Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The New PUC Chair -- Hermina Morita

By Henry Curtis

Governor Neil Abercrombie held a press conference to announce the appointment of Representative Hermina Morita to serve as Chair of the Hawai`i Public Utilities Commission.

Hermina M. Morita was born on Moloka`i September 2, 1954, raised on Lana`i and lives on Kaua`i. She graduated from Kamehameha Schools, and briefly attended both the University of Hawaii and George Washington University. Mina was elected to the State House in 1997, representing Hanalei, Anahola, Kealia, Kapaa and Waipouli. She is married to Lance Laney and has two children Misha and Mindy and several grandchildren.

Mina Morita in her own words: “I was born and raised on Lanai where my father was the game warden and my mother was a pineapple field worker. Since the seventh grade I boarded at Kamehameha returning home in the summers to work in the pineapple fields like many other Lanai kids. Soon after graduating from Kamehameha, I attended the University of Hawai‘i briefly and then was offered a job to work in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong.

Returning to Hawai‘i after the senator’s retirement in the mid-1970s I moved to Kaua‘i. My first job on Kaua‘i was in the group sales office at Princeville. Prior to being elected as a State Representative, I also worked in hotel management as a reservations and front desk manager and for over a decade in construction. I was also the manager of Kong Lung Store and the business manager for the Kilauea Point Natural History Association. My husband and I raised our two daughters in Hanalei Valley where we have lived for over 30 years and now have three granddaughters. Prior to being elected to the state House, I served on the Kaua‘i County Planning Commission and the Kaua‘i County Police Commission. I was elected to the state House in 1996 and have served seven terms.

Since my second term in office, I have been the Chair of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. There is no doubt that Hawai‘i’s economy is over-reliant on the visitor industry and we must diversify our economy to become more sustainable. A fundamental change to support economic diversification is stable and predictable energy pricing. So for more than a decade I have been working to move Hawai‘i toward the development of local, renewable, and clean energy resources in my capacity as Chair of EEP. It has not been an easy task to develop the political will, attempting to keep electricity rates and gasoline prices reasonable and changing business models.

I believe many people now understand how vulnerable Hawai‘i is to fuel and food supply disruption and volatile pricing can reek havoc when paying for Hawai‘i’s energy and food needs.

These are issues that directly affect a family’s household budget or a business’ operating budget. However, by addressing these serious issues strategically Hawai‘i opens the door for economic development and opportunities. We export over $8 billion out of state to meet our energy and food needs. By developing local energy resources and farming in Hawai‘i we can recapture what we now send out of state to stay and be reinvested in Hawai‘i. Working on energy and food security is one of the most important ways to revitalize Hawai‘i’s economy to stabilize and “grow” sustainable communities.

I have a strong and proud record as a public servant. I try to practice the Hawai‘i values that identifies us as a special state and which we all share to make stronger families, a better work environment and sustainable communities: aloha (to practice compassion and love), kuleana (take responsibility for one’s actions), and malama pono (to do what is right and just).”


Mina got her start in the political arena regarding illegal boating activity in Hanalei. Later she opposed the Superferry for similar grounds. She firmly believes that boating operations are not exempt from the State Environmental Impact Statement process.

Kauai Electric (2007): She has been the target of “well-funded, well-organized hateful campaigns for her stance on the Hanalei boating issue — much like the one that has been launched against Superferry opponents.

“‘It's Hanalei boats again but thousands of times worse,’ Mina told me last night. In the Hanalei boating controversy, the tour boats were running illegally, without an EIS, and the state and county governments were loathe to assume responsibility for enforcing the law. Then, as now, people were clamoring that jobs and the economy were at stake, and the conflict caused a bitter split within families and the larger community that has never quite healed. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano finally stepped in and made the boats move to a real harbor at Port Allen. And neither the tour boat industry not Hanalei’s economy collapsed, as some of the boaters predicted. Now, however, tour boats are again launching from the Hanalei River, landowner Michael Sheehan is again proclaiming he has a right to use his boatyard for such purposes and the county is again declaring the operation illegal, but has not yet stopped it. It’s much the same scenario as the one that played out before, except our governor is unlikely to step in and send the tour boats to a designated harbor.”


