Archive for December, 2009


December 29th, 2009

Let's take a look at the destructive effect of NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”) and BANANA (“Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone”) on progress in Hawaii.

On NPR's Marketplace at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, December 24th, there was an piece about some bluebloods in Germany who were trying to build solar array parks. There were objections to this by neighbors who argued they didn’t want a solar array in their backyards.

Popularity-wise, Germany probably has the most successful renewables program in the world, so this is discouraging. You’d think everyone would pull together and nobody would stand in the way. But even there, in a country well-proud of its renewables development, there are people who cry NIMBY.

I guess that’s the way the world works. As we build more renewables, we’re going to be stepping on more toes in more places and getting more NIMBY complaints. So what’s happening in Germany is a forerunner of what is probably going to happen elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S., to say nothing of Hawaii.

The fact is that renewables take space, their footprints are often larger because they need to capture energy resources from nature over relatively large areas. Watt for watt they would be larger, for example, than a power plant generating the same load. People don’t realize how much space is involved for solar, PV parks and of course windmills with 100 foot blades set wide apart in a field.

The more space they take the more likely is the eventual NIMBY. Is this happening in Hawaii? You bet it is, and sometimes it’s obscured by an overlay of other issues, such as the expression of cultural or environmental concerns. Before we accept those expressions, however, we need to take a closer look.

Hawaii is not growing higher, it’s growing further out. Sure there are condos in Kakaako, but in most places there are single family residences spreading out in every direction, sometimes taking over former agricultural lands, and effectively paving over our state. What happens if renewables are in the way?

I wish it were as simple as who got there first. If the residential neighborhoods were there first, certainly the renewables would be hard pressed to infringe on them. But, and here’s the problem, even if the renewables were there first, the creeping residential neighborhood will likely prevail in the resulting tension. In short, urban sprawl always seems to force other uses to go somewhere else.

This reminds me of the Waimanu Home operated for years and years by the State Department of Health at the top of the Waimanu Home Road in Pearl City. Although when the Waimanu Home was dedicated as a state hospital for the mentally disadvantaged its location was quite remote, as the years went by residential neighborhoods crept up the hill right to its fence.

At some point the Home was closed, so as the neighborhood grew up the hill there was no objection to it. A few years ago, however, world-famous tropical disease researcher Dr. Duane Gubler got permission and funding from the National Institutes of Health to build a world class Bio Safety Laboratory there.

But the neighborhood had become contiguous and NIMBY raised its ugly head. The neighbors spoke out against the lab and Gubler couldn’t build there. Undaunted, he convinced NIH to relocate the lab and funding to Kakaako, where it later died a excruciating death at the hands of UH officials. Frustrated, he left Hawaii and built his world class lab for Duke in Singapore.

As an island state Hawaii has limited land and is ultimately a small place with too many and too little land. NIMBY is a big problem which has had and will continue to have a huge effect on the development of renewables. No surprise that we have a competition among renewables. In the end, some will prevail and others won’t. It’s a process of community selection, based not on science or community benefit but on he who complains loudest about his back yard.

NIMBY and the power politics of blatant self-interest that customarily surround it will play an increasing role in this selection process and thus in the development of our renewables infrastructure. Its effect, sad to say, will not be helpful but will rather constitute an obstruction to that development.

Take geothermal. Nobody wants to be near geothermal. There was a cultural outcry that obstructed geothermal development in the 1990’s, a community resistance that continues to limit geothermal production in Puna even though the Ormat plant there could produce many times more than its present 38MW. I’m not so sure it was all cultural - some of it could be old fashioned NIMBY.

The fact is that nobody wants the noise and steam near them. A plant like that looks like something from Mars and nobody wants it in his or her backyard. Don’t expect geothermal to be anywhere close to a population center, even if that would save the cost of transporting the energy. And if a population center contends for space, don’t expect geothermal to prevail anytime soon.

