By Nina Wu
It seemed like a good year for the "green movement" in Hawaii in 2011, although there were some setbacks, including some hurdles to reaching our clean energy goals and the death of a third endangered Hawaiian monk seal on Molokai in recent weeks.
Here's a roundup of the "Top 10 Green Events" for the year (not in any particular ranking, and I'm sure I missed some), so if you have some highlights you would like to add, feel free to email me.
1. The plastic bag checkout ban went into effect in Maui County and Kauai County on Jan. 11 this year. Recyclable paper or reusable bags have replaced plastic bags. Hawaii County is poised to be next. What about Honolulu county, the most populated isle in the state? Maybe Honolulu will follow suit in 2012. A great documentary called Bag It! which screened throughout Hawaii this year has raised more awareness over the harms of single-use plastics.
2. The first Nissan Leaf arrived in Hawaii on Feb. 1. More have followed, and you can now see them on the roads of Honolulu.
3. Solar PV is on the rise (and Hawaii electric utilities went up in solar rankings this year). More homeowners and businesses, including the Hagadone Printing Co., decided to invest in solar photovoltaic systems to offset high electricity costs. Kapolei Sustainable Energy Park, Oahu's first utility-scale solar facility boasting 42,00 solar panels on four acres, is now up and running near Campbell Industrial Park. SunPower also is planning to sell energy back to HECO from a 5-mw solar PV farm planned for construction in Kalaeloa.
More residents have also decided to invest in solar PV systems to take advantage of tax credits. Businesses and residents can now sell their power back to HECO due to the feed-in tariff program. If on-bill financing becomes available, it would allow more residents to pay for solar power on their monthly electricity bills without the high, upfront costs.
At the same time, solar advocates had to challenge HECO on its interconnection-related rules governing the addition of new renewable systems to the grid. Some homeowners and businesses, for example, had to pay for costly studies in order to connect to the grid. The Public Utilities Commission in December decided on "Rule 14H" which helps reduce those unnecessary costs and hassles.
4. The Blue Planet Foundation's "Better Bulbs Blitz" replaced more than 100,000 incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient CFL's this year, involving more than 40 schools and 20 community groups.
5. Oahu is now home to the 30-megawatt Kahuku Wind Farm, which was dedicated in March of this year and can generate enough electricity to power 7,700 homes. First Wind LLC of Boston constructed the wind farm (now visible as you drive by the shrimp trucks on the North Shore) and has plans to build another one, a 70-megawatt wind farm on former sugar cane land northeast of Haleiwa next year.
6. State officials unveiled Honolulu's first electric vehicle charging station at the state Capitol's parking garage in July. It's an industry-standard SAE J1772 plug compatible with the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and most other electric vehicles. Motorists can pay to charge up their cars with a credit card. Hawaii businesses, including the Sheraton Waikiki and Aulani, a Disney Resort at Ko Olina, have also installed electric vehicle charging stations in their parking garages.
7. GreenCar Hawaii, which launched the state's first carshare company on Kauai last year, brought its service to Oahu with four Nissan Leaf electric vehicles. The cars and two charging stations were unveiled at the DoubleTree by Hilton Alan Waikiki Hotel in December.
8. Kanu Hawaii's "Eat Local Challenge" expanded from one week to one month (the entire month of September) this year, and seems to have struck a chord with the general pubic as well as public figures. This year, Kanu Hawaii partnered with 40 restaurants who offered locally grown menu items. Here are highlights of the challenge. In case you haven't noticed, farmers' markets featuring locally grown produce seem to be expanding across Oahu. First Lady Michelle Obama helped champion the cause by visiting Ma‘o Farms (No Panic, Go Organic) during APEC.
9. Seawater air conditioning in downtown Honolulu may become a reality after the company proposing it signed a 55-year lease with Kamehameha Schools. The project is expected to break ground in 2012.
10. Green curbside recycling rates went up this year, according to Honolulu's first evaluations of its islandwide curbside recycling program. About 77 percent of garden clippings make it to the green bin. But only 52 percent of a household's mixed recyclables, including newspapers, aluminum, No. 1 and No. 2 plastics and glass, make it into the blue bin. The city now accepts office and copier paper in the blue bin, by the way. We have room for improvement in that department — a goal for next year.
A special, honorary mention also for Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii (B.E.A.C.H.), a non-profit group in Honolulu that has worked so hard to clear marine debris from Hawaii's shorelines as well as to document it scientifically and educate the public about its harmful effects. B.E.A.C.H., run by Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki, cleared an estimated 40,000 pounds of debris from the Kahuku shoreline on Oahu's north shore this year. That's not counting all the other beaches it has also cleared of marine debris, including Kamilo Beach, Hawaii County's dirtiest beach.
On the horizon for the next year, it's great to see that public participation from online groups like change.org and Carrotmob are having an impact on businesses. A recent petition on change.org just convinced Verizon to drop a $2 convenience fee for paying bills online (and has had a great impact on banning shark finning in various states across the U.S.), while two recent Carrotmob events here helped small businesses like The Wine Stop and Kale's Natural Foods raise money to implement green changes.
Happy New Year! To a greener 2012...