef systems provide. For example, Florida receives more than $675 million in annual flood protection from reefs, and Puerto Rico gets $183 million in protection yearly.

In Honolulu alone, USGS found that the local reef provides more than $435 million in protection from a catastrophic 1-in-50-year storm.

Investing in Natural Defenses

First, applying Federal disaster recovery funding to proactively address natural coastal defenses.

Nationally, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, only about 1% of recovery funding went toward rebuilding natural resilience, despite subsequent research showing that marshes in the Northeast can reduce flood damages by some 16% annually.

More than $100 billion has been appropriated to recover from hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma. It certainly would make economic sense for the Federal government to become proactive in addressing climate change impacts and by not only recognizing, but spending on rebuilding protective reef systems.

In a promising move, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has created opportunities to include ecosystem services such as flood protection and fishery production in official benefit to cost analysis calculations to support flood mitigation funding.

Second, the Insurance Industry is an important economic stakeholder in offering incentives and supporting investments in nature-based defenses for risk reduction.
Insurers have warned that climate change could make insurance coverage unaffordable for ordinary people after the world’s largest reinsurance firm blamed global warming for $24 billion of losses in California’s devastating 2018 wildfires.

“The insurance sector is concerned that continuing global increases in temperature could make it increasingly difficult to offer the affordable financial protection that people deserve, and that modern society requires to function properly,” …Nicolas Jeanmart, the head of macroeconomics at Insurance Europe, an association representing Europe’s major insurers.

Insurers are starting to consider coastal habitats in industry risk models and to create opportunities to insure nature. Thus reefs could be re-built if they are damaged in storms or even restored now based on their proven flood protection (i.e., premium saving) benefits.

Third, Federal Government agencies have incentives to invest in reefs as protection for critical infrastructure. Reefs defend military bases located along tropical coastlines, as well as shore-hugging roads that are the lifeblood of many economies from Hawaii to Florida and Puerto Rico.

The Army Corps of Engineers is making more use of natural solutions to minimize flood risks, a sometimes controversial undertaking here in Hawai’i.  The U.S. Department of Transportation is analyzing ways to protect coastal highways with nature-based solutions, such as marsh restoration.

Clearly, we have a locally-connected global challenge in Climate Change.  Ignoring that challenge is a luxury we can no longer afford. Just talking about it without affirmative steps towards addressing the core problems of pollution, over-consumption, and the absence of stewardship when ti comes to managing and living in the natural world.

Like so many other climate change impacts now underway, it will take consensus building and a whole community effort — with participatory partnerships of government, private sector, and private citizens in order to make a much needed difference.

No Planet B Sign

Forces Inside and Outside Hawai’i Shape the State’s Climate Future

Hawaii’s 2019 legislative Accomplishments and Failures

We often measure value in terms of money or time or both. But there is an overriding third element too often overlooked: opportunity.

Opportunity came knocking at the door of Hawaii’s 2019 legislative session when in the senate SB 690 was born. To be exact, it was on January 18th.  Simply titled: “Relating to Climate Change”, SB 690 set forth the ambitious task of addressing the problem of climate change and the global warming impacts in which Hawaii, so far, is ill prepared.

Perhaps if our legislators took time off from their busy schedules to notice the headlines, they would have been more focused on the subject and committed to working on solutions – the time to act is now…

“Heatwaves sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal extreme temperatures that destroy kelp, sea grass and corals – with alarming impacts for humanity”

“Study shows how destabilized natural systems will worsen man-made climate problems — the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up, further advancing sea level rise”

“Speeding Toward Irrevocable Climate Chaos – global carbon emissions must be cut by 50 percent per decade beginning now — repeat, now”… 

Nearly a month later, and a fair amount of legislative give and take and taxpayers money spent, SB 690, now slightly amended as SD 1, was referred to Hawaii’s Senate Ways and Means Committee (also referred as WAM or the meat grinder).  Something happened in the black hole of WAM law making processes, SB 690 was abandoned, and in its place a stepchild was offered up in the form of SB 393.  Without any legislative fanfare or justification, the overarching issue of our time was reduced to “Relating to Coastal Zone Management” — SB 393.

The differences between the original SB 690 and its replacement SB 393 were truly striking:

SB 690 contained a detailed 39 page legislative action plan and statewide funding for addressing climate change impacts in a rapidly closing window of opportunity; specifically Hawaii-centric issues ranging from sea level rise to needed environmental and economic transformation.

SB 690 also contained 42 separate citations on Climate Change, and 24 citations on Sea Level Rise.   Its 19 page incomplete replacement, SB 393, contained only 2 citations of Climate Change, and 4 citations on Sea Level Rise.  It’s easy to understand which bill was more complete than the other in addressing the state’s climate challenges.

To be fair, there were some good legislative points in SB 393, however preparing for and reducing global warming impacts beyond improved coastal management and other limited half steps is the challenge before all of us.

In the end, even this modest attempt by the legislature failed to persuade most lawmakers – rest in peace, SB 393.

The effects of Climate Change and rising seas impacts on Hawaii’s famed beaches and resorts will also have to wait another year – perhaps for more delays and added costs for all of Hawaii’s stakeholders, certainly before any future and complete legislative solutions reach the Governor’s desk.

Baby steps by Hawaii’s law making bodies is a poor substitute for a running defense. This is no small task. The state must adopt policies and actions that will mitigate the economic, environmental, and social disruptions to Hawaii’s residents and the state’s economy, for both present and future generations. This is especially true when we are being chased by the Godzilla of all man-made impacts to our planet: global warming.

Rip 2019 Hawaii Legislature

Last month, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and several other groups banded together to demand an “emergency-level response” to climate change from Hawaii’s legislators, instead they got 74 climate measures which died before the 2019 session. Good and bad bills alike, which sought to address many pressing issues ranging from sea level rise and greenhouse gas emissions to single-use plastics, advancing solar power, and the adoption of electric vehicles.  There was no shortage of ideas, just what was needed, circumstances which demanded bold legislative Climate Change leadership, and got none.

Hawaii’s 2019 legislative session may be noteworthy not by its accomplishments, but the number of climate-related bills now dead and buried: SB 393, SB571HB855SB690HB1090SB1338SB700HB1370SB259 and SB1289

Hawaii shifts into reverse on EV’s

Hawaii state policy has never been friendly to the idea of electric vehicles replacing fossil fueled transportation. When other states offered new EV buyers tax incentives that help with the higher purchase price and facilitated their state’s transition to clean transportation, Hawaii offered no such incentives to its residents.  Hawaii certainly recognizes by state policy the necessity to migrate to zero emissions transportation, and equally important the role this transition plays in reducing Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuels that are a primary source for more than 60% of the state’s greenhouse emissions and a major contributor to local air pollution.  Yet for Hawaii’s EV owners, the state has not so much as said mahalo for its citizens’ contributions to the state clean energy and climate goals.

Along comes SB 409 and the bill’s passage this month. It is a bill that singles out EV owners for newly created tax, a surcharge added onto the annual vehicle registration fees for all EV owners.

