Archive for December, 2013

Eco year in review

December 31st, 2013


Looking back, 2013 turned out to be a decent year for some eco-positive changes, though I tend to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.

1. Frostpaw the polar bear  — President Barack Obama and family (including their two dogs) are still vacationing on Oahu, but haven't done much out of the routine. Frostpaw, from the Center for Biological Diversity, has made news headlines following the president around during his vacation. He is here to urge the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and take action on climate change. The 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas, will affect many endangered species along its path, says the center, and could create potentially catastrophic pipeline spills. Outside of Mid-Pacific Country Club last week, the president did see Frostpaw, if for a brief moment, and yelled, "Hey, polar bear!" Learn more about the center's efforts at

2. Solar consternation — Solar PV installations (ranked second in the nation in grid-connected PV cumulative installed capacity per capita) faced a new hurdle this year — the implementation of new rules in September (as well as a tightening of tax credit rules for multiple systems). HECO began asking customers to check their Locational Value Maps to determine which circuits they were on before installing a PV system to see if they are required to do an interconnection requirements study. The new requirements have slowed installations this year and lead to an outcry by Hawaii residents, who overwhelmingly support solar. Still, residents who installed solar PV qualified for 65 percent in federal and state tax credits this year.

3. Butts of the beach — Honolulu's new law, which prohibits smoking at all city beaches, parks and bus stops, goes into effect Jan. 1. No smoking signs have already been posted. The law is already in effect for a handful of beaches in Waikiki , at Kapiolani Park and Sandy Beach. As beach cleanup crews can attest, smokers have left thousands of cigarette butts in the sand — which harm the environment by leaving plastic filters and toxic materials on the shoreline, which in turn can wash into the ocean, harming marine life and ultimately, humans.

4. Plastic bag banHawaii island's plastic bag ban also goes into effect on Jan. 17 at all grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers. Consumers in the past year have been paying fees for plastic bags at checkout lines due to an ordinance adopted in 2011. On Jan. 17, customers will be able to use reusable or paper bags. Kauai and Maui counties already have plastic bag bans in place, as well. Oahu passed a plastic bag ban last year, but it is not due to go into effect until 2015.

5. Monk seal hospital — The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, Calif. has completed the first phase of its $3.2 million hospital and rehab facility for Hawaiian monk seals in Kona. The hospital provides a place where stranded or troubled monk seals can go, rather than be shuttled from island to island or to California, which was the case for KP2 (who has now found a home at the Waikiki Aquarium, and goes by the name of Ho‘ailona).


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Holiday energy-saving tips

December 30th, 2013


It's been a sunny holiday season in Honolulu, so rejoice if you have solar panels. If you don't, then put it on your New Year's resolution list because it's not too late — many solar contractors are offering informational sessions to help you navigate the new rules for solar PV installation.

Federal and state tax credits are still available, so there's no reason to delay.

Meanwhile, here are some holiday energy-saving tips from Hawaii Energy.


Use ENERGY STAR LED light strings, which use about 70 to 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent strings. (I was surprised to see some ads for incandescent holiday lights out there). Even if they are on sale, consider the energy savings you will reap from LED lights — which can also be found at a good price. I bet they're on sale now that Christmas is over.

Limit the Time of Outdoor Lights

Use a timer to automatically turn off indoor or outdoor Christmas lighting displays.


Keep Oven Doors Closed

Ovens lose about 25 degrees requiring additional energy to bring the temperature back up. Use the smallest pan and burner needed for the job. Cook with lids on your pans (cooking pasta without a lid can use three times as much energy).


Keep the refrigerator door closed, too. Refrigerators get a real workout during the holidays and remains the second largest energy consumer in your home. Keep the doors closed as much as possible and try not to cram too much food at once (tough when you have a turkey in there).


Only wash full loads, use cold water (which requires less energy) and air dry as much as possible.

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The Spirits of Recycling

December 23rd, 2013


Happy Holidays!

When Christmas Day and other holiday events have come and gone,  do you know where to recycle all of your trash this year?

Your  kids may be able to tell you. Check out this adorable Coloring Activity Book, "The Spirits of Recycling: Kevin helps his family Sort it Out," by the city's Department of Environmental Services (printed on 100-percent post consumer recycled fiber paper, of course). The books are available inside Honolulu Hale as part of Honolulu City Lights, which is up until Dec. 31.

The book is adapted from the Honolulu Theatre for Youth production off "Christmas Talk Story" performed during their 2012 to 2013 Season of Classics. (You can print it out for free by clicking on this link). The cover pictured above has a little extra glitter on it, thanks to my son.

It tells the story of how the green, gray and blue bins pay a special visit to Kevin the night before Christmas. Last year, Kevin's dad took the tree to the landfill. "You didn't tell him to cut the tree and put it in me," the green bin tells Kevin. "You must spread the spirit of recycling!"