Mina strongly supports civil unions.

In her blog she writes: "The vote on House Bill 444 has been postponed indefinitely. To say that I am disappointed and ashamed on what happened on the House floor would be an understatement. I believe the public, whether one was for or against civil union, deserved a definitive closure on this issue. I have been clear where I stand on this issue. I support civil unions. The posturing on this bill, by not correcting a defective date and all the procedural maneuvering, has been shameful. We were not leaders today."

Crime Prevention

Mina served as a member of the Kauai Police Commission (1993 – 1996)

The Environment

Mina served as a member of the Kauai County Planning Commission (1990- 1993); as a Volunteer interpreter for the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a member of the Advisory Board for the Kauai Children's Discovery Museum; a member of the Hanalei Community Association; and as a Board Member for Environment Hawaii.

As the long-term chair of the Hawai`i House Committees on Energy & Environmental Protection (EEP) she has shaped major environmental policy for a decade, including passage of the Bottle Bill.

Mina has been a champion for environmental protection. She has consistent ranked at the top or near the top of the Sierra Club's ranking of legislators.


Mina serves as a member of the Women’s Legislative Caucus of the Hawaii State Legislature. Among the package of bills being proposed for 2011 are those that would eliminate of the statue of limitations for civil actions brought by persons subjected to sexual offenses as a minor; requiring hospitals and providers of emergency medical care to provide survivors of sexual assault with medically and factually accurate unbiased information regarding emergency contraception; and prohibiting the physically restraint of pregnant inmates, unless extraordinary circumstances exist.


Mina has been instrumental in passing energy legislation, including net energy metering, renewable portfolio standards, energy efficiency portfolio standards, greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and dedicated funding for energy and food security programs through a carbon tax on petroleum products.

Representative Hermina Morita  spoke at Life of the Land's 1999 Energy for the Millennium Conference held at Chaminade University and again at Life of the Land's 2000 Energy for the Millennium II Conference held at the State Capitol, where she advocated for hydrogen.  (Mina's presentations: 1999 video  2000 video)

She serves on the Hawai'i Energy Policy Forum (HEPF), an energy planning and policymaking group founded by HECO following the defeat of their disastrous Wa`ahila Ridge 138kV Transmission Line proposal (1971-2002).

She is a member of the Advisory Committee on Energy of the National Energy Conference of State Legislatures Energy Project and National Committee on Electricity Policy.

As a passionate advocate for energy policy, she has sometimes been controversial: ten years ago she “hired” HECO employees to serve in her office at the Legislature (embedded lobbyists), endorsed hydrogen, biofuels and Big Wind as state energy policy, and codifying the Bush-Lingle-Aiona Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative into State Law.


In a statement delivered to the by California Hydrogen Business Council on October 13, 2000, Hermina Morita stated:

In May 1999 I finished my first term as Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection feeling defeated. Saving environmental programs in a down economy was not a priority in the State's budget. And, my only major bill that survived the Legislature was vetoed by the Governor. Dejected, I felt my committee had no purpose. Things changed, however, on September 30, 1999, when I read an editorial in the Honolulu Advertiser entitled, "Catastrophe is just right around our corner." It was my wake up call. The article commented on three reports released by the United Nations Environmental Program. The reports found that: Scientists said global warming will cause severe hurricanes. ...

I live in Hanalei Valley on the island of Kauai. ... I have been through two hurricanes within a ten-year period, Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Hurricane Iniki destroyed my family's home. Our homeowner's insurance policy allowed my family the resources to rebuild and furnish a new home but it came with a sizable increase in premiums and high risk factor. In 1995, I watched three one-hundred year floods in a ninety-day period from my back porch. The first flood broke the banks of the Hanalei River and created a cut-off, which now flows through my backyard. Although I now have waterfront property I am sure it affects my flood insurance policy. The second flood caused me to abandon my car as a flash flood came across the road and stalled the car while driving home. That incident cost my insurance carrier over $7,000 to repair the car. ...