Hawaii’s nascent adoption of EV’s is just that — with EV’s presently representing less than 1% of all registered vehicles in the state. Now EV owners must negotiate a legislated speed bump, courtesy of Big Island’s very own Senator Lorraine Inouye — who was so happy with the passage of her bill SB 409, it’s rumored that she was seen dancing down the statehouse halls singing that old Beach Boys tune “…she’s real fine my 409”,  an ode to the past glory days of fossil-fueled cars —

Inouye’s justification for SB 409 and its EV surcharge tax is simple enough, like her reasoning “…electric vehicles damage the roads.”  As if Hawaii’s annual vehicle registration fees are not already high enough, when it comes to road damage perhaps the good senator should have considered taxing the sun, which does its own fair share of road damage.  But this legislature couldn’t determine how to tax the sun so they settled on the next best thing, EV’s powered by Hawaii rooftops and the sun.

The reality is fuel types do not determine the degree of “damage” to Hawaii’s roads, rather it is vehicle weight that drives road wear and tear.

Road Vs Vehicle Weight Chart


The passage of SB 409 represents no less than a significant statewide policy shift that runs over the Hawaii’s climate change mitigation efforts, and by extension, clean energy and sustainability goals.

Senator Ruderman (also Big Island) pointed out in an attempt to reason and offer a much-needed climate reality-check for Lorraine and other colleagues before the final vote …  that the world has 10 to 12 years to address climate change before we pass the point of no return. Ruderman went on to remind his colleagues that the entire basis for SB 409 is flawed. That Hawaii’s roads are damaged by the heaviest vehicles, heavy trucks, and that SB 409 not only sends cross-signals as to the state’s commitment to address the challenges of climate change, but it makes no sense.  We couldn’t agree more.

Just last fall, the Trump administration was forced to release a federally-mandated major climate report that is produced every four years by more than 300 independent and government scientists. Writing in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, report author Brenda Ekwurzel said the findings made it clear …”climate change is not some problem in the distant future.”

The report went on to state…“It’s happening right now in every part of the country. When people say the wildfires, hurricanes and heat waves they’re experiencing are unlike anything they’ve ever seen before, there’s a reason for that, and it’s called climate change.”

It’s no secret that the world is already seeing the effects of climate change. A NASA website section dedicated to the subject notes shrinking glaciers and shifting plant and animal ranges as evidence that it’s happening in real time with past predictions now coming to fruition through loss of sea ice, intensified heatwaves, and sea level rise around the world. 


The window of opportunity to make a difference may have closed on Hawaii’s 2019 legislative, but not entirely for Hawaii’s citizens whose voices matter.

BeyondKona recommends our readers contact Governor Ige’s office (808) 586-0034 (this week). Show your support or veto request for the following climate-action bills …the few that survived Hawaii’s 2019 legislative gauntlet.

BeyondKona VETO Recommendation

SB 409 – Adds surcharge tax to annual registration fees targeting Electric Vehicles.

BeyondKona Recommendation to Governor Ige SIGN INTO LAW the following legislative measures —

HB401    — Requires all public agencies to identify and evaluate vehicle fleet energy efficiency programs. Amends the definition of “energy performance contract” to include EV charging infrastructure.

HB556    — Authorizes DBEDT to adopt minimum appliance efficiency standards for certain products.

HB560    — Requires UH community colleges to establish energy systems and technology training courses.

HB1585  — Establishes a rebate program for installation of eligible new or upgraded multi-user EV charging systems.

SB375    — Requires the Department of Ag and the Governor to develop a strategic plan to double local food production and increase food exports by 2030.

SB390    — Requires the Department of Ag to create a dollar-for-dollar matching program for beneficiaries of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to purchase Hawaii-grown produce.

SB661    — Grants procurement priority for fuel cell electric vehicles for state and county vehicle purchases. Includes fuel cell electric vehicles in the definition of “electric vehicles” for purposes of parking fee exemption, high occupancy vehicle lane use, registration, and required parking spaces in places of public accommodation.

SB1442  — Requires the Public Utilities Commission to consider the value of improving electric power systems data access and transparency in order to make informed decisions.










Beyond Kona Banner Hawaii Dolphin

Hawaii’s Ocean Environment Heats Up — with Real Consequences

Hawaii’s remote location has historically protected the island chain from many major storm events and enabled an unique marine and land ecosystem to flourish.  As the impacts of Climate Change grow there is no escaping the planetary consequences, even when you’re living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Global Ocean Heating Graph

Heatwaves are sweeping oceans ‘like wildfires’, scientists reveal this week in long term effort to track the impact of global rising temperatures on the Earth’s oceans.  The study found extreme temperatures are destroying kelp, seagrass and corals – with alarming impacts for Hawai’i, the planet, and humanity.

Global warming is gradually increasing the average temperature of the oceans, but the new research provides the first systematic global analysis of ocean heatwaves, when temperatures reach extremes for five days or more.

The research found heatwaves are becoming more frequent, prolonged and severe, with the number of heatwave days tripling in the last couple of years studied. In the longer term, the number of heatwave days jumped by more than 50% in the 30 years to 2016, compared with the period of 1925 to 1954.

As heatwaves have increased, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs have been lost. These foundation species are critical to life in the ocean. They provide shelter and food to many others, but have been hit on coasts from California to Australia to Spain.

“You have heatwave-induced wildfires that take out huge areas of forest, but this is happening underwater as well,” said Dan Smale at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK, who led the research published in Nature Climate Change. “You see the kelp and seagrasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of miles of coastline.”

As well as quantifying the increase in heatwaves, the team analyzed 116 research papers on eight well-studied marine heatwaves, such as the record-breaking “Ningaloo Niño” that hit Australia in 2011 and the hot “blob” that persisted in the north-east Pacific from 2013 to 2016. They have adverse impacts on a wide range of organisms, from plankton to invertebrates, to fish, mammals and seabirds.

The scientists compared the areas where heatwaves have increased most with those areas harboring rich biodiversity or species already near their temperature limit and those where additional stresses, such as pollution or overfishing, already occur, including the western Pacific. Ocean systems are being battered by these multiple stresses, and local studies indicate that Hawaii’s marine reef system has not escaped the same stresses which are at work around the globe.

Ocean Heating Graph2

The natural ocean cycle of El Niño is a key factor in pushing up temperatures in some parts of the ocean, as Hawaii’s marine ecosystems experienced massive bleaching in 2015-16, amplified by global warming (an effect of carbon loading from fossil fueled emissions, and in turn, heating of ocean temperatures rapidly over the past 50 years).

The study further concludes the gradual overall heating of the oceans from El Niño driven heatwaves are now worse when they strike.  As ocean starting temperature rise, so does the absolute temperatures [in a heatwave] that is much higher and more stressful to marine life. Some marine wildlife is mobile and could in theory swim to cooler waters, but ocean heatwaves often strike large areas more rapidly than fish move.