Let’s look at wind – it’s noisy; those big blades. It’s a problem if you’re nearby, so don’t try to build a windmill in my back yard. A few years ago, various NIMBY factions on the Waianae Coast didn’t want HECO to put wind on Kahe Ridge, the best place in Oahu. As a result, it’s 2010 and still no wind in Oahu.

Many people in Molokai question the 100MW of wind planned for their backyard. It’s more than cultural – some don’t want to be the energy factory for Oahu. They ask why we should suffer windmills that only serve Oahu. What’s in it for me? The jury’s out on what will happen in Molokai, but you can be sure that the developers, and ultimately we the ratepayers, will have to deal with, and make provision for, those who feel this way. It will cost us.

Although our experience is still limited, the direction seems to be that a developer can resolve these NIMBY concerns with coin of the realm, money. Indeed, right now those developers as well as other wind developers in the state are trying to determine how much they will need to give the local communities around these windmill sites, and for how long, to obtain their cooperation and make them feel better about having windmills in their backyards.

There are at least two problems with this. If we are properly focused on a renewables initiative, we need to understand that renewables have to go somewhere. We can’t keep passing the buck until the renewables are so far at the fringe that we are increasing the cost of transporting the energy or just making them impossible. Somebody has to step up to the plate and accept the renewables in his or her back yard. Self-interest must capitulate to the good of the community. Who will go first? Will it be you, and your neighborhood?

Second, the developers who are paying, and the people who are asking for and expecting big bucks to allow renewables in their back yards are not doing any of us a favor. The recipients don’t own the land, they are merely the neighbors. The only reason the money is promised to them is to buy their acquiescence and avoid their protest. We, the ratepayers, wind up paying that expense. State leadership is effectively encouraging this recipe, when in fact it should be discouraging it. As this gets more widespread, you won’t like what happens.

Ah, and then there’s nuclear energy, even the tiny Toshiba micro reactors would undoubtedly generate big time NIMBY. Obviously, nobody wants to live near a reactor and worry all day about glowing all night. Could we ever find a place in Hawaii that everyone would agree is acceptable for nuclear? I doubt it. Too bad, because this alternative might otherwise be attractive, and cheap.

Ocean energy is not a problem for the people inland but I expect that some beachgoers and fisherman won’t want to share the ocean with an ocean energy facility. If it’s over the horizon people wouldn’t much care, but if it’s visible to get in the view, I expect that some people might nevertheless foment resistance. The long and short of it is that NIMBY is always there ready to raise its head.

All in all, PV seems the best choice for NIMBY because it’s quiet. Although it doesn’t produce like wind at night, there are no blades on it and it doesn’t make any noise. What’s more, we can put hedges or fences around them to obscure any view of them and limit the possibility of community opposition.

In general, NIMBY is a restraint on development of our renewables. We need to incentivize communities to accept renewables, not demand hush money for them. People have to realize how important they are to the future of our state and we all have to cooperate in developing and integrating them equitably and quickly. We need to give them priority and abandon the self interest that stands in the way.

We’ve got to get away from the NIMBY mentality if we hope for a renewable future in these islands. It’s like learning to live together in a confined space – a space where land is increasingly dear and where someone is always encroaching on what you thought was a vacant lot. If we are to succeed, we’ve got to learn to make sacrifices for the good of the community. That’s a big “if.”

No discussion of NIMBY is complete without mention of the BANANA phenomenon – “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.” This goes way beyond NIMBY - it refers to those who take NIMBY to new levels and use it only as a way to Stop all Progress for its own sake, unconditionally and without any consideration of the greater good. They would not put us in stasis, but rather in reverse.

My theory is that this contingent would constrain state progress because they resent not being part of it or having a part of it or are seeking belated redress for unrelated grievances. Neither justifies acts that would lock us in amber. As a matter of fairness and self-preservation, the community cannot afford to tolerate or accede to any NIMBY claim which has taken on this new dimension, especially when we're talking about energy.

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December 21st, 2009

It’s clear now that Iraqi insurgents have been regularly intercepting live video feeds from our unmanned Predator and Reaper drones (an upgrade of the Predator).