The Christmas tree can be chopped up and recycled in the green bin, the corrugated cardboard boxes, newspapers, No. 1 and 2 plastics, and glass bottles in the blue bin (as well as white and colored office paper). Trash, cereal boxes, junk mail and paper plates and napkins go in the gray, or trash, bin.

By the way, magazines and phonebooks, which the city's guide has going into the trash bin, can be recycled if you make a trip to Hagadone, 274 Puuhale Rd. (8 a.m. to noon on second Saturdays). And, of course, you can take your aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers for 5-cents each at Reynold's Recycling.

And it's a good idea to reduce  before you recycle. In my household this year, for instance, we made a rule that we are only going to reuse Christmas gift bags and boxes, ribbons and bows (we have a huge box) or reuse tin or lauhala boxes for gifts this year. You can also opt for regular, instead of disposable cups and plates.

Rewatch the performance at


First Wind Scholarships

December 17th, 2013

Wind turbine from First Wind's Kahuku wind farm. First Wind is now accepting applications from students located in schools near its wind farms on Oahu and Maui. Photo by Nina Wu.

Wind turbine from First Wind's Kahuku wind farm. By Nina Wu.

Boston-based First Wind, which has two wind farms on Oahu and one wind farm on Maui, announced the availability of applications for its 2014 scholarship program.

Qualified high school seniors in communities where the company has projects are invited to apply. This is the fifth year First Wind is offering the scholarships.

Carol Grant, First Wind's senior vice president of external affairs, says the company has committed nearly $250,000 to 59 students over the past four years.

High school seniors in both public and private schools in the communities of Laie, Kahuku, Wahiawa, Waialua, Haleiwa and Sunset on Oahu or Kahului, Lahaina, Kihei and Wailuku, Maui are invited to apply.

To apply, students must have a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 2.75, with plans to enroll in full-time undergraduate study with a focus in the sciences, technology and/or engineering. Other states where students can apply include Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

First Wind Scholars will be awarded a one-time $3,000 scholarship for one year. One scholarship of $5,000, renewable up to four years, will be awarded to the year's single most qualified applicant.

First Wind operates wind farms at Kahuku and Kawailoa, both on Oahu's north shore, as well as Kaheawa on the ridgeline of the West Maui Mountains.

Applications are available online, and will be evaluated on a number of factors, including academic performance, work experience, school and community activities and a 300-word essay. Submissions are due by Feb. 15, 2014. Recipients will be announced in May 2014.

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Saving the Palila

December 13th, 2013

The population of the Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, has declined 66 percent in the past decade. Fewer than 2,200 birds are currently left. Photo courtesy of DLNR/by Jackson Bauer.

The population of the Palila, a Hawaiian honeycreeper, is critically endangered. Its population has declined 66 percent in the past decade. Fewer than 2,200 birds are currently left. Photo courtesy of DLNR/By Jackson Bauer.

Hawaii actor Jason Scott Lee, is lending his voice to a new public service announcement aimed at helping to save the critically endangered Palila, which begins airing statewide this week. The Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resource's Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and American Bird Conservancy have initiated the new outreach campaign.

You can find the PSA at

The Palila (Loxioides bailleui) is found in a small patch of mamane forest on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawaii island.

It has a vibrant, yellow head, strong bill and delightful call — and is endemic to Hawaii, meaning it occurs only in Hawaii and nowhere else. The Palila, which belongs to the Hawaiian Honeycreeper family, is also critically endangered. More than 15 in this family are now extinct.

The population of Palila, which once lived across most of Hawaii island, has declined 66 percent in the last decade. Fewer than 2,200 birds are currently left due to the shrinking of their habitat and food source — healthy mamane forests — which are being damaged by non-native sheep, goats and cattle. Other threats include long-term drought, feral cats and mongoose that prey on the adult birds and nestlings.

"Not many people are familiar with what a Palila is and why they are worth saving," said Robert Stephens, coordinator for DOFAW's Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project, in a press release. "What makes the Palila special is that they are a classic example of the spectacular evolutionary process that occurred in the remoteness of the Hawaiian islands. They survived in the dry forests for thousands of years by adapting to a food source, mamane pods, that is toxic to other wildlife. Palila belong here and are one of the things that makes Hawaii one of the most amazing places on the planet."

The American Bird Conservancy has made the Palila one of its high-priority species for bird conservation work in Hawaii.

Native Hawaiians have loved the Palila, along with other native species, since ancient times. Queen Emma visited Mauna Kea in the early 1880s and composed a series of mele to commemorate the event, including one which describes the memorable song of the Palila.

Besides removing non-native grazing animals, the state is maintaining a fence around the Palila's critical habitat on Mauna Kea. Volunteers are also restoring Mauna Kea's mamane forest.

In January, a nine-by-12-foot mural featuring the Palila will be on display on a prominent building in downtown Hilo.

