By Nina Wu
Can you believe another year is about to come to a close?
I think the year 2012 heralded some significant green events for Hawaii. It was definitely a good year to go solar (install solar photovoltaic on your home or business). In addition, Honolulu City Council this year passed landmark legislation to ban plastic checkout bags in Honolulu.
A network of electric car charging stations are now available across Oahu and public awareness of marine debris grew with the arrival of the first tsunami debris from Japan. As an honorable mention, seawater air conditioning looks like it might become a reality one day. Let's hope that 2013 will also be a "green" year.
Here’s my list of Honolulu's top 10 green events of the year.
- It was a solar year: 2012 was the year to go solar if you were thinking about it, especially while generous state tax credits were still available (and will hopefully still be available next year but we'll see). Solar was the star of the year, from the completion of the Pearl City Peninsula project (with more than 4,300 panels, enough to power 150 to 250 homes) to the Hawaii Department of Education’s announcement of its plan to install solar at all public schools over the next five years. The number of homes that installed solar PV this year doubled the number last year. Just pay attention as you drive around the island and you'll notice, more solar PV panels on rooftops — on simple little cottages as well as large, two-story homes. With the highest electricity rates in the nation, generous tax credits and sunshine year-round, solar makes sense in Hawaii.
- Reducing plastic. Oahu became the last county in Hawaii to pass a plastic takeout bag ban, effective 2015. While some environmental groups were pushing for a fee as a more effective way to curb plastic in the landfills, Honolulu City Council voted to ban the bags – but not for a few more years.
- Electric Vroom. More than 200 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are now available at more than 80 locations throughout Oahu, courtesy of Volta Industries and Aloha Petroleum and others. From Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina to the Halekulani in Waikiki, you'll find public EV charging stations in the parking garage. Chances are when you visit your favorite mall or shopping center, you’ll see these stalls reserved for electric cars near the front. For a full list, go to electricvehicle.hawaii.gov.
- Tesla S. It's here. The first Tesla Model S electric sedan arrived in Hawaii. Prices start at $49,000 (with federal tax incentives up to $7,500).
- Tsunami Debris. Arrival of the first tsunami debris from Japan made it to the shores of Hawaii. Several items have been confirmed, the latest of which was a boat hauled to shore by Punaluu residents covered with barnacles. In addition to the tsunami debris, Hawaii's shores have long been the depository for plastic marine debris washed up from the ocean.
- Monk seal tragedies. Hawaiian monk seals, Hawaii's endemic and endangered species, were in the media spotlight after we started off the year with a monk seal killing on Kauai, followed by another one in April. KP2, meanwhile, settled into his new home at the Waikiki Aquarium (he arrived there Dec. 15, 2011). In November, R5AY or Honey Girl, a female monk seal was found with a hook in her mouth on Oahu's North Shore. Apparently, she had been injured and in the same place for 24 years before it was reported to NOAA. Luckily, she was rescued, treated and released back into the wild in late November. State and federal officials responded to 14 Hawaiian monk seal hooking incidents this year (with three that ended in death). The Marine Conservation Institute is trying to develop creative solutions to reducing harm to the seals. NOAA reminds the public to report sightings to the Hawaiian Monk Seal Sightings Hotline on Oahu at 808-220-7802. Report stranded or entangled marine mammals at 1-888-256-9840.
- Bird counts up. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources reports that bird counts of the Laysan albatross and shearwaters are up at Kaena Point. It appears that the fence is working.
- Wind farm currents. One of First Wind's wind farms went down after a fire broke out at its battery-energy storage facility, while another one went up on Oahu's North Shore. Maui, meanwhile, leads the way. Sempra U.S. Gas & Power and BP Wind Energy 's 21-megawatt Auwahi Wind plant at Ulupalakua Ranch just went into full operation (with the ability to power about 10,000 homes). It remains to be seen whether the public will further embrace wind power as an additional source of alternative energy.
- Recycling options expanded. White and colored office paper can now go in blue bins for curbside. Goodwill partnered with Dell to provide more electronic recycling in addition to options that already exist, including year-round events by Pacific Corporate Solutions.
- Butts off the beach. Honolulu City Council considered a bill to ban smoking at five of Oahu’s beach parks. Second only to plastic debris, volunteers pick up more cigarette butts than any other litter on our beaches. Hawaii County already has a ban in place. We'll find out next year whether it passes.