“This [research] makes clear that heatwaves are hitting the ocean all over the world … The ocean, in effect, is spiking a fever,” said Prof Malin Pinsky, at Rutgers University, US. “These events are likely to become more extreme and more common in the future unless we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

When the global fishing wars hit Hawai’i

The damage from over-fishing and global warming has created a one-two punch and knockout to global fishing stocks. In a series of other scientific papers published last week, the conclusion was stark – ocean warming has significantly contributed to a reduction in sustainable fish catches by 15% to 35%.

Science magazine’s March 1, 2019 publication states …”Fisheries provide food and support livelihoods across the world. They are also under extreme pressure, with many stocks over-fished and poorly managed. Climate change adds to the burden fish stocks bear, but such impacts remain to be fully quantified.

“We were stunned to find that fisheries around the world have already responded to ocean warming,” according to work published by Pinsky and his colleagues.

Another study showed that achieving the 2C climate change target set out in the Paris agreement would protect almost 10m tons of fish catches each year, worth tens of billions of dollars.

Rising Ocean Temps And Fish Graph

They found that an overall reduction in fishery yields has occurred over the past 80 years. Although some species are predicted to respond positively to warming waters, the majority will experience a negative impact on growth. As our world warms, responsible and active management of fisheries harvests will become even more important.

Over-fishing reduces reproduction rates in fish populations and warming damage the habitat. When the water around them warms, the added strain makes these already weakened populations more susceptible to collapse, according to the study, which goes on to state, “Over fishing makes populations of fish more vulnerable to climate change, and climate change is hindering our abilities to rebuild over-fished fish populations.”

Other research found that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would result in an annual catch of fish that is 9.5 million metric tons higher than in the 3.5 degrees scenario. That represents a difference of more than $23 billion in annual revenue for fishers and seafood workers.

“That is huge,” said Rashid Sumaila, the study’s lead author and director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.

Roughly 90 percent of the catch that would be protected by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would occur within the territorial waters of developing countries, many of which are in tropical regions that are highly dependent on fish and have contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions, Sumaila said.

A second study, published in the journal Science Advances, considered the extent to which global fisheries would benefit if global warming is limited to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as compared to a “business-as-usual” pathway based on current greenhouse gas mitigation policies that would bring 3.5 degrees of warming.


In the space of one week, several credible scientific publications have underscored that unless we (which includes Hawai’i) take evasive action, our future oceans will (do) have fewer fish, fewer whales and frequent and dramatic shifts in the marine ecosystem – all together, these human-caused changes will have significant environmental and economic implications for humans who depend on the ocean, which not only includes Hawai’i, but most of humanity.


Big Island Banner Pic

2018, A Big Island Year To Remember

The 2014 movie “Interstellar” was based on the theory of traveling through a blackhole, bending time, and experiencing intense gravity with strange outcomes.  Living in Hawai’i recently seems like our island spaceship cannot escape the intense gravity of world events, yet we are continually reminded of the paradox that Hawai’i is uniquely isolated, but globally connected.

Kīlauea’s summer vacation

This year began like any other, until the Kīlauea’s east rift zone erupted on May 3, 2018.  This latest eruption is believed to have been connected to the larger volcanic eruption that began on January 3, 1983, and blessed the Kona side of the island with smoggy (voggy) skies and poor visibility for the next 35 years.  The May 2018 eruption (considered to be the most destructive since the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980) took its toll on island residents, especially those residents previously living in the Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens subdivisions.

On the positive side, waking up one summer morning and suddenly discovering something missing was an understatement.  Without any fanfare from Kilauea, the volcano just decided that enough was a enough and it was time for things Sunset 1to quiet down for while – an unexpected gift and well received by the Island’s local residents.  Since 1984, it took a swift in the trade winds, or perhaps a heavy rainfall the night before to temporarily clear the sky of volcanic haze (vog aka volcanic smog).

But by early August this past year the eruption had almost completely subsided, and the lull in volcanic activity continues to keep the air mostly clean and clear for island sunsets that are unbelievably beautiful. For now at least, skies are crystal blue, and stunning ocean views are unobstructed to the horizon, and night skies now rival any planetarium show that even impresses lifelong residents.

At the peak 2018 eruption, it was estimated that 50,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and other poisonous gases were filling local island skies and beyond. Gas mask sales soared across Hawaii Island.  But since dropped to an average of 1,000 tons of SO2 gases a day, 1/50 the volume at peak eruption earlier this year.

The current “pause” in volcanic activity state has yielded only very minor signs of vog production wafting across Kona skies, with nothing much getting in the way of breathing deep and enjoying a wonderful and joyful sunset – for as long as it lasts…

The sun energizes most of life on Earth, and Hawai’i is no exception

(updated Jan. 17th, 2019)

Hawaii’s tropical location provides abundant sunshine, producing energy, abundant agriculture, deep suntans, sunsets and a night sky (away from city lights) that will take your breath away.

All this sunshine depends on a nearby star, our Sun, which serves as the ultimate (fusion) nuclear reactor, creating high temperatures through the  fusion of hydrogen at its core, and in turn, warming the Earth to livable temperatures from millions of miles away.   Most of Earth’s life depends on the sun, and we human are no different. In the history of human civilization, energy (in one form or another) has been basic to human survival, and sun plays a most important role in Earth’s energy matrix.

As modern civilization evolves, so has our modern day adoption and use of energy resources such as fossil fuels, nuclear fuel, or renewable energy.  In the 21st century, our planet economies are becoming increasingly electrified, along with a corresponding increase appetite for energy.  The emission by-products of these energy-dependent processes are now impacting Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and most life on Earth.

The last 150 (fossil-fueled) years has produced accumulative CO2 emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere and is now placing  life on Earth in 21st century into a death spiral for what scientists are calling the “6th great extinction event”.  Driven by many human factors, human-caused global temperature rise is creating disastrous impacts on ecosystems and the species dependent on them – Hawaii is no exception, with one the most notable impacts, coral bleaching and the death of near shore marine ecosystems.

There was a time in Earth’s history comparable to today’s climate crisis (minus humans) — that was 252 million years ago, when up to 96% of all marine species and more than two-thirds of terrestrial species perished. The mass extinction, known as the “great dying” marked the end of the Permian geologic period. The study of sediments and fossilized creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Scientists now believe the Earth has entered its 6th mass extinction event, a ‘biological annihilation’ of populations of animals that have been lost in recent decades.

Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current climate crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming. Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species’ extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.

As for Hawaii’s energy sector, the nexus of energy and climate change-extinction is obvious to an increasing number of policy makers.  The state has begun to transition to locally produced and (for the most part) clean and emissions-free renewable energy, while capitalizing on Hawaii’s abundant solar energy options. Solar  power, within Hawaii represents he highest per capita growth rates in the United States.

