Richard Ha writes:
Big News: The Thirty Meter Telescope has been approved by the hearing officer.
Richard Ha writes:
Dr. Jim Kennedy, a friend of mine, is a respected member of the astronomy community and a tireless supoorter of the community at large. Below is the testimony he sent to the PUC.
Click to read Jim Kennedy's letter.
Richard Ha writes:
Here is Bill Walter's testimony against HELCO's proposed 4.2 percent rate increase, which he submitted to the PUC. Tomorrow (Friday, November 30, 2012) is the deadline for all testimony against this rate increase, as well as the proposed Aina Koa Pono project. You can email your testimony to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's in the interest of the utility, as well as in the interest of the people, that we all seek lower electricity rates.
Subject: HELCO RATE INCREASE OF 4.2% - Docket 2012 - 0099
Thank you for the opportunity to write you on this subject. At some point, the questions before you on various rate increases proposed by HELCO/HECO are simple:
• How much is enough? and
• When do we draw the line on increases?
We understand that while the questions are essentially fairly simple, finding answers can seem very difficult. Those wanting the rates to increase run through myriad statistics, data, logic and come up with apparently compelling reason. These answers come in an age old context of how we, as a society that is primarily market based, handle a monopoly supplier of an essential ingredient of our modern life. Over the generations the solution has typically revolved around ensuring a reasonable return on company (hence, stockholder) assets while providing a level of service that ensures quality to the community. While in a general case over the last 75 years that may have been reasonable, we suggest questioning that - at least for this community at this time. Please note the following:
• As it is, Hawaii Island rate payers pay four times the US national average for electric power. We pay a 25% premium compared to Oahu - today.
• Hawaii Island residents include among the most economically challenged in the State of Hawaii. While certainly not the only reason, the high cost of power works to keep our residents economically challenged. Why?
The cost of operating any business with more than a marginal energy input on the Island experiences higher energy costs than competition from most other locations. When you add to this the cost of getting our product to market (or the market to our product in the case of tourism) the competitive hurdle can become prohibitive to overcome. This increase will only add to that hurdle.
• Because of the integral nature of electric power to our way of life, the cost of electricity is little different in effect from the most regressive of taxes. If you look at this simile several issues jump at you:
In the last four years governments across the country have been highly reticent to raise taxes understanding the negative impact higher taxes would have on the economy and on those most economically challenged. This relates back to the point above - namely that higher electric power costs have a depressing affect on the economy of the Island of Hawaii, at their current level.
Local governments - including ours here on the Island of Hawaii - have taken extraordinary steps to reduce the cost of government services while retaining government service levels. On this island that has included furloughs of County workers, layoffs, employment freezes, job sharing, looking for efficiencies that allow for reduced expenses across the board, reductions in executive staff salaries, suspension or reduction in non essential services - and the list goes on. It is common place to hear of businesses on this island taking similar - and in some cases more radical steps to reduce expenses. It is uncomfortable, but notable that we have heard of no such steps taken by our utilities in order to try to pass on to the community reduced costs that may be helpful in these difficult times. In fact, what we have heard is like this - requests for higher prices. Somehow that difference is hard to take.
• The long term reality is that power generation is moving to dis-integration much as phone service has rapidly moved in that direction. It would be wise for both the Commission and the companies to ask if it is not time to consider this coming dis-integration. The only way for the current system to survive in the long run is to be in a price reduction, not price increase mode. The cost of standalone competition is inexorably being reduced. Sooner than later only those who cannot afford to get off the grid will have departed it - how will that work and will the commission have been a part of that scenario?
So my short answer to these questions is that "enough is already enough" and the line needs to be drawn now - for the survival both of the island economy and for the survival of the utility.
My personal response has been to join the Big Island Community Coalition looking for ways to reduce power costs. I am becoming proactive in this direction. We ask that the commission and, indeed, HELCO/HECO become proactive in this direction as well. Better that we spend our efforts looking for cost reducing solutions than for cost increasing reasons.
Thank you for your consideration.
Richard Ha writes:
More PUC testimony from a Big Island resident opposing the Aina Koa Pono biofuels project and the proposed 4.2 percent HECO rate increase.
See below where he charted the price of crude oil over the past two years, as well as how much his HELCO bill increased over the same period of time, and didn't find much correlation.