My approach to move from a petroleum-based economy to a hydrogen-based economy is for purely selfish reasons. I am Hawaiian and I cannot bear the thought that the Hawaii I know will be different for my grandchildren. I view this transformation as the only means to protect the natural and cultural heritage of my identity. I am convinced that this is the only answer to sustain Hawaii's fragile environment and to stabilize and diversify its economy.

As I proceed in my efforts to promote a hydrogen-based economy, the experiences and lessons Hawaii will learn in this transformation will be a model for the rest of the world. And, we must move forward because it is the only moral and ethical choice we have as the existence and survival of many islands and their people depend on this decision.”

Geothermal/Hydrogen (2001): “Hermina Morita has a grand vision for Hawaii’s energy future. A state representative, Morita chairs a legislative committee to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on oil, which accounts for 88 percent of its energy and is mainly imported on tankers from Asia and Alaska. In April 2001, the committee approved a $200,000 “jumpstart” grant to support a public/private partnership in hydrogen research and development, tapping the island state’s plentiful geothermal, solar, and wind resources to split water and produce hydrogen for use in fuel cells to power buses and cars, homes and businesses, and military and fishing fleets. The grant grew out of a consultant study suggesting that hydrogen could become widely cost-effective in Hawaii this decade.”

Hydrogen (2002): “In August 2002 I gave one of my first major speeches at a Hydrogen Partnering Meeting on the Big Island. The following month I was quoted in Hawaii Business that I would hope for the day when people would say “hydrogen” and “Hawaii” in the same breath. That certainly happened this week. Although I have become a little bit more pragmatic in my approach to a hydrogen economy, I still strongly believe the marriage of renewables and hydrogen can be a pathway to peace. But more importantly, in the short-term, Hawaii is pushing the envelope in integrating its electricity and transportation sectors in its clean energy policy and incorporating energy efficiency. That’s a huge tipping point.” (Source: Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative Renewable Energy Technology Assessments Final Report. Black & Veatch Corporation, March 2005)


Biofuels (2004): Representative Mina Morita, Chair of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, amended SB2474 to state that biofuels, hydrogen or fuel cells receive only partial credit as a green resource corresponding to the percentage of green inputs.

Ethanol (2006): “Supporters of ethanol, including Rep. Hermina Morita”

Biofuels (The Garden Island (July 8, 2007): “The state needs a plan to know how to integrate the electricity and transportation sectors and what the best crops are to produce alternative fuels, said Rep. Mina Morita, D-14th District. 'It takes careful coordination to bring biofuels to the market,' she said. ... 'We have to look at not only growing the ag crop, but how to take it into biofuel production,' Morita said. ... In terms of ethanol production, Kaua‘i is already ahead of the learning curve, Morita said. ... No time will be wasted researching what crops to grow or how to grow them because the island continues to operate a sugar mill on the Westside owned by Gay & Robinson. Producing sugar for ethanol instead of food could take the sugar industry to a new level by making it an energy company, Morita said. 'A move toward biofuels keeps ag land in ag production,' she said. 'With our over dependency on imported fuels, this is a way to address that overdependency and a way to diversify our energy portfolio and our economy' ... House Bill 869 appropriates $50,000 to the Hawai‘i Energy Policy Forum to study energy efficient transportation strategies. The funding '’gets stakeholders to the table,' Morita said. 'You need a critical lobbying force at the Legislature so things continue to move forward ... instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel' she said.”

Biofuels (2008): “David Leonard, who was employed by Imperium until earlier this year, appeared as a HECO consultant and witness. He testified that he traveled to Malaysia three times in the past two years. One of those trips also included state legislators Sen. Ron Menor and Rep. Mina Morita, each of whom reported in excess of $3,000 paid for their airfare, food and lodging on annual spending reports. The tab was picked up by industry cheerleader the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.”