Putting environmental, social, and climate change impacts aside from burning fossil fuels, Hawaii’s imported dirty energy represents the most costly for the importation of petroleum and coal — a cost factor that is three to four times higher than the mainland fuel prices.  Imported energy costs further mount with factoring in environmental, climate, and public health cost factors that are absorbed by the public from burning those fossil fuels.  In effect, Hawaii has both strong environmental and economic motivations to become a world class leader in energy self-sufficiency through solar and wind and energy storage as primary replacements of imported and costly, polluting fossil-fuels.   Solar Pv Sun Image

In 2015, Hawaii was the first state in the United States to reach grid parity for photovoltaics.  Previously, solar energy represented just 0.07% of Hawaii’s total electricity generation back in 2007. But by 2015, solar energy fulfilled 6% of Hawaii’s total electricity needs, and thermal solar (hot water systems) further reduced Hawaii’s energy demands.

Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (HRS 269 -92) mandates 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by  2045, and solar will continue to play key role fulfilling this goal.  In 2017, Hawaii’s energy mix for renewables stood at 27.6 percent, more than 12 percent ahead of the interim statutory 2015 target of 15 percent, with plenty of room for future growth of both rooftop residential and business installations, combined with utility-scale solar and solar-storage installations, all together, ending Hawaii’s dirty imported energy dependency.

New Arrivals to the Big Island discover a 21st century paradise, but not without challenges

Between 2012 and 2016, the Big Island lost an estimated 2,362 people annually to the other three counties in Hawaii, while adding just 1,654, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Not in this past census data was the recent impacts of the 2018 Kilauea eruption and exodus of some long time residents who had enough health issues and uncertainties to overcome the joys of paradise.

For recent Mainland (move-in) arrivals to the Big Island, many quickly discover that island life has its challenges and rewards. 

Is there a doctor in the house?   Leaving “living the good life” descriptions to the state’s well-funded tourism brochures, daily Big Island life too often means living with a chronic shortage of doctors and essential medical services. The only real full service medical system on Hawai’i Island is Kaiser, and even the big K is feeling the pain of a chronic shortage of qualified medical practitioners, and as outer island populations grow, their legacy of a strategy for lowering operating costs by flying their members in need to Oahu for many medical services and labs, based on a big Island with small population is failing to meet demand.  Doctor Shortages

Forget our local hospitals, you may be better off taking a life-flight to Oahu or the mainland. The discovery of the absence of medical choices leaves newcomers to the island dumbfounded for what they took for granted – medical options that were easily and conveniently available on the mainland, are now a day trip or longer away and come at a higher cost.

Then there is Big Island living at the end of the state’s supply-chain, which too often requires being your own personal Costco in order to ensure that what you want is available when you need it.

All in all, it takes only one beautiful sunset, ocean swim, monarch butterfly, and fresh year-round produce to soon forget, at least for a moment, the challenges of island life.

Onward and i luna, next stop Mars?

The Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation is an analog habitat for human spaceflight to Mars.   For the first time ever, the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, which tests how humans would endure the isolation of a Mars mission, will include participants from four different countries of origin.  HI-SEAS is located in an isolated position on the slopes of the Mauna Loa volcano on the island of Hawaii.  Mauna Loa offers Mars-like features, and an elevation of approximately of 8,200 feet above sea level for the habitat to further the unearthly Earth bound experience.

Mars Habitat On MkThe first crewed Mars Mission plans sending astronauts to Mars, orbiting Mars, and a return to Earth, and it is scheduled for the 2030s.  One year after Elon Musk announced his big vision plan that expects to transport a million people to Mars via Space X, he expects Mars colonization to be in less than 25 years.

Sustainability is foremost in the minds of dreamers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and adventurers who plan to settle on Mars.  Basics like oxygen, water, a radiation shield, and no food are just some of the things we take for granted here on Earth, but absent on Mars. At recent scientific conference hosted by Mars colonization enthusiasts and advocates, the key speaker painted bleak picture for the future of human survival on Earth, but simple stating …‘extinction is the new norm,’ …which begs the question, really?

So some uber-rich billionaires are betting their riches on building their own lifeboats to escape Earth, as they see it as a sinking ship and look to a journey to Mars as humankind heads for extinction on planet Earth.

Human extinction is not a scientific or social foregone conclusion.   But a prescription for extinction of life on Earth starts with unsustainable living, and the wasting and pollution of Earth’s life-sustaining assets: clean water, breathable air, and upsetting the balance of the atmosphere by loading massive amounts of  human-generated CO2 emissions, methane, and other greenhouse gases that all together are rapidly raises planetary temperatures.

When global changes occur in the Earth’s temperatures, natural, self-regulating systems, change as in climate change. Add in the wasteful absentee management of over-harvesting the Earth’s life-sustaining food chain, and humans soon find themselves on a path on of no return.


A message for Hawai’i and all of humanity this holiday season 

This past week a New York Times op ed written by former Secretary of State, John Kerry offered a clear message to Hawai’i, America, and the world” “Forget Trump. We All Must Act on Climate Change”.  

During last week’s third anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration marked it by working with Russia and Gulf oil nations to sideline science and undermine the accord at climate talks underway in Katowice, Poland.  At the same time, I’ve been reading Bob Woodward’s fascinating and somewhat sympathetic book of insights on inside the Trump White House, titled ‘FEAR’.   During a Boston appearance last week Woodward also revealed to his audience a remarkable admission: The presidenthe said, “makes decisions often without a factual basis.”   This isn’t a mere personality quirk of the leader of the free world. It is profoundly dangerous for the entire planet.  Gw Santa 2018

Kerry who was instrumental in spearheading the Paris Accord on behalf of America, went on to write … Scientists tell us we must act now to avoid the ravages of climate change. The collision of facts and alternative facts has hurt America’s efforts to confront this existential crisis. Ever since Mr. Trump announced that he would pull America out of the Paris accord, those of us in the fight have worked to demonstrate that the American people are still in.

But the test is not whether the nation’s cities and states can make up for Mr. Trump’s rejection of reality. They can. The test is whether the nations of the world will pull out of the mutual suicide pact that we’ve all passively joined through an inadequate response to this crisis.


Talk to leaders who are gathered in Poland. They acknowledge that we aren’t close to getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. People are dying today because of climate change, and many more will die and trillions of dollars of damage to property will occur unless America gets back in the fight’. 

Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma cost the United States some $265 billion in damages. Historic droughts are matched by historic floods. Heat waves stole 153 billion hours of labor globally last year. Infectious diseases are moving into new areas and higher altitudes. Crop yields are down in more than two dozen countries, and by 2050 the Midwestern United States could see agricultural productivity drop to its lowest level in decades — and this is a mere preview of what’s to come.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the changes required to hold global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), as called for in the Paris agreement, would require changes on a scale with “no documented historic precedent.’  Fossil fuel emissions are forecast to go up by 2.7 percent worldwide this year.  Instead of reining them in, the Trump administration would unleash more —

  • First, it replaced the previous Clean Power Plan with an EPA rule that now allows power plants to unload 12 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; a throwback and lifeline to make coal great again.
  • Second, instead of controlling vehicle fuel emissions, the Trump administration is rolling back fuel economy standards that the auto industry had previously embraced and that would have saved hundreds of millions dollars for consumers in fuel costs.
  • Third, instead of keeping a lid on methane, EPA rule changes now in the works will make it more likely that this highly potent greenhouse gas will be freely discharged by oil and gas extractors and refineries into the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming.