Rodrigo F.V. Romo, Ch.E., MBA, LEED AP
Richard Ha writes:
You've probably seen the slick newspaper and TV ads. Hawaii Electric Company (HECO) has spent more than half a million dollars recently to convince us they are trying their hardest to do the right thing. The company is very good at public relations.
For example, the ads say HECO has increased geothermal energy on the Big Island by 25 percent. That sounds wonderful - but that is from a base of only 30 MW. It also says that Aina Koa Pono will only result in $1 per month difference to a typical rate payer.
The big picture is that HECO has resisted closing down its oil-fired plants for years. But now, people are saying enough is enough.
Here is another concerned community member's testimony against Aina Koa Pono and the proposed 4.2 percent rate increase. Send yours to email@example.com by tomorrow.
Richard Ha writes:
Here's another testimony opposing the Aina Koa Pono biofuel project. This one is from Bill Walter.
You can send an email opposing this project. Email it by this Friday, November 30, 2012, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subject: AINA KOA PONO CONTRACT
Please consider my testimony on : DOCKET # 2012-0185 (Aina Koa Pono supply Contract)
AINA KOA PONO, LLC
Docket # 2012-0185
In this docket, HELCO is asking you to validate its proposed contract with AKP, passing on the expected additional cost of the project in the form of a surcharge to rate payers on both Oahu and the Island of Hawaii.
It is difficult, sometimes, to imagine a decision of this nature on the basis of the economics of the case itself.
To help us with this, AKP's PR firm has reduced the numbers to minimize the apparent impact of the decision - simply add $1 per month to your power bill for 20 years or a total of $240. Seems pretty small, not much of a decision or even much of a risk when put in these terms. Of course this picture does not paint the costs as they apply to thousands of businesses, non profits, government entities or other organizations. Neither does this demonstrate how those costs ripple through the economy to increase costs of goods and services while reducing the supply of the same. So, lets look at this from three other perspectives before we get further into the discussion. Those three perspectives are of a family barely making ends meeting (and actually not making it accept with government and family help); a family that makes ends meet but with some sacrifices and finally a family that has plentiful resources and buys whatever luxuries they desire. But lets change the terms - to the cost of fuel for these three families.
• Ask yourself, if you were the first family if someone offered to sell you gas for the next 20 years - starting in 2015 at twice today's average rate or about $8/gallon and at today's usage - would you buy this package? Probably not - they are not assured that gas will cost $8/gallon over that period and can see that rather than trade a known (but apparently very high) cost of fuel they would anticipate that they would make yet more lifestyle changes. They would increase car pooling, bus riding, volume grocery buying (if possible), growing more of their own food, etc. THE POINT IS that they truly cannot and would not be able to afford the higher costs and so would take other steps to make ends meet. In the same way, to families at the bottom of the economic ladder the AKP deal is something that they cannot afford and never would select.
• If you were in the second group the situation may present itself differently, but in this case you may have more options. For instance, rather than locking into $8/gallon and at today's usage you may decide to buy a more fuel efficient car; combine trips; consider other transportation (bikes, walking, carpooling, bus trips, etc.) reducing steps. The point is that you would have more means of reducing usage so that the $8/gallon could take you further. It is not likely that you would take the deal as presented. You have too many assured usage reducing options and too little assurance that the price will actually reach $8/gallon.
• If you were in the third group you still might not buy into the proposition. Your ability to purchase more efficient transportation -or even ignore the problem because fuel may not reach that level - is greater, the impact less.
So then, the point is that very few would even consider the option being proposed by AKP if it were put to them in terms that they work with every day. Neither should the PUC.
These scenarios may have little impact on your decision, after all your decision is really on a macro level dealing with a large company, sophisticated planning and island wide demand. For this I ask you to consider the following:
IS THE PROPOSITION REASONABLE AND IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST:
• If there are other alternatives for providing power to the Island of Hawaii that are or are likely to be less expensive then the answer is clearly "no." Why pay more to achieve the same result (power generation) when less expensive sources are or can with a similar degree of confidence be expected to be available. So the question, then, is - are there?
• AKP's contract appears to call for fuel at $200/barrel vs. today's rate that bounces somewhere between $80 and $120 (but generally near the mid point - $100).
• PGV is able to produce power at the equivalent of $57/barrel - 28.5% of the cost of AKP's proposal. This is produced with reliable and proven technology here on the island of Hawaii. it produces less carbon in the process and is a known quantity.