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For the love of honu

December 12th, 2013

Hiwahiwa, a female Hawaiian green sea turtle, has made the journey from Laniakea to the French Frigate shoals several times. Here, she basks at Laniakea Beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

Hiwahiwa, a female Hawaiian green sea turtle, has made the journey from Laniakea to the French Frigate shoals several times. Here, she basks at Laniakea Beach. Photo by Nina Wu.

I remember the first time visiting the Hawaiian green sea turtles at Laniakea beach on Oahu's North Shore more than a decade ago. It wasn't as crowded as it is now, with a constant stream of visitors. There were visitors, yes, but not the sheer volume that there is now.

It was magical to see these magnificent creatures basking so peacefully on the shores of the beach. I recall getting into the water as well, and seeing some of the honu feeding on limu on the rocks. I knew then to get out of the way, while still admiring them. It's no wonder that an estimated 600,000 visitors make the trek to the North Shore, park in the makeshift dirt lot across the street and dart across Kamehameha Highway to get a glimpse of the sea turtles, too.

The wonderful thing is that they do so out of curiosity and hopefully, love for the honu, too.

A small bus dropped a group of Japanese tourists off across from Laniakea Beach to get a glimpse of the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Photo by Nina Wu.

A small bus dropped a group of Japanese tourists off across from Laniakea Beach to get a glimpse of the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Photo by Nina Wu.

But they may not know that the turtles are a threatened species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act and state laws. And they may not know that you should not feed, touch or sit on the turtles. You should also give them space (at least six feet) to bask in peace as well as a clear path to and from the ocean.

Thanks to volunteers from Malama Na Honu, the turtles are watched over by people who do what they do out of a love for turtles, too, and a desire to see them survive for future generations to see. On a recent visit, a little girl darted past the rope border and in front of a basking turtle to reach her father. Everyone gasped. Luckily, there was no harm done.

Whatever the state Department of Transportation decides to do about the volume of visitors visiting Laniakea and the traffic and parking problems they create, I hope the volunteers will continue to protect the honu, which are also under review for a delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

There are other places to see honu, too. If you see a stranded Hawaiian green sea turtle, call 983-5730 (7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays on Oahu) and page 288-5685 on weekends, holidays and after hours.

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Volta opening first EV station on Maui

December 4th, 2013

Volta is opening its first EV charging station at Whaler's Village on Maui this month. Courtesy photo.

Volta is opening its first EV charging station at Whaler's Village on Maui in January. Courtesy photo.

Lucky we live Hawaii.

Volta Industries continues to expand the number of free-to-use EV charging stations in its Volta Network in Hawaii, including a sixth station at Ward Warehouse (in front of Executive Chef) in November and its first station on Maui in January.

As of Nov. 1, Volta says it has given away over 60,000 miles of charging over a two-year period at its charging stations in Hawaii, Arizona and California. Companies, including the First Insurance of Hawaii, Central Pacific Bank and Honolulu Ford, purchase a sponsorship of the charging stations.

Scott Mercer, Volta founder and CEO, estimates EV drivers in the three states have saved about $100,000 in gasoline charges and offset enough CO2 to fill 117 Washington Monuments. He added that Volta hopes to have given away 5 million miles in five states by the end of next year, 2014.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is expected to be held at Whaler's Village, which will be the site of Volta's first EV charging station on Maui, in late January.

As of September 2013, state figures show there are 1,869 electric cars on Oahu. The average mile per gallon equivalent for EVs on the road ranges from 90 to 115 miles per gallon.

Sacred Hearts goes solar

December 3rd, 2013

Sacred Hearts Academy now has a new solar array to help save electricity costs. Courtesy photo.

Sacred Hearts Academy now has a new solar array to help save electricity costs. Courtesy photo.

Congratulations go out to Sacred Hearts Academy, one  of Hawaii's oldest private schools, for going solar.

Hawaiian Energy Systems Inc. and Centrosolar America announced today the completion of a 243-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system at Sacred Hearts Academy, an all-girls Catholic College Preparatory School in Kaimuki. The rooftop installation is expected to reduce the school's energy costs by about 33 percent. The academy's energy costs in recent years added up to more than $350,000 annually.

Through a 10-year operational lease, there was no upfront cost to the academy for the installation, according to Hawaiian Energy Systems vice president of sales and marketing Christ Brashear.

The system, designed and installed by Hawaiian Energy Systems, includes 200 Centrosolar America 240 watt C-series modules and 823 of its 250 watt E-series modules, which both come with black frames.  Both of these module series have passed third-party salt spray testing, according to Hawaiian Energy Systems.

The project included multiple solar arrays with three different orientations. The panels are attached to Enphase M215 micro-inverters on the rooftop.

Teachers at Sacred Hearts are planning to integrate the new solar array and monitoring system into the campus curriculum to teach students about renewable energy.

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