Sunday, December 28, 2008

Island-Wide Blackout Fails To Dim Obama Visit

It was lights out all over Oahu Friday night. (EUGENE TANNER, Honolulu Advertiser)
President-Elect Obama has looked up some old haunts in Honolulu during his trips here in 2008. Something else he may remember from his childhood on Oahu is the relative fragility of the electric grid.

Sorry to say, Oahu’s island-wide power outages have become all too frequent. Just off the top, we can recall upwards of 10 total or near-total island-wide outages since 1980.

The December 26-27 outage is still unexplained, and our sister blog – Citizens Helping Officials Respond to Emergencies (CHORE) – asks a few questions about how a lightning strike (the presumed cause at this date) in a remote location on the island could prompt a complete shutdown of the grid.

The outage made national headlines in light of Obama’s holiday vacation here, but reports indicate his family took the disruption in stride and simply went to bed early Friday night.

As did many of us.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama Comes Home; Holiday Visit May Outshine Annual Sojourn of that Other High-Profile Celebrity

Our Christmas Eve cartoon prediction: “Santa Barack” in his red suit, sitting on his throne, Hawaii politicians and renewable energy advocates in line with gift requests, Governor Lingle on his lap. (If we had any sway with Honolulu Weekly, it would be on page 3 next Wednesday.)
• Christmas Eve Update: The Advertiser cartoon today was close:

The Advertiser’s page-one, above-the-fold headline today declares “Obama coming home tomorrow” (take that, Chicago), and the president-elect’s 10-day holiday vacation has his hometown abuzz. The weather forecast for Christmas Day is typical for Hawaii – partly sunny with windward showers, high 77. Obama’s holiday home is on the windward side, so he may enjoy some of those passing “blessings.”

Also in the forecast is a flurry of stories and editorials aimed at PEOTUS, some of them about Hawaii’s oil dependence and renewable energy potential. In the unlikely event that a deputy assistant under press secretary-designate should stumble across this blog, we’ll link our August “Obama Talk Story” and hope some of it sticks.

We wish the entire Obama entourage (and you) a Mele Kalikimaka and send you all a couple YouTube versions of the song -- by Bette Midler (like Obama, a local high school graduate) and someone else -- to put ev erybody in an Island Christmas mood. It doesn't get much better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama Transition Team Briefing Should Embrace Diversity in Hawaii’s Renewable Resource Future

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is excited about participating in a “wave energy briefing with President-Elect Obama’s Transition Team” two days from now. (We’re still searching for information on this briefing and welcome your assistance by leaving links in the Comments section, below.)

Thielen is an ardent wave energy supporter and promotes the technology frequently. We wish her well in impressing Transition Team members with Hawaii’s renewable energy potential and hope she doesn’t stop with wave energy. As Jan TenBruggencate of Kauai wrote recently: “It's a dangerous game to insist that any one energy source, whether it's oil/coal, or waves or even OTEC, is all we need to be working on. There is danger in putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Thielen notes in her piece that “the University of Hawaii is one of only two National Marine Renewable Test Centers in the nation, and they will be funded for the next five years to study and implement wave energy systems.”

Thielen stopped short in describing the funding. The complete quote from the Department of Energy press release says the Hawaii Center “…will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing."

In other words, there’s more than wave energy in the Center’s agenda. We hope a variety of renewable energy technologies will be on the table when the Transition Team allots some of its valuable time this week to Hawaii’s renewable energy potential.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Island Geothermal Venture Marks 15th Year

Often overlooked as a natural energy resource in Hawaii is the geothermal field on the Big Island. Puna Geothermal Venture’s plant celebrated its 15th anniversary yesterday, an event recorded by a new and promising news-gathering organization, Big Island

The video coverage highlights the participation of native Hawaiians in the ceremony. It’s the usual practice at groundbreakings and blessings in Hawaii for prayers and chants to be offered by representatives of the host culture. Beyond the usual ceremonial practice, it’s worth noting that native Hawaiian support will be required if the resource is ever to grow beyond 30 megawatts, the plant’s current size. (The above photo shows a segment of the cable once proposed to transmit electricity from the Big Island to Oahu.)

Native Hawaiian concerns about the industry’s potential to respect their culture, as well as damage the Wao Kele O Puna rainforest, was instrumental in blocking plans to expand the geothermal field. The Pele Defense Fund, backed by the Rainforest Action Network, was the most visible defender of cultural practices and an environment cherished by Hawaiians, including the rainforest.

Described by the Network as the last large lowland expanse of tropical rainforest in Hawaii, Wao Kele O Puna was eyed in the 1980s as a potential 500-MW geothermal field. The federally funded Hawaii Deep Water Cable Program explored transmission of electricity from the Big Island to Oahu using a seabed cable across the Alenuihaha Channel between Hawaii Island and Maui, then onward to Oahu. (The project is described in detail in the document “Hawaii and Geothermal: What Has Been Happening?”)