It is as if the Trump administration’s energy and environmental policies are based on 1950’s science and norms of that time, free from the reality of social, economic, and environmental consequences of pollution and policies bent on destroying planetary norms in which all life, including Republicans and Democrats alike, are equally dependent.

What About Hawai’i – climate change means Hawaii faces real time threats from rising temperatures, rising oceans, and super storms

Scientists tell us we must act now to avoid the ravages of global warming, and Hawai’i is far from being exempt from the consequences of a warming planet.

Climate change will eventually affect nearly every aspect of life in Hawaii.   Rising air and ocean temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and changing ocean chemistry are already affecting people and individual ecosystems across Hawaii’s chain of islands.

Because Hawai’i and the Pacific Islands are almost entirely dependent upon imported food, fuel, and material, the vulnerability of ports and airports to extreme events, sea level rise, and increasing wave heights is an a increasing concern and projected likelihood for which Hawaii is not prepared.

Future generations will measure us by whether we acted on facts, not just debated or denied them. The verdict will hang on whether we put in place policies that will drive the development and deployment of clean technologies, re-energize our economies, and tackle global climate change.

‘If we fail, future generations will judge us all as failures, not just this president.’   John F. Kerry

Ca Fires 2

2018 California wildfires total economic losses exceed $400 billion

President Trump blamed ‘poor forest management’ for California’s fire crisis – but much of the area burning isn’t forest.

As the temperature increases in spring and summer and plants use up the water stored in the soil, the amount of water held in plants decreases, making them more flammable. Similar to fire wood, the drier it is, the easier it burns.

Ca 2018 Fires

Fire is an integral part of California ecosystems because it consumes dead vegetation, creates space for new plant growth, and helps limit the density of vegetationIt affects almost every vegetated part of the state, from the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the oak woodlands lower down and, in the valleys, the grasslands and chaparral. 

Climate change, however,  is causing warmer temperatures, which drys out vegetation beyond historic limits, and climate change is not limited to California, as Hawaii’s on-going transition to this new climate reality already demonstrates. It is also causing winter precipitation to fall over a shorter period and the length of the fire season is increasing. Vegetation in California and elsewhere is increasingly primed for extreme fires.

As the temperature increases in spring and summer and plants use up the water stored in the soil, the amount of water held in plants decreases, making them more flammable. Similar to fire wood, the drier it is, the easier it burns.

In a tweet, Trump blamed “poor forest management” in California for the devastating conflagrations currently burning in the state, and he threatened to withhold federal aid as if in punishment for this negligence, with reason, truth, and facts often missing in the role Trump plays as President.  A climate science denier and former TV reality show host, Trump intentionally fails to see the costs of his environmental and energy polices …to make coal great again, and the connected reality of burning fossil-fuels to climate change, or the larger picture of how this is now playing out in unprecedented fires, droughts, floods, supers storms and other weather extremes not just in the US, but around the globe.

To comprehend what is currently taking place in California, it is important to understand how the state has historically burned, the vast changes now occurring across the landscape, and the role climate change is playing in making matters worse for the state, the region, and the planet.

Putting the current climate-related events into terms of dollars losses, something Trump understands well,  the California fires cost the national economy and taxpayers, according AccuWeather, a projected total economic loss to the state of California due to historic and damaging wildfires that will exceed $400 billion, making the state’s 2018 fires the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the United States.  This represents is a huge economic loss or equivalent to 2% of the nation’s GDP, and a total loss of property values, taxes, lost jobs and wages, business losses, and equally important, significant human health impacts and costs from particulate pollution from the resulting from the fires.

Hazy skies were reported in several places on the east coast from smoke wafting from 3,000 miles further west, where wildfires in California have killed more than 80 people and razed more than 15,000 homes and other structures.   “Wow. I knew tonight’s sunset over New York City seemed different, and I should’ve realized,” tweeted Kathryn Prociv, a meteorologist on the Today Show. “Wildfire smoke is in the air, all the way from California.”

None of the reported cost factors include environmental costs( e.g. loss of watersheds, soil stabilization, etc.)  from this year’s fires and their costs to society.

Ipcc Report Cover 2018

IPCC Report A Call to Action

IPCC Climate Report  and Sea Level Rise in Hawai’i

Eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are located near a coast.  Hawaii, an island state, is surrounded by coastlines and as sea levels rise, Hawaii’s residents and economy along with millions of people around the world are affected by increased coastal flooding and coastal erosion, as well as higher storm surges which are moving further inland.

We’re not talking about something happening in 10 – 20 years. We’re talking about something happening right now – and unless we act, the danger will only grow.

According to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we can limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (instead of the 2 degree target many policymakers use) by 2100, we’ll see slower sea-level rise and give vulnerable island nations and coastal communities more time to prepare and adapt. We have the power to determine what the future looks like for future generations, and it’s our responsibility to use it. Ipcc Report Cover 2018

We have to think big and act quickly if we want to keep global warming at levels we can live with.    

That’s the inevitable conclusion from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC. In case you don’t spend every day deciphering UN acronyms, the IPCC is the voice of the world’s top climate scientists. The organization brings together literally thousands of scientists and researchers working in every related field from atmospheric sciences to marine biology and on every continent to distill what we know about what’s happening to our planet, and more specifically, Hawai’i.

What the IPCC found – and the 2018 report details – should be a wakeup call to the world.  The key findings in the IPCC report that every citizen and politician should be concerned about can be summed up in this three findings:

1- WE’RE ALREADY AT 1 DEGREE – HOW MUCH HOTTER IS UP TO US – The report estimates that since the Industrial Revolution, human activity (i.e. burning fossil fuels) has already put enough carbon pollution into the atmosphere to raise global mean temperatures by one degree.  All the pollution already in the atmosphere will keep trapping heat for years, whatever we do.  Which is to say, how much global warming impacts continue and increase from now is in our hands.

2- THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TODAY AND A 1.5 DEGREES TEMPERATURE INCREASE – AND A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 1.5 AND 2 DEGREES – The report details a host of likely results of reaching 1.5 degrees of warming: storms growing even more powerful; oceans becoming more acidic and killing off major sections of coral; whole sections of landmasses transforming from one ecosystem to another. Truly, the list goes on and there’s every reason to be very, very concerned.  Things get outright terrifying at 2 degrees increase: massive ecosystem losses not seen since the last ice age; potentially irreversible melting of ice sheets triggering sea-level rise affecting millions; species extinction; annual fishery catches declining by up to 3 million tons.

3- IT’S 2030 OR BUST –  Because all the greenhouse gases we emit today have a nasty habit of sticking around in the atmosphere a very long time – we have only a short window to radically reduce emissions if we want to keep warming to 1.5 degrees.  That window closes – more or less – around 2030.  As the report outlines, if we want to hold the line to 1.5 degrees, we have to slash emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. Then we have to reach net-zero around 2050.  These are reductions planet-wide. After 2030, all signs point to greater levels of greenhouse gases starting a domino effect of climate risks we can’t accurately predict but are pretty sure no one wants to see.