• LNG is proposed as a possible alternative, In fact we are told that many mainland power producers are turning to this source from coal and petroleum products. They do so because of efficiencies and reduced dependance on foreign sources. Would it not make more sense to at least wait to see what studies show the impact of LNG would be on our power costs before committing to a 20 year contract based on much higher prices?
• Ho Honua proposes to sell to HELCO at market rates. Others are taking similar risks to produce fuel at market rates - whatever they may be - even at today's rates (i.e. Big Island Bio-Diesel).
• Other technologies are coming on stream that promise reduced power generation costs as well - solar energy or various types, bio-fuels from algae, wave action, etc. Why lock in a supplier whose promise is similar fuel but at higher prices.
• HELCO/AKP counter that if the fuel does not end up being economical - they can sell it to transportation or to other islands for their power generation. But that assumption is based on the AKP created fuel being less expensive than fuels from other sources. If it is not - then HELCO sells those fuels at a loss which the rate payer must subsidize. In short - the risk remains
• This proposal is truly a gamble not simply on the cost of fuel over the proposed period (2015 - 2034) but on the cost of alternative fuels, alternative sources of power and even over whether the target plant (Keahole) will be economically viable throughout this period. We would ask: WHAT MITIGATING FACTORS WOULD DRIVE US TO MAKE THIS GAMBLE - particularly as we consider the impact on the lives of our residents and their businesses.
WHAT QUANTITATIVE OR QUALITATIVE VALUES SHOULD BE ASSIGNED TO SUCH A PRICE PREMIUM OR EXTERNALITIES
• This is a vital question. It needs to be evaluated in its full context which includes: individuals at the lower end of the scale who cannot make ends meet today; businesses that will have to increase prices further and reduce product and service offerings further; individuals and businesses who are trying to compete with Oahu and other locations with lower power costs; companies that are evaluating the Island of Hawaii as a location but must take into account the already unusually high cost of power here as one of the deciding factors.
• The end is that many will find that their survival at any reasonable level does not allow for such luxuries as taking the risks this contract proposes. These externalities for those who struggle are too high to pay and not worth the risk.
• For those who may point out jobs to be created in the production of these fuels do not account for the jobs lost throughout the island because of the additional costs of the AKP premium and there surely will be many.
WHAT RATE PAYER RISKS SHOULD THE COMMISSION CONSIDER IN EVALUATING THE BIODIESEL SUPPLY CONTRACT?
• The risk that the market price for fuel will not in the end justify this ($220/barrel) cost
• The risk that other power sources can be developed that will be less costly
• The risk that at each level higher those able to depart from the "grid" do depart from the grid making the remaining - less and less economically capable - rate payers pay a higher and higher proportion of the distribution and generation costs. (This thing steamrolls literally).
HOW ELSE MIGHT THE COMMISSION AND HELCO PROVIDE FUEL TO KEAHOLE
• Dr. Schumpeter more than four generations ago pointed out that market systems need to encourage "creative destruction." By this he meant that ever more efficient technologies by their nature create higher living standards while making obsolete the technologies that they replace.
This applies as follows: WHEN KEAHOLE is no longer economically viable - it needs to simply cease to operate. This is fundamentally an owner (i.e. stockholder) risk and should not remain a risk of the populace as a whole. We should not be taking extraordinary steps to keep in operation a plant that may have become functionally and technologically obsolete. Whereas there may have been a time when ensuring the viability of the assets of a controlled monopoly made sense - they no longer do.
What happened in the communications industry (i.e. cell phones vs. land line phones) will and is happening in the power generation industry. The PUC must recognize this change or the number of "well healed" customers who depart the grid will overwhelm the entire system leaving only those least able to pay on the grid having to pay for an overwhelmingly burdensome grid.
• There is, nonetheless, more than one answer to this question and arguably all of the other options are less expensive and certainly less economically risky. Keahole may be converted to operate on LNG. AKP is essentially a hedge bet - it may well be that continuing to purchase fuel on the market (whether from local sources, or other sources) will be a less expensive option. We do not know at the moment which it will be, so should we be taking this hedging risk?
• AKP is essentially a complex set of transactions designed to allow HELCO/HECO to meet the State's goal of reducing dependance on foreign fuel sources while keeping alive Keahole and increasing spot employment among other benefits. This particular scheme appears to have many benefits but at no small risk. At its heart are assumptions about the future price of oil, the capabilities of technologies untested at anywhere near the size and configuration proposed. The commission must ask itself: IS IT APPROPRIATE to ask rate payers - many of whom are at the extreme low end of the economic scale - to participate in the risk? If the answer was that there are really no other viable options the answer may be clearly and easily "yes." But this is not the reality - there are many other alternatives and most of them at significantly lower cost. Justification for this risk taking is, in fact, scant.