A Cultural Miscalculation

In their enthusiasm over geothermal energy’s potential, supporters misunderstood or simply were unaware of native Hawaiian cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding geothermal energy. Many Hawaiians came forward to say exploitation of that potential would be an affront to Pele, goddess of fire and protector of the Big Island’s volcanoes (at right, as envisioned by artist Walfrido Garcia).

That miscalculation included Hawaiian Electric Company’s TV spot in the early ‘80s shot near the rim of Halemaumau Crater (Pele’s home!) that ended with a giant electric plug being jammed into a giant receptacle planted on the ground. A leader in the Pele Defense Fund movement later told us the spot’s symbolic plunging of a dagger into Pele’s breast was the trigger that ramped up opposition to geothermal energy on the island. (Mea culpa time: the spot was created on our watch while at HECO.)

All of which is to suggest that if a new attempt is launched to expand geothermal energy’s contribution to the state’s renewable resource inventory, native Hawaiian sensitivities must be respected. Everyone in the state is negatively affected by Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, and more energy drawn from the Big Island’s subterranean heat resource would benefit us all.

Getting there certainly will depend on the native Hawaiian community benefitting as well as or more than the rest.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Phoenix Motorcars, MECO To Test Electric Cars; Another Look at HCEI’s Renewable Energy Goal

Phoenix Motorcars CEO Dan Elliott (right) and Maui Electric CEO Ed Reinhardt sign their agreement today as Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Governor Linda Lingle look on.

Phoenix Motorcars announced today it will test up to 30 of its built-in-Korea electric vehicles on Maui starting in the first quarter of 2009 in partnership with Maui Electric Company.

The California company and MECO signed the agreement in Governor Linda Lingle’s office, where Better Place and Hawaiian Electric inked their own pact one week ago aimed at building a statewide network to service electric cars.

CEO Dan Elliott said its alliance with MECO is the company’s first partnership with a utility. When asked by an Associated Press reporter “what’s to test?” since electric cars have been around for years, Elliott and others said Maui already is studying how the mix of renewable energy resources can best be integrated on the island’s electric grid. Adding electric vehicles to the mix will result in valuable information for future vehicle rollouts, they said.

HCEI's '70 Percent' Goal

A comment made by the Governor today about the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative makes us wonder whether we and virtually all media have missed something about the HCEI goal. Just about every media piece we’ve seen since January has said HCEI's goal is to achieve 70 percent reliance on renewable energy in Hawaii by 2030.

The Governor today said the 70 percent figure is reached by combining 40 percent renewable resource reliance with 30 percent in improved efficiency. “That’s how we get to 70 percent,” she said.

Yet that’s not how HCEI’s goal has been described by the media. Google it yourself, but here are just a few typical citations:
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 29, 2008
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Hawaiian Electric Company
Renewable Energy

That said, here’s a quote from the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism’s website on HCEI:

The goal is to decrease energy demand and accelerate use of renewable, indigenous energy resources in Hawaii in residential, building, industrial, utility, and transportation end-use sectors, so that efficiency and renewable energy resources will be sufficient to meet 70% of Hawaii’s energy demand by 2030."

So maybe what this boils down to is that the media essentially have given too little credit to the efficiency side of the equation and have inaccurately tied the 70-percent figure to renewable energy alone. If that’s the case, today’s press conference served a valuable purpose beyond the electric car test announcement by shedding more light on HCEI's goal.

It remains to be seen whether Hawaii and federal officials will consistently emphasize 40 percent renewable energy reliance instead of 70 percent when they discuss HCEI, as the Governor did today. Some observers already have said Hawaii's oil vulnerability makes even the higher number too conservative.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama, Biden & Gore To Meet on Climate, Energy

Let’s turn the search engines loose again and see if we can attract some attention to Hawaii’s energy issues and unique problems by linking them to tomorrow’s meeting between President-Elect (and Hawaii’s Own) Barack Obama, Nobel laureat and former Vice President Al Gore and Veep-Elect Joe Biden:

Obama Hawaii Energy Biden Hawaii Renewable Gore Hawaii Oil Dependency OTEC

That might do it. We tried the same tactic a few months ago with some success, according to our visitor tracker. While we’re at it, we hope some of you visitors review the “Obama Talk Story” script we proposed when he vacationed here in August.

And since Hawaii's Favorite Son will be vacationing here again this month, there's always a chance someone will try it out on him.

12/9 Update:  MSNBC previews the Chicago meeting.  So does CNN.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Same Time, Same Place – Governor’s Office Sets Another ‘Major Clean Energy Announcement’

Renewable energy advocates here on Oahu are learning to keep their Tuesday calendars free at 1:30. That’s becoming the designated announcement hour by the Governor’s office – for two weeks running, at least.