Mina Morita attends Sime Darby Conference

Biofuels (2009): “‘I've always supported PacWest because the numbers work for this project,’ said state Rep. Mina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei). ‘The economics for sugar cane as a biomass crop are sound,’ said Morita, chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection and a long-time proponent of renewable energy. ‘I think where people get mixed up is looking at the energy return on corn ethanol. For sugar, it's something like for every unit of energy put into the crop, you get out eight (units of energy). Where corn is like one to one,’ Morita said. ... "This is a project we can do right now because the technology is solid," Morita said. ‘We know how to grow sugar cane on Kaua'i, and we have the resources. ... It's an opportunity that we shouldn't forgo.’ Gay & Robinson, Kaua'i's last active sugar plantation, expects to finish harvesting its last crop of cane within two weeks. If the more than 200 Gay & Robinson workers are hired by PacWest as projected, they will be people working on Kaua'i who otherwise would be unemployed, Morita said.”

Biofuels (Honolulu Weekly, December 1, 2010): “‘Biofuel has an important role, especially as a transition fuel,’ says Rep. Mina Morita, chairwoman the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee and member of the HCEI steering committee. ‘We still need a liquid fuel because that’s the basis of our transportation system.’”


Hydroelectric (2001): “An Idaho company that specializes in running hydroelectric power plants has applied for a federal permit to explore the possibility of building a dam on the Wailua River. ... ‘All of those hydroelectric permit applications were what got me into politics,’ said State Rep. Mina Morita, (D, E. Maui-N. Kauai), who also was a member of the Kauai Planning Commission at that time. Although she is a champion of renewable energy, she is opposed to hydroelectric power.”

Hydroelectric (2002): “In 2002, State Representative Mina Morita submitted a bill to provide a tax credit of 20 percent for hydroelectric systems erected and placed in service between 2003 and 2010. This bill never passed. The bill which did pass included tax credits only for solar and wind energy. This exclusion, however, apparently was due to State budget limitations rather than a preference for a particular renewable energy technology.”

Hydroelectric (2005): “An Idaho company has revived a proposal to dam the south fork of Wailua River above the falls for a hydroelectric project. ...State Rep. Mina Morita, D-14th (Kapa'a, Hanalei), said that as long as other environmental issues can be addressed and the system does not require diverted Hanalei water, ‘it shouldn't be a problem.’ However, she said, the community would better benefit from first upgrading two small Wailua hydroelectric plants to get maximum power production from existing diversions.”

Hydroelectric (2008): “A discussion about the future of hydroelectric power on Kaua‘i brought many in the community together Thursday night at the Lihu‘e Civic Center. Existing hydropower systems on the Garden Isle and challenges to hydropower were discussed at the monthly Apollo Kaua‘i meeting. ... ‘The upper Wainiha is probably the best project out of all of them,’ said guest speaker Rep. Mina Morita, D-14th District. ‘The road (leading to the project) was done. The EIS was done and approved and they had permits.’”

Clean Energy

Clean Energy (Mina Morita's Blog, 2010): “When the renewable portfolio standard and net metering laws were first passed in 2001, what started out as separate bills were merged into one bill by another chair leaving me frustrated because the net meeting language was an okay first step, but the renewable portfolio standard was meaningless. I had the option of killing the bill, and both concepts, completely and walking away with nothing or taking half a loaf. Begrudgingly, I took half a loaf. After amending these laws over the past eight years, net metered households and businesses have increased significantly statewide and Hawaii has one of the most aggressive renewable portfolio standards in the nation long with an energy efficiency portfolio standard.

Last week at the Senate public hearings for House Bill 2421 (the barrel tax), well-intentioned people opposed the bill and recommended that the bill be killed because it does not tax coal or bio-fuels, specifically palm oil. While it may be true that the coal burning power plants have higher levels of carbon dioxide emissions than the petroleum burning power plants, as the below graph depicts, the more significant problem is the oil as it is used to meet 86% of Hawaii energy needs versus coal at 7.9%. The use of bio-fuels is insignificant at the present time.