In some ways, the huge changes we need to see by 2030 make the next decade feel like a planet-wide psychology experiment. With the future of the world literally at stake, will we change?

Point Of View 1The simple answer is that we have to. Yes, it’s a big ask. Yes, it will be hard. But so was reaching the South Pole in 1911. So was putting a man on the moon. So was eradicating smallpox. The difference this time is that it’s not up to a crack team of explorers or scientists.

It’s up to all of us.  Corrective measures by each of us can make a big difference between success in tackling climate change or failure, such as what food we eat (fossil fuel intensive or not) and where it came from (local or imported from great distances), how much energy we use and where it came from (the sun and wind or fossil fuels), and so on.  Everyone is a consumer of planetary resources, and the by-products of this global consumption is waste and pollution in various forms, often contributing to greenhouse gases threatening the planetary system on which we all depend.     One thing is certain, we can no longer deny our role, responsibility, and contribution to global climate change, or the scientific call to action. Frogs Boiling

You may recall the frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

Like the frog in left in a pot of boiling water, we humans hold the means to stop heating up the planet and saving ourselves, or we can ignore the signs of climate change happening all around us and suffer the consequences of our inaction and indifference.   

One of Our Islands Just Disappeared

Hawaii’s East Island has vanished —

After coming into contact with Hurricane Walaka, an intense storm that hit Hawaii last month — East Island was just wiped off the map.  A shocking outcome for federal managers who discovered that East Island “appears to be under water”, while the neighboring Tern island had its shape fundamentally altered by the hurricane.

East Island was, at around half a mile long and 400ft wide, the second largest island in the the French Frigate Shoals, an atoll in the far western reaches of the Hawaiian archipelago. Until 1952, it hosted a US Coast Guard radar station. 

Island BeforeDespite its size, the island played an important role for wildlife, including the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal, a species that numbers just 1,400 individuals, with many of the seals raising their young on East Island. Green sea turtles, which are also threatened, and seabirds such as albatrosses, which often had their young preyed upon by circling tiger sharks, also depended on the island.

Scientists have confirmed the disappearance of the 11-acre island after comparing satellite images of the surrounding French Frigate Shoals, part of an enormous protected marine area in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. “The island was probably one to two thousand years old and we were only there in July…” said Chip Fletcher, a professor of earth sciences at UH.

If conditions align, an atoll would always be at a small risk of being erased by a powerful hurricane. But climate change is causing the ocean and atmosphere to warm, making storms fiercer, while there’s evidence that hurricanes are moving further north into the latitudes where East Island once lay.

Island AfterRising sea levels are also eroding away low-lying islands, with several fragments of land in the Pacific vanishing in recent years.

“The take-home message is climate change is real and it’s happening now,” Randy Kosaki, a senior official for the Hawaii monument at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

IPCC Climate Report  and Sea Level Rise

Eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are located near a coast.  Hawaii, an island state, is surrounded by coastlines and as sea levels rise, Hawaii’s residents and economy along with millions of people around the world are affected by increased coastal flooding and coastal erosion, as well as higher storm surges which are moving further inland.

Sea Level Rise Graph

 We’re not talking about something happening in 10 – 20 years. We’re talking about something happening right now – and unless we act, the danger will only grow.

Halloween Pollution Horror

Trick or Treat Halloween 2018, A Forthcoming Hu Honua Decision

Earlier this year, Hawaii’s PUC gave a green light to the Hu Honua biomass plant representing another example of Hawaii’s broken (RPS) Renewable Portfolio Standard law, this specific decision carries with it significant consequences for the Big Island. 

The PUC decision process was also a case in point in a public process leading to the PUC’s failure to measure the benefits and costs of renewable energy power plant replacements with the consequences to the public and Hawaii’s environment. 

During the opening remarks before he Supreme Court,  Associate Justice Wilson supports Solicitor General Wadsworth remarks in his statement that “…the PUC was asked to consider a biomass project, wasn`t given a range of alternatives” …  Justice Wilson must assume the PUC is unaware of renewable energy alternatives to Hu Honua’s biomass proposal, or clean energy options currently available, e.g., utility scale clean energy wind,  solar, and storage.Hawaii Supreme Courrt

The primary question Life of the Land (LOL) poses on behalf of the public interest and to the Hawaii’s Supreme Court is straight forward enough —

Does Hawaii’s PUC have the responsibility and authority to fully consider the implications of its power plant decisions, and should not greenhouse emissions, social impacts, and other pollution factors merit equal consideration in such plant approval decisions by Hawaii’s PUC? 

Representing the state’s PUC before Hawai’i supreme court justices this week, Solicitor General Wadsworth said he doesn’t think so. Wadsworth told the court “…there aren’t any other options to compete with it (Hu Honua biomass plant)…”.  Failing to qualify his statement, Wadsworth did not mention recent HECO-HELCO plans that call for the development of two new low-cost and emissions-free solar-storage utility grade generating facilities scheduled for the Big Island, totally 60 megawatts.

Wadsworth further asserts that wind and solar are unreliable and not dispatchable (on-demand) without batteries, adding that such options he asserts …”explodes the price”.  His statement to the court begs the question, relative to what?

Wind, solar and storage combinations offer 24×7 on-demand power options for utilities. Solar-battery power generation alternatives are very cost effective and highly competitive (below 11 cents per KWh based on recent Big Island contracts).   Compare these zero emissions alternatives that to the life cycle power costs from Hu Honua, and (dirty power) biomass plant can’t compete.

The PUC decision favoring the Hu Honua application didn’t fully consider the social and economic supply-chain operating costs associated with Hu Honua’s tree-burning power plant, nor the 24×7 supply-chain that will no doubt prove to be very costly to the public and the environment.  A supply chain liability totally unnecessary with alternative solar and wind power plant options.

In short, the PUC decision approving Hu Honua is Hawai’i state’s current energy policy at work, and it’s failure.

The PUC decision failed to fully consider the cost to ratepayer and taxpayer subsidies on which Hu Honoa business case has been sold to the public and the commission. But this decision did not occurred in a vacuum.

1-      Hawai’i County’s planning department was complicit in its absence of due diligence and cheer-leading for a project which will have fundamental impacts on County roads from Hu Honua’s tree-fed supply-chain of trucks on which the plant depends. Life of the Land also raises the question of Hu Honua’s plans for importing cut trees to further feed the plant and the fossil fueled supply-chain that will deliver those trees.

2-      Hawaii’s well-intended state legislature failed in its outdated and misguided RPS law, which continues to allow Hu Honua and other polluting biomass alternatives to be considered on an equal footing with emissions-free clean energy options.

3-      DLNR turned a blind eye to the wanton destruction off Hawaii’s forests as a fuel source for the Hu Honua plant.

4-      Department of Health (Clean Air Branch) failed in any meaningful participation or regulatory due diligence in the Hu Honua decision.