This week’s “major clean energy announcement” involves Phoenix Motorcars, which is taking reservations at its website for motorists who want “to be among the first to buy a real-world electric vehicle….” (The company's SUV is shown above.)

Last Tuesday at 1:30, the office hosted Better Place’s announcement for a statewide billion-dollar network of electric charging stations. It will be interesting to learn about Hawaiian Electric Company’s involvement with Phoenix, if any.

We’re optimistically blocking out the 1:30 hour on Tuesdays for the foreseeable future. Now, if the people who run the State Capitol would only block out more stalls for the public...(what a concept!)... citizens might actually be able to park their new electric cars there.

Friday, December 5, 2008

32,000 Miles on No Gallons of Gas; Swiss Teacher Completes World Tour in Solar Energy-Powered Car

Louis Palmer (right) gives a lift to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the climate change conference being held in Poznan, Poland. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Electric cars are the current rage, what with Better Place’s globetrotting marketing, most recently in Hawaii, and other developments all over the place. “Swiss adventurer” Louis Palmer rolled into Poznan, Poland yesterday after a 17-month, 32,000-mile journey through 38 countries in an electric car.

Palmer timed his arrival for the start of a United Nations climate conference that’s working on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The plan is to ratify the new treaty at an international conference next December in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Better Place will build another of its electric car networks.

Hawaii is getting a fair amount of media attention thanks to Better Place’s initiative here; the Salt Lake Tribune even added a blurb about the proposed electric car network in Hawaii when it rewrote the Associated Press story out of Poznan.

Just like the electric panels on a trailer hitched to Palmer’s car, Hawaii doesn’t mind hitching itself to renewable energy initiatives launched elsewhere -- the more the merrier.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Better Place Vision of EV Heaven Comes to Hawaii; Backers Predict Nation’s First Statewide Network

Better Place CEO Shai Agassi meets the media today with Gov. Linda Lingle and Ted Liu, Director of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
(See 12/4 Update at end of this post.)
If you’re going to skip a meeting with President-Elect Obama and 41 of your fellow governors to craft an economic recovery plan for the nation, you’d better have a news-making plan of your own on the same day. Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle didn’t disappoint.

For the second time in less than two months and the 10th time this year (see notably the "HECO Plan” and the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative), the Governor’s office was host to an energy-related announcement, and this one appears to have the potential to transform transportation in the Aloha State.

Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of Better Place, was today’s featured speaker at the Governor’s press conference as he outlined a plan to make Hawaii the test kitchen and proving ground for widespread introduction of electric vehicle (EVs).

Noting the state’s abundant renewable energy resource potential and the historically high price of oil, Agassi said Hawaii’s case for electric vehicles has become even more compelling. According to a Better Place handout:

“At the same time, technological developments, particularly those related to batter technology, mean that electric cars are becoming more advanced. Hawaii is ready for the large-scale adoption of EVs and is poised to become a leader in environmentally friendly technologies over the next few years.”

Better Place’s Plan

Agassi’s company is into building electric car networks that will make internal combustion engine vehicles so last century. His website has two press releases dated today. The one on Hawaii says the state is the second to commit to oil independence by joining “the Better Place network.” (If you have to be Number 2 to anybody, it’s pretty cool if California is Number 1.)

Follow the above links to websites for more information, and for those of you who can’t get enough news about Better Place and EVs, we’ll add to this list as the media coverage becomes available.
The Washington Post
12/4 Update: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin's editorial today mentions the "chicken and egg problem" in developing an electric car and plug-in network that others have identified, including National Public Radio earlier this week.

NY Times & Hawaii's Renewable Energy ‘Moon Shot'

Even The New York Times blogs. “The Board” is written by members of the Times’ editorial board and includes “…a variety of posts that give background to the day’s editorials, cover other major topics of the day, or provide a first-person take on an aspect of politics or society that we might not address in the editorial line-up.”

Hawaii’s quest for renewable energy independence is one such topic today. Henk Rogers’ Blue Planet Foundation and executive director Jeff Mikulina get a ton of exposure in a blog entry that equates the state’s drive to develop renewables with America’s race to the moon four decades ago:

"The project is Hawaii’s own moon mission, led by the Blue Planet Foundation and not by the state’s political establishment, which tends to prefer the slow and tortured way to change (a long battle over a new commuter rail system was bogged down by a ferocious debate over whether it should have steel or rubber wheels)."

Insert wince here – but remember, this is an opinion piece by a Times editorial board member, not necessarily the views of the aforementioned individuals and foundation. Still, it’s true that Rogers tells audiences we may be too conservative in aiming for 70 percent clean energy in Hawaii by 2030, the goal of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

Somebody has to be at the point of the spear, and whether they claim that position for themselves or not, that’s where one Times writer has put Rogers and Mikulina.

Remember the old advice: As long as the papers spell your name right, it’s good publicity.