Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Utility bills may sink Hawaii’s economy

by Larry Geller

A few interesting comments posted to my article Wisdom in blogs for our governor (11/28/2011) related to energy, in particular Big Wind. Please check them out.

OuchI would like to comment on Big Wind in relation to this morning’s front page headline and graphic (isn’t that a great graphic?) in the Star-Advertiser. The pain caused to the guy at the bottom of the page is the result of a projected 70 percent increase in his water bill. Ouch!

Certainly, we need to both conserve water and energy (use less) and increase the proportion of energy generation from renewable sources. No argument. On the the other hand, though, “green energy” has become a bubble, not unlike the run-up to the real estate collapse here and in other countries. Every aspect of it attracts investment. Worldwide, companies hope to cash in on it. Certainly, that’s what’s driving Big Wind.

The proposition that huge tracts of Neighbor Island land should be sacrified to supply Oahu’s insatiable need for electricity, and that a lossy and expensive undersea cable is the way to deliver it, can be viewed as part of that bubble. In other words, there is big money to be made by someone in that deal. But who will pay the cost? Of course, you and I.

Big Wind will mean rate increases on Oahu. At the same time, as noted in the comments to yesterday’s article, small energy producers are not wanted. You and I are cut out of the deal. We are supposed to consume, not generate, energy.

We as individuals, and both small and large businesses in Hawaii, can’t sustain indefinite and escalating utility costs. Add that to high housing costs, large increases in the cost of operating vehicles, and have you priced a meal in a restaurant lately, or looked at what the supermarkets are asking for the stuff to eat at home?

Forget Hawaii as a great place to do business. Sure, the 1% can afford water for their pools and electricity for their hot tubs, central air conditioning and feature lighting, but for the 99%, Hawaii is moving from expensive to unaffordable.  And I don’t see the 1% working in stores or sewing Aloha shirts. [Side thought: maybe water use should be proportional… higher charge for those with pools, etc.]

It will become impossible at some point to attract new businesses and to retain existing businesses. Those that are here will have to create jobs elsewhere, as newspaper darling Hoku Scientific has done. Their jobs are in Idaho, not Hawaii. And they started their plant some time ago. At current and projected costs of doing business here, what company would choose Hawaii as their home?

So there will be a line that, if crossed, will make the bubble burst. As individuals, we must have a breaking point at which we cannot pay more for water, sewers, electricity, rent and food.

Our government seems to be insensitive to this. Sure, the pipes need replacing. At the same time we must keep our economy healthy. You can’t eat new pipes or pay the rent with them.

As citizens, we should make it a priority of our state and county governments to seek ways to reduce the high cost of living, almost all of which serves to increase the profits of large corporations.

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Larry, did you know that HECO pays coal-burning AES Hawaii *only* 3 cents/kWh? n1 HECO's October rate was 33.1 cents/kWh. IMHO, this 11:1 economic gap is *economic injustice* to struggling working families, fixed-income retirees, and ratepayers-at-large. This is not right, not pono.

p.s., Regarding CO2 emissions, ARPA-E/OPXBIO is developing a synthetic microbe that consumes CO2 & H2 gas as feedstock to secrete triglycerides that can be upgraded to drop-in jet fuel, diesel and gasoline for less than $2.50/gallon. n2 (H2 gas can be sourced by filtering syngas produced via the plasma gasification of municipal solid waste.) Showcased by ARPA-E n3 OPXBIO recently got a "shout out" by VP Biden. n4 Thus if sequestration is carbon "neutral" then in displacing petroleum transportation fuels through CO2-feedstock consumption, OPXBIO would leave a *negative* carbon footprint. So the irony is that the more coal Hawaii burns, not only can we have ultra-low electricity rates but also produce $2.50/gallon drop-in transportation fuels.

n1 See slide 3 http://www.hawaiicleanenergyinitiative.org/storage/media/7.HCEI%20Plenary%20Update_5.02.11_HECO.pdf

n2 http://arpa-e.energy.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=lALqVmsnHqo%3d&tabid=302

n3 http://www.youtube.com/user/USdepartmentofenergy#p/u/2/9rAjDDgf2H0

n4 http://biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/2011/09/05/biden-touts-opx-bio-as-arpa-e-success-story/

Aloha, that is why so many locals from Hawaii like myself moved to the mainland. I could not afford to live on Oahu or anywhere in Hawaii. I live in the Pacific Northwest. ANd I have meet hundreds of locals who left years ago or just recently.

Raymond Lau

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