Most of Hawaii’s electricity is generated via petroleum, all of it imported. Given the long term price trends, the State and Hawaiian Electric (HECO) on O’ahu have been motivated to find some alternatives, the most obviously being wind and PV. HECO being a traditional, big power supplier, prefers to go big and centralized when going green.

There is a wind farm on O’ahu at Kahuku, but HECO is looking for a bit more elbow room than Honolulu County provides, and is looking at putting wind and PV farms on Lana’i and Moloka’i. There has been some resistance to the idea out on these neighbor islands (what’s in it for us?), and back on O’ahu (who’s paying for this?).

The big ticket item for this plan is the fat, thick, 12 and 27 mile long undersea power cables to get the juice to market: $1 billion, just for the cable installation.

GE (US) is the sole source for this cable, and should they get the contract, they can guarantee repeat business. Unlike undersea communication cables, if they leak or break, there’s no patching or splicing the damage. They have to replace the whole thing. The system would be a underwater landslide, dragging ship’s anchor, or storm damage at the cable landing sites away from a major bill for the rate payers.

Imagine taking that first billion, and making it the only billion, via distributed, decentralized power generation on O’ahu (and the other islands). PV panels generate two things: power and shade, and in the tropics, shade is a valuable commodity. PV panels on a roof reduce the owner’s electric bill via the feed in tariff for power sold to HECO, and reduced need for a/c. Ditto for PV over parking lots, road ways, and public areas. In addition, there’s still suitable, windy locations on the island for more windmills.

Distributed, decentralized power provides a robust, secure supply, and can save the rate payers money. The only real question is: can HECO think that far out of their box?

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, cc: photo by exquisitur

A gentleman from Wailuku quoted the Wall Street Journal while arguing that nuclear power was a reasonable long term solution for reducing the high cost of Hawai’i electric power.

I believe Mr. Kunishige overlooked a few points en route between the WSJ and his letter.

Government investment: Nuclear power is price competitive because of heavy government direct investment and subsidies. After World War II, the Federal Government funded considerable R&D for military and civilian nuclear energy. It has and continues to provide: risk insurance, which no private insurer will issue; billions of dollars in low interest loans and loan guarantees; storage facilities for radioactive waste and decommissioned reactors.

Therefore, moving government investment heavily into renewable energy sources would fit with existing practices, and as the HSBC report forecasts, will lead to competitive costs within this decade.

Scale: For the investment to be worthwhile, plants are typically sized for at least 1000 MW, more than the entire electrical output for the state in 2009. To justify a plant of that size, all of the islands would need to be linked via undersea power cables, with some of the routes over two miles deep.

NIMBY: It is highly unlikely that any county will wish to give up any of their shorelines for a plant site, since almost all suitable shores are the focus of visitor and resident recreation. Even if set inland, plants at likely sites would be considered eyesores, visible from most major towns and resorts. It is highly unlikely that the Legislature or the PUC would approve the plant and spent fuel storage ponds.

While the State is looking hard at non-fossil fuel energy supplies, it is looking at building up capacity in stages. The state has enough solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and ocean temperature gradient potential, that – coupled with the enormous up-front costs of nuclear plants – nuclear has not and will not be seriously considered.

A gentleman from Lahaina is evidently unhappy with the results of the 2008 Presidential Campaign, listing six promises he feels the President hasn’t kept. Frankly, these are the same ‘ol, and my actual gripe is that the tone of the letter lacked evidence of a mature mind. As a self improvement exercise, I suggest that the writer:

1. Grow up. I’ll assume you’ve lived through a few Administrations by now, and know enough to realize that the Second Coming won’t arrive via the Electoral College.