The failure to include a tax on bio-fuels and coal, the two biggest culprits in global warming have left people like Henry Curtis and Kat Brady of Life of the Land as opposing House Bill 2421. Kat has been quoted in the Honolulu Weekly saying “If you’re going to do something about climate change, why would you not include the two biggest contributors to greenhouse gases?”

Here’s the answer. In Hawaii we are doing something to address Hawaii’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, which is oil, funding a long-term strategy through the barrel tax. House Bill 2421 cannot solve the global issue of greenhouse gas emissions, but we can start in our backyard by implementing policies and actions we have full control over. It will take resources to put these policies to action. The barrel taxes addresses funding issues. So isn’t 9/10 of a loaf better than none?”

Fossil Fuel

Fossil Fuels (Mina Norita's Blog, 2010): “Some have questioned why I have not scheduled a public hearing on any fossil fuel ban bills in the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection. Simple answer, I heard a fossil fuel ban bill last year and am not convinced that there is any new evidence to move such a concept forward again.”

Fossil Fuels (2009):A simple ban on fossil fuel generation makes for an easy sound bite but does not equate to a practical implementation of state law. ... Further, a fossil fuel ban gives the impression that we can meet all our energy needs through renewable energy sources, however, in 2030 it is projected that a substantial amount of Hawaii’s electrical generation will still rely on fossil fuels. I strongly believe that all of Hawaii’s future energy options should not be shut off prematurely without a full understanding of cost, reliability and carbon footprint impacts.

Hawaii’s clean energy future is a transition of moving away from our dependency on fossil fuels by incorporating energy efficiency and renewable energy. It will not happen overnight and will require that we make the right investments in various technologies at the most opportune time to minimize risk and costs. Wind and solar are intermittent sources of energy which will require some kind of storage technology which is not readily available. Currently, local production of biofuel crops is not available. Imported biofuels are more expensive and in some cases actually have a larger carbon footprint than some of the petroleum products from Hawaii’s refineries.

Right now, the emphasis of Hawaii’s clean energy future should be on maximizing energy efficiency, the low hanging fruit, to put off the decision and need to build new fossil fuel power plants for as long as possible, the integration of a renewable energy system into a modernized smart grid and establishing the right pricing mechanisms, including consideration of possible federal initiatives and carbon taxes . . . It is too simplistic to think that we can just draw a line in the sand banning fossil fuels without factoring cost and reliability issues and not anticipate inadvertent consequences.

A critical component in the discussion of Hawaii’s energy future that has not had thoughtful debate is the role of Hawaii’s refineries. In an integrated clean energy system, both electricity and transportation fuels must be factored to facilitate a transition strategy. We have had lots of discussion on electricity but hardly any on transportation fuels. If we come to the conclusion that Hawaii’s refineries play an important role in our energy security (importing crude oil to be refined in Hawaii rather than importing refined products such as aviation fuel and gasoline) then every bit of that barrel of oil should be utilized in Hawaii in the most efficient way.

Discussions are ongoing about transitioning one of Hawaii’s refineries into a bio-refinery. Research and developments are focusing on algae as a biofuel feedstock to be refined into jet fuel. It’s all very exciting but very preliminary at this stage. To be completely self-sufficient using renewable resources will take breakthrough technology. In the meantime, I am just trying to be realistic and pragmatic in shaping Hawaii’s clean energy future.”

Mina Morita was a speaker at the private Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) Conferences in 2008 and 2009. Her travel expenses, room and board were paid for in 2008 and 2009.

 Interisland Cable & Big Wind

Unlike the Senate hearing which had representatives from multiple perspectives, the House’s January 27, 2011 Big Wind Informational Briefing had only proponents speaking.

Henry Curtis

# # #


She looks like she has pros and cons, mostly pros, hopefully not all "prose" like so many BS lifetime politicians.

The issues facing us now are new, there is not 50 years of track experience to judge from.

Many of these are technological in nature, whilst promoters and salesman of the "new energy" abound. Please grant us all the ability to see through the bull, and the statist views of the existing powers that be.

It appears she has the ability to have her mind changed if the facts presented to her warrant that change. Hopefully she will be able to see through the lobbying pressures and make decision for the good of the people.

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