This is really bad, and embarrassing. It’s not as if the drones were a small part of our system – they are a larger and larger part. The military is relying more and more on them and in fact there are some 7,000 of them deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least 38 are in the air at any given moment, taking video and sending it back for intelligence.

If they are so important, then really you’d think we would have protected the feeds from the prying eyes of our enemies. In fact, the insurgents were able to listen in to the feeds over an extended period by using a $26 program they downloaded from the internet. It’s called SkyGrabber, and it’s made by Russian programmers for downloading music, photos and videos.

SkyGrabber is easy to find with Google and is still available for download. See, which says: “You can't use the SkyGrabber for intercepting military, encrypt or private data. SkyGrabber can intercept only legal free data such as pictures, music (mp3), movie (avi, mpg). SkyGrabber is a hobby for person who grabs satellite provider. SkyGrabber is for fun.” (sic)

In another place, the site says: “SkyGrabber is offline satellite internet downloader. It intercepts satellite data (movie, music, pictures) that downloading by other users and saves information in your hard disk. So, you'll get new movie, best music and funny pictures for free. You don't have to keep an online internet connection. Just customize your satellite dish to selected satellite provider and start grabbing.” (sic)

Apparently the Predator was “rushed” into use in 2001 and was not sufficiently tested for vulnerabilities at the time. But, it has been nine years since then, and we might have expected the Pentagon to complete that testing at some point since then. Apparently, they didn’t. And since the drones are in such heavy use these days, it may not be so easy to do it now.

The Pentagon points out that this does not mean the insurgents hacked into our military communication systems, but only that they have been able to view the raw video feeds that our forces use for intelligence gathering. The fact that our enemies can view the feeds is very disturbing, particularly given the possibility that they might also be able to modify the feeds. That possibility alone can make our intelligence less than reliable.

Indeed, the whole affair is disturbing. We have not protected against obvious vulnerabilities and we have clearly underestimated the computer competence of our enemies. We have spent billions on these drones only to have them compromised by a $26 program that any nine year old could download and operate with a satellite dish.

Although the military has spent billions on the most sophisticated military technology in the world, it may not have been keeping up with commonly available PC technology and software available to everyone everywhere, including enemy insurgents. The compromise presents a strange disconnect, a frightening loophole that must be immediately closed.

There are other lessons too. Did the military planners not realize what was happening on the Internet? Did they not know that Russian programmers were capable of and motivated to produce gray market software like this? It looks like we were too fascinated with the expensive stuff to appreciate how fast the technology moves and how powerful it has become. Another lesson, then, is that our military planners must recognize their lack of awareness of what is going on in the PC world and their lack of flexibility in identifying and dealing with it.

We got caught short here, and what happened shows a certain level of complacency about our critical military technology and is an indication that maybe we’re not as sharp as we thought we were. The military has to stay in touch with developments in the world of civilian technology, and we’ve got to do better thinking on matters as important as aerial surveillance over the battlefield.

The other part of it is that the web moves more and more quickly and reaches more and more people in more and more places. Perhaps once we thought that insurgents in undeveloped countries didn’t have a clue about computers and the Internet. Now, we know different. Yet again, we find that technology levels the playing field in every corner of the world and that, like fame, our latest and most brilliant innovations seem to last for only 15 minutes.

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December 15th, 2009

I was going to tell you about the new Toshiba “micro reactor” that generates 200KW to 50MW for small towns or even buildings at 5 cents per KWH (a small fraction of what it costs here today), that measures only 20 feet by 6 feet with a 3 foot heating core encased in a 90 foot hole, that costs $20 million and lasts 40 years, requires no maintenance and is known as 4S – super-safe, small and simple.

I was going to tell you that the core is made of an alloy of uranium, plutonium and zirconium, which has been tested but not yet been commercially produced or used in reactors. I was going to tell you that the micro reactor reflects many innovations and does not use conventional rods to control its nuclear reaction.