2. Not cherry-pick the inevitable broken or compromised promises, but keep track of them all, and weigh the result.

Based on Pamela Tumpup’s most recent (2/20/2010) The Chamber View column, I think we can sum up the Maui Chamber of Commerce’s view of the draft Maui County General Plan as relax, don’t do it. Let’s address her beefs and/or suggestions:

  • The draft plan is aspirational – Of course. This isn’t North Korea. The County hopes to achieve balanced economic growth, and encourage an improved quality of life. On the other hand, Ms. Tumpap complains that the document micromanages business interests. This is incorrect. In short, the plan hopes to prevent the County from turning into a grimy mess. But, there’s easy money en route, so she objects to any detour. In fact, Many of the proposed “implementing actions” explicitly support small business and the visitor industry. But, I’ll bet she blanched at the policy to put a time limit on development entitlements, currently valid indefinately.
  • Pamela suggests detailed plans for any new services, but it’s not clear if she wants them inserted into the general plan, or is just restating what the County government already does.
  • No population projection – This is incorrect.
  • There is a no-growth overtone to the plan – This is incorrect. It does seek to limit the addition of visitor rooms, but not overall growth.
  • Collaborate better with the visitor industry – Tourism accounts for 39% of Maui’s economic output, vs. 19 to 29% of the other counties, so there has obviously been plenty of collaboration already. The plan looks toward economic diversity. To allow room for diversification, it seeks to prevent unlimited proliferation of visitor rooms, while improving and broadening the experience for visitors filling the existing room count.
  • Build greater flexibility into boundaries – I’m sure the concept of urban growth boundaries is at the top of the Chamber’s shit list. It’s a key concept for smart growth, and maintaining the qualities that make Maui a desirable spot to vacation and live. If there’s anything in the plan the County needs to maintain a hard line on, it’s this. The County has a history of being free with zoning variances, and if it holds to that m.o., it might as well not set any limits to begin with.

This “Chamber View” isn’t evil, it just reflects the fact that just about any County planning policy will tend to conflict with the CoC memberships’ laissez-faire ideals. I’ll pray that the County council keeps this in mind as they review the draft General Plan.

Someone on Maui wants a water meter, and they want it now.

Maui DWS Residential Meter, Installed

The Maui Department of Water Supply has three major, separate systems: the west side, central and south, and upcountry. All of the systems rely on a combination of well and rain water, the upcountry system by far the most dependent on rain. Over the years, overall rainfall has trended downward, while the number of consumers has grown.

After years of struggling with droughts and tight supplies, in 1993 the Board of Water Supply set a long term policy limiting the addition of water meters to the upcountry system, until such time as added supplies became available. Landowners who were already approved for a meter were given six months to have it installed, while everyone else went onto a waiting list which has grown to over 1300 requests.

Now, a Mr. Davis has filed suit, claiming “uncompensated taking and violation of equal protection and due process” regarding his meter-less property in Haiku. His beef seems centered around lack of notice, and the cost of meeting the fire flow requirement. Several other correspondents have chimed in. I suspect there will be many more.

1) Lack of notice: the DWS met the letter of the law by putting an ad in the Maui News notifying customers of the new policy. The DWS could have posted notices in more newspapers, or mailed out notices. How many newspapers? What of the out-of-date addresses?

2) Fire flow requirement: Upcountry Maui is a rural area, and consequently its water system wasn’t built to provide residential levels of fire protection. Before someone can subdivide and develop their property, the pipes leading to it need to be brought up to code. The DWS’ capital improvement program has many competing priorities, among which rural upgrades are low on the list. Therefore, it becomes the landowner’s responsibility, often to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.

A workaround  is for the landowner to drill a well on property. Another option, only pursued by major developers, is to drill a well elsewhere, and deed it to the County in exchange for a percentage of the rated supply. This translates into a certain number of water meters for the development. This doesn’t happen very often, about once a decade, but it really irks the small landowners.

As for Mr. Davis, I suspect he’s out of luck. A judge will quickly recognize that a ruling which in any way favors the plaintiff will lead to chaos for Upcountry water pressure, and/or break the bank for the County.