• In the 1970's the Northwest Utilities made a series of judgements based on expected power requirements and power prices. Prices assumptions were driven at that point by dramatic increases in the price of fuel and by its apparent (but not actual) scarcity. Demand was based on charts showing post WWII growth and regional growth based on increasing industrialization of the area resulting from low power prices would continue on the same upwards trendline. These factors led WPPSS to develop a complex funding scheme to build nuclear power plants. All of this was well meaning and well intentioned. The coming debacle - a $2.25 Billion default - is a classic example of what happens when we add uncalled for complexity based on a future that is much more nuanced than any chart can demonstrate. (One summary of the adventure can be found at http://columbia.washingtonhistory.org/anthology/maturingstate/seduced.aspx) Frankly, although similarly well intentioned and actually less complex - the driving factors for AKP share several of the same characteristics. For a community that is paying 4X the national average for power, 25% more than Oahu for power - this is a risk that a fragile economy simply cannot bear and should not be asked to bear.
Richard Ha writes:
We have until Friday (November 30, 2012) to voice opposition to the Aina Koa Pono biofuel project and the 4.2 percent rate hike.
You can make a difference by submitting testimony to email@example.com before this Friday.
Wally Andrade is taking charge of his destiny:
Subject: CC: PUC Docket #2012-0185; Application for approval of biofuel supply contract with Aina Koa Pono
Chair Morita and commissioners:
I am very much against the approval of the Aina Koa Pono project and the current biofuel agreement with HELCO. Please do not tie us to a 20 year contact @ $200/barrel. The AKP microwave technology is not proven on this scale, they have not tested their feedstock, their projections are not rational. What’s the true EROI?
We are depending on you to drive the utility to focus on ways to lower the rates and stop acting as a regulated monopoly with loyalties to their shareholders and not the customers.
We have an abundant low cost geothermal resource on this island that would serve to lower the rates, spur economic growth and provide security for the people. Drive Helco to this resource.
Richard Ha writes:
It’s not whether or not the energy is green; it’s the price of the energy that matters.
High price energy results in people having less discretionary income. We know this to be true in our gut.
It’s a different way of understanding economics in that it explains how things actually work, and it’s a way that Hawaiians can relate to at a gut level.
Ancient Hawaiians had a gift economy that was land- and environment-based: The more one gave, the more one received. This traditional system is quite different from the modern market economy, where the more one receives, the more one receives.
Many modern-day Hawaiians can play in both worlds. But there are many other Hawaiians that just don't feel right. Me included.
Professor Hall will give a series of lectures at UH Hilo and UH Manoa. At UH Hilo, he will speak on January 4, 2012 and at UH Manoa, on January 9th and 10th. Details to follow.
He is retiring soon, and we have asked him to be a guest lecturer here during the Winter/Spring semester. He has agreed. He will be using his new book Energy and the Wealth of Nations.
This video, titled Peak Oil, Declining EROI and the New Energy-Economic Reality with Dr. Charles A.S. Hall, is very much worth watching. It’s 1:38:18. Watch it straight through, or jump straight to specific topics as follows:
4:54 Importance of energy to economics
26:39 Peal Oil is not the focus. Cessation of oil and energy production is the problem
27:54 Energy Return on Investment (EROI)
33:35 U.S. has lots of coal - in an emergency
34:30 EROI is driving prices
38:55 The trouble is, we need high EROI. How do we do that?
45:15 Cheese slicer model. Higher energy price in, less discretionary income out
50:44 Conclusions for the U.K. The principles are the same everywhere
1:32:40 Charles Hall talks about guest lecturing in Hawai‘i
Richard Ha writes:
President M.R.C. Greenwood of the University of Hawai‘i just had another of her listening sessions; this one at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.
This picture illustrates the collaborative style that tells the community this is about all of us. UH Hilo and Hawaii Community College are being treated as part of the whole University of Hawai‘i system. Students are moving seamlessly from HCC to UHH and UH Manoa. Comments from the audience reinforced what was being said in the front of the room.
I came away with a really good feeling. The things taking place on the ground that affect our community are moving in the right direction.