I was going to tell you that the design had already been submitted to the NRC and that a bill was being submitted to Congress to allow fast track approval, and that the city of Galena, Alaska, was awaiting that approval to install one.

I was going to tell you that the Toshiba technology changes the game, that it goes far beyond the Three Mile Island technology that melted down in 1979 or the Russian technology that blew Chernoble up and killed 30 people in 1986, and that there have been startling innovations in nuclear technology since then.

And so on. But I actually can’t tell you those things right now. Despite the many articles you can find on the web reporting on Toshiba micro reactors and 4S technology, Galena and worldwide white hot interest in this technology, you also find reports that it is all a hoax, to the point that you can’t be sure if the story is a hoax or the hoax is a hoax. At this point, confidence isn’t justified.

There is a huge amount of information going both ways on the web. This demonstrates how misinformation or disinformation can be proliferated in the absence of an editor or gatekeeper. Toshiba itself, which does in fact do nuclear research, has apparently denied the existence of the micro reactor. When I told one person about the Toshiba technology today, he said “you’re joking.” Right now, I’m not sure, so I won’t say it exists until I know more.

In the meantime, I still believe the technology around nuclear energy has been greatly improved in the past 30 years, that nuclear reactors are smaller, more efficient and safer than they were in the 1970’s or 1980’s, that problems in security and disposal have been substantially ameliorated over those years.

Despite the obvious presence of nuclear submarines and weapons in Hawaii, our people seem terrified about using nuclear reactors for energy. Our State Constitution provides that no nuclear plant can be built, and no radioactive material can be disposed of, without a two-thirds vote of both houses.

This provision was added by the 1978 Constitutional Convention. Had another constitutional convention been authorized by the voters last year, this could have been changed, but no convention was authorized and none took place. Even without that change, we could still build a plant with a two-thirds vote.

Let’s assume a micro reactor can be built, maintenance free and secure, and that nuclear waste can be safely disposed of, as in the case of the hypothetical Toshiba. The naysayers do not accept that. They suggest that even though we have dozens of reactors in the U.S., to say nothing of the ones that can be seen all over France, we should not for a moment consider nuclear power in Hawaii.

All sources of power, including those considered renewables, have an effect of one kind or the other on the environment. Some commentators say nuclear is no worse than some other sources. Hydro power does more damage than coal. Manufacturing PV yields some nasty chemicals, as does battery storage. Bird risks notwithstanding, wind is green. So is ocean energy. Nuclear emits only water vapor – nuclear waste is just as radioactive as it was on the way in.

So let’s not be so quick to dismiss it out of hand. In the long term, given the hastening development of nuclear technology that will enable Toshiba to make this piece of hope come true, we may want to, or need to, consider the nuclear option along with the others, to keep things going strong and make our goals.

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The Ghost of Hawaii's Future

December 13th, 2009

In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol," where Ebenezer Scrooge meets the "Ghost of Christmas Future," who shows him the drastic consequences of his thoughtless ways.

I asked local futurist Jim Dator and his friends to help me with the "Ghost of Hawai'i's Future." My question: If we don't improve things, what will Hawai'i be like in 2015?

Here's what they said.

Jim Dator, political science professor:

After 30 years of destroying effective governance by slashing taxes and burying families and governments in overwhelming debt, voodoo economics crashed in 2007. A few people remain obscenely rich, while most hang on in disciplined fear. Instead of using the crash to create a sustainable polity, officials steal from future generations to prop up our fantasy economy. It won't work.

A temporary uptick in pseudo-economic indicators and a brief flood of Chinese tourists might lull us into complacency over the next five years, but for the longer term we'll need honesty, courage and palpable hope.

One way or the other, Hawai'i will become self-sufficient — if not by choice, then by necessity.

Roger Davis, software engineer:

We've got rising unemployment and a threadbare state government that knows only how to slash programs. As bad as things are, these are still the good old days. Predicting short-term oil prices is risky, but long term they'll be way up.

Seventy dollars is the new $30 (per barrel) and budget tourism is