Waikamoi Flume: If It Ain't Raining, It Ain't Flowing

405 Freeway At Night

405 Freeway At Night (from thirdape23, cc license)

Over the holidays, we packed up the family to visit my folks, do Disneyland, see old friends, and see what has changed in the last 15 years since we last lived in the Greater Los Angeles area.

All in all, a good trip. But, my first impression was set during the drive from LAX to my parents place in Oceanside: the drivers on the freeways are assholes. On Maui, it’s customary to back off on the gas to let someone slide into your lane. In L.A. (and I really should have remembered this) it’s customary to hit the gas before someone can slide  into your lane. This doesn’t help when you’re trying to merge from the FREAKIN’ ON RAMP.

All was well over the following week, until we stopped at the Trancas Canyon Starbucks for a snack during a drive through Malibu. During this trip, we worked at not using various Hawai’i idioms we’ve picked up over the last ten years, but my wife slipped when the barrista asked if she wanted whipped cream on her mocha. “No need, thanks.” “So, that’d be a no.” No, witch, that’d be a No Fucking Thank You, splash, Aloha. God help an ESL customer in that place. A quick google search suggests that shop is treated as more of a necessary evil than a hotspot for savoring one’s brew.

A shorter version of  my previous post hit the Maui News on November 30th. I was in bed with a cold that morning, and it didn’t take long for a local fellow to a call and express his displeasure. Other than veiled threats, the gist of his message to me was:

  • I needed to be educated about the situation. (Done, and continuing: During the 10+ years I’ve made my home here, I’ve read widely on the subject, including a number of pro-sovereignty texts on and off line.)
  • The haoles have no aloha. (Partly true.)
  • The haoles are stealing land. (Partly true. Newcomers have played fast and loose in claiming title to land: in the past by manipulating the Hawaiian and Territorial Government, now by “buying” interest from one member of a large ohana, and making expensive-to-fight quiet title claims on the rest of the extended family).
  • The haoles aren’t even following their own rules. (False)
  • The case of Hawaiian Sovereignty is before the World Court (which will presumably straighten this whole thing out). (Half true)

A number of sovereignty activists and supporters point to the fact that the World Court has accepted papers from one or more Hawaiian groups that dispute the US “occupation” of Hawai’i as proof that an authoritative third party sees enough merit in the case to, in essence, give the complainants the time of day.

The flaw in this line of thinking is the belief that a bureaucracy accepting papers reflects a favorable view of the text they contain. Just as that one can sue anyone about anything in the US, anyone can drop off a complain with the World Court (or, at least one of its three bodies):

  • International Criminal Court: even if Thurston Twigg-Smith had  slain half of all native Hawaiians by his own hand, if he did it before the Court was formed in 2002, they won’t hear the case.
  • International Court of Justice: in addition to supplying legal opinions to the UN, the ICJ produces a binding ruling between states that agree to submit to the ruling of the court. The states must be recognized as legitimate, and both states must agree to submit if the case is to be heard. As it stands, the UN and all nations that have diplomatic relations with the US recognize Hawai’i as an integral part of the US.
  • Permanent Court of Arbitration: …”serve[s] as the registry for purposes of international arbitration and other related procedures, including commissions of enquiry and conciliation. In short, it is a permanent framework available to assist temporary arbitral tribunals or commissions.” This is probably the body referred to by activists. While they will accept complaints from just about any body that can manage to organize itself, the key word is “arbitration”. If the US declines arbitration, the PCA has no jurisdiction to force the issue.

Ultimately, this brings me back to a point I’ve previously made in letters to the editor. The legal and political status of Hawai’i as a State of the Union is firmly set. The legal distance between it and – say – Rhode Island is shorter than the text of this post. Hawai’i won’t be cut loose by the stroke of a pen, unless proceeded by war, or a process at least as arduous as amending the Federal Constitution.

The truth may hurt, but knowledge can set my morning caller free, free to seek a route that might put him closer to his goal, rather than chasing dreams.