Hu Honua fails any reasonable economic, social, and environmental test. It also fails as a clean energy replacement to fossil fuels. It does NOT benefit the environmental goals on which Hawaii’s push to fossil fuel-free power generation objectives are based.  Equally important, its fails the Hawai’i Island community which HELCO serves.

The process which allowed Hu Honua to go forward demonstrates how our government stakeholders have failed to represent the public’s interests, and if and when the court allows Hu Honua to proceed beyond this last pubic objection, the public conclusion will be why was this plant allowed to go forward, how could it possibly be a benefit to the public and the State of Hawaii’s intent to transition to a clean energy by 2045?

For a full summary of the current Hu Honua court proceedings, please visit:

PART II – Hu Honua power, but at what cost?

The Hawaii Tribune reported last year “...If Hu Honua Bioenergy’s long-delayed biomass power plant were to go online by the end of 2018, Hawaii Electric Light Company’s ratepayers would see increases in their electricity bills, according to an analysis HELCO filed Wednesday with the state Public Utilities Commission of a proposed power purchase agreement”.

Cost efficient, competitive, and clean energy power alternatives to the Hu Honua’s tree-burning power plant for the big island were obvious to everyone, but the vested stakeholders: HELCO and Hu Honua.  Solar and wind options, without or without batteries or pumped storage abound for the Big Island. These clean energy power production alternatives carry none of the pollution baggage and public costs associated with the operation of the Hu Honua Bioenergy plant. 

Hu Honua claims could be selling electricity at 8 cents per kilowatt-hour, and can compete against solar at 9 cents or solar plus storage at 11 cents, even though the total payments to Hu Honua would average over 20 cents per kWh with public-funded Agricultural subsidies, and this estimate only represents the basic power production costs, none of the downstream environmental costs (air, water, climate, infrastructure, and marine costs) paid for by the public and the local environment have been factored.

Hu Honua proposes to use underground injection wells to send the heat through a coastal aquifer and then into the ocean seabed. The discharge of pollutants, including heat, is regulated at the state and federal level by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).  With little to no government oversight, permits are granted and valid for five years.

Who speaks for the Hawai’i Island’s residents, marine environment, and aina

To date, motions for a contested case proceeding have been filed by four entities: Pepe‘ekeo Shoreline Fishing Committee (PSFC) which is a committee of the Pepe‘ekeo Community Association, Life of the Land, Sierra Club Moku Loa Group, and Claudia Rohr.

The Pepe‘ekeo  Shoreline Fishing Committee “oppose the injection of over two dozen hazardous chemicals into injection wells, along with wastewater to be discharged. The manufacturer’s labels for each of these chemicals is listed in Hu Honua’s application to build the UIC wells. Most of them are listed as ʻhazardous,ʻ many of them strictly warn ʻdo not expose to groundwater,ʻ and one of them indicates that it is seriously harmful to aquatic life. 

  • “This is of great concern to the PSFC, because we rely on aquatic life for our economic livelihood and also to put food on the table.”
  • “The shoreline we steward begins about two miles south of the Hu Honua facility and ends about four miles north of the facility, at Honomu. Protection of this shoreline and these waters is our primary mission.
  • No more than three miles out are our state buoys where the limu grow, and attract ‘ahi, ono, mahimahi and other fish that the local fishermen catch. The chemicals will impact the fish. If bagasse can travel ten miles to Hilo Bay, those chemicals will travel the three miles to the buoys. The state buoys is where the limu grow and ecosystems flourish.”

Claudia Rohr noted that Hu Honua’s storm water drainage system uses state-owned land designated ʻconservationʻ by the Land Use Commission (LUC) for Outfalls 001 and 004, which falls into two of the categories of action listed in HRS section 343-5(a)(1) and (2), that are not minor activities exempt under HRS section 343-6 or HAR section 11-200-8. Hu Honua’s use of state-owned land designated conservation by the LUC requires that Hu Honua completes at the minimum an environmental assessment before decision-making under HEPA.”

Make no mistake, power plant ash can be toxic, and that degree of toxicity being dependent on the fuel source burned to produce electricity.  Rohr went on to point out… “Ash is not a listed pollutant and Hu Honua’s ash handling procedures and BMPs for ash are not integrated into the draft permit. Inevitably some ash will end up  in stormwater washing ash laden surfaces and flowing through the facility– where ash is loaded into containers under the ash silo, the outside of ash containers, the outside of trucks, on roads, and in the ash container storage area off Sugar Mill Road (where coal was formerly stored).”

“Furthermore, the contaminated soil from the old settling ponds that was never re-mediated is spread out in the area where logs will be transferred to and dropped at the chipper house, causing environmental concerns of health risks from exposure to polluted stormwater.”

The Sierra Club Moku Loa Group represents over 1000 members on the island of Hawaii, and has noted that their members regularly use the Hamakua coastline, and particularly the Pepeekeo cliffs and shoreline, with four miles of public access trails along the coastline for recreation, scientific pursuit to understand biologic and geologic events over time, and for enjoying and gathering of near-shore resources. “…Several of our members live in the Pepeekeo community affected by the Hu Honua proposed bioenergy facility.”

Sierra Club’s concerns can be summed up in just how can the County and the State reconcile the advancement of this project with the further erosion and landslides accelerated by the force of 21.6 million gallons of power plant water discharges being injected in wells located less than 100 feet from the edge of our already unstable cliffs near the Hu Honua plant site’s operation.  Their concerns are with Hu Honua’s contribution to the area’s geologically unstable cliffs, already impacted from stormwater sheeting over the area in recent months, and the corresponding cliff face softened during Hurricane Lane that produced a significant landslide.  Since the landslide on-going cliff erosion remains problem with soil continuing to fall into the ocean, damaging coral reefs in the area and the overall marine ecosystem and serving as a source for mortality in area fisheries.

Public Hearing, November 14, Hilo

The Hawai`i Department of Health has scheduled a public hearing for the Hu Honua water permit on Wednesday, November 14, 2018, at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawai‘i, Moanahoku Hall, 600 Imiloa Place, Hilo.  The two-hour “public information” meeting will start at 10:00 am. Both verbal and written testimony will be received at the public hearing starting at 1:00 pm, and prior to the meeting, comments may be emailed by the close of the business day to

Beyond Kona Powerlines Solar Field

Hawai’i Island Energy At A Crossroads

Hawai’i Island is at a crossroads… reactive public policies and misguided private investment are not helping – enough. 

Just days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a terrifying report confirming the world (in which Hawai’i is not exempt) must act immediately to avoid catastrophic climate change, Hurricane Michael has slammed into the Florida panhandle, supercharged by overly warm ocean water, and showed us another example of the devastation climate disasters can cause, especially to vulnerable communities.

Ok, you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeatingHurricanes are becoming stronger, slower and wetter; recent storm events in Hawai’i bears this out.  And yes, the changes to our climate and increase in global temperatures are primarily driven by human-induced demand for fossil fuel energy and the consequences of that demand and energy consumption.  If you still drive a gas or diesel truck, SUV, or car, then you’re burning fossil fuels and part of the problem.  When you shop at the local grocery store, you’re contributing to the problem, when you turn on your lights with power supplied by Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) or take a shower with DWS supplied water, you’re also part of the problem, and life’s list goes on…

Let’s face it, we are all part of the problem, but the time is now, and long overdue, that we all become part of the solution.


HELCO’s decision to buy power, and thus enable, the controversial (yet to be activated) tree destroying and wood-burning Hu Honua power plant, is one example of Hawai’i Island being on the wrong path in its energy transition with state-sanctioned renewable energy options that include wood-burning biomass power plants.   The Hu Honua is the kind of power plant project you would expect to be sited in marginally developed areas of the world with limited power options, not Hawai’i.

A recent name change to Honua Ola (Living Earth) from Hu Honua does not change the reality that this form of so-called renewable energy is a bad example of state and county energy policy, and a poor choice by HELCO to meet its 2045 RPS goals, and completely fails to address the growing state of impacts from power plant emissions that are driving climate change.  This problem example is especially true when HELCO has cost-effective clean and renewable energy options available today.

Renewable energy is often falsely linked to low pollution and low climate change impacts.  The current deficiencies in state’s all-in energy policy designed to transition off fossil fuels allows many types of renewable energy and numerous ways it can be applied.  Some reduce and some raise pollution levels, some have lower and some have higher climate impacts, and some, as is the case with wind and solar are zero emissions (clean) energy options.

For Hu Honua, making electricity is all about cutting down Hawai’i Island’s forests to burn for energy, clogging local and inadequate road systems with a supply-chain of logging trucks, polluting the local air shed and producing waste by-products potentially toxic to Hawaii Island’s earth and water assets, altogether, here is an excellent example of taking Hawai’i in the opposite direction of becoming a self-sufficient and clean energy economy.

While HELCO continues to struggle to meet its 100% RPS goal by 2045, historically picking losers instead of winners to replace its costly and polluting diesel-fired power plants, it bet heavily on the Puna Geothermal Ventures plant, now shuttered thanks to Pele. Their announcement to, for the first time, embrace utility scale solar and battery storage area, is welcome news to Puna area residents who can now breathe easier and sleep at night, if and when they return to this very volcanic-active part of Hawai’i Island.

The historic utility grid model of a centralized power plant with miles and miles of cable and other utility infrastructure running in all directions only to serve customers at the end of those cables – represents the weakest point of failure for utility service reliability, and HELCO’s grid operation is no different.

Without power we are quickly back in the stone age.  Hawai’i Island residents also face another consequence from potential major power outages, one that keep emergency planners up at night: it’s a loss of water supply from the Department of Water Supply (DWS) and to its customers throughout the island.  Since January 2017, DWS has had a jaded reliability record, beginning with a series of still not fully explained well site failures. Only one of the five affected well sites has been restored to service in nearly two years.

A prolonged loss of HELCO-supplied power to DWS, by its own estimates, would result in the department’s ability to only operate and supply water to its customers for no more than 24 hour period.  No power to pumps – no water to customers.  There is no rooftop customer solution to this DWS water dependency, except a better prepared DWS operating with under back-up power in the event of the next major storm and an extended power blackout. One power-independent solution, the Lamamilo Wind Farm, currently serving as a dedicated alternative power supplier to DWS.


Hawaiian Electric, HELCO’s parent company announced on Oct. 9th, the company’s intention to establish two 30 Megawatt (MW) utility scale solar farms with back-up / load balancing battery systems equal to 240 MW in power storage. This is a major development for HELCO and the advancement of the Big Island’s clean energy future.

Not only are these two new zero-emissions power plants the right choice for Hawaii’s solar rich environment, with the promise to operate at a considerable lower cost to HELCO’s conventional power plants, while providing essential power security (at least their grid connection points) that otherwise would not be possible.   These two solar plants, if approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), will help displace 1.2 million barrels of fossil fuel per year, and hopefully save ratepayers money.

Following in the highly successful footsteps of KIUC (Kauai’s people’s utility), solar, wind, and batteries (in combination) are just arriving in time as utility-scale clean power solutions for HELCO. The utility right now needs help meeting its clean power power RPS requirements, and with community input, making the right power choices — no burning trees required.

Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawai‘i Electric Light (HELCO) already have more than 500 MW of renewable energy under contract, in addition to nearly 80,000 private rooftop systems in operation. The missing element for rooftop solar, by Hawaiian Electric standards, has been the four operating utilities seeming inability to accept clean power generation from their customers. These new clean power solar energy producers are not only solving the problem of Hawaii’s dependence on dirty energy, regardless of its source, but they are assisting HELCO and its sister companies in their state-mandated quest to go all-in with renewable energy by 2045.

If you already have solar panels on your rooftop or apartment building, you will clearly understand what follows…

Ask any solar rooftop homeowner, what is their number one priority for going solar. They may say with some pride, it’s being independent of the utility, saving money, doing the right thing, and/or charging their recently acquired Electric Vehicle (many more EV choices are coming to a dealer near you) with fuel-for-free from the sun.

A Tesla Energy (Solar City), customer benefit audit of an average Big Island home installed with a 8KW rooftop solar and four years operating history, looks like this:

  • $10,788 annual energy savings
  • 32.8 tons of CO2 (global warming gases) eliminated by avoiding through self-supply, utility-supplied and fossil-fueled electricity
  • The elimination of the equivalent exhaust pollution emissions, equal to NOT driving an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle a total of 77,638 miles

Whatever their reason, Hawaii’s residents and businesses with rooftop solar, especially in combination with battery back-up, find comfort in knowing they are ready to meet the challenges of an increasingly uncertain power security future, with preparedness, reliability, and power on-demand when the next super storm hits Hawai’i.

Hurricane Chart



Today’s energy decisions that we let others make for us affect our daily lives and have far-reaching consequences to our families, friends, and community.  

Our current assumptions about weather, climate, emergency preparedness and sustainability are now in question as fast-moving global and local developments challenge this thinking on which Hawaii’s private and public dollars are spent.

The world’s oceans continue to warm at a fast rate, coupled to coral die-offs, sea-level rise, more hurricanes, and super storms that are becoming the norm.  This is especially important to Hawai’i, an island state, as hurricanes draw their energy from deep below the ocean’s surface – up to depths of 2,000 meters. The temperature at these depths is measured by Ocean Heat Content, a metric that has soared since 1970, driven largely by four of the world’s major oceans. Last year was the hottest on record.

One thing island residents can rely on is the rising cost of daily living.  The role energy plays is central to that cost of living, and the food, water and power security on which we depend. The technology and system costs associated with clean energy choices, such as solar, wind, and battery storage continue to drop.

When Hawai’i considers alternatives to it current fossil fuel energy dependencies, the cost of kilowatt hour (KwH) delivered, a gallon gas-diesel pumped, to Hawaii’s environment on which we all depend, the sum of Hawaii’s energy costs are greater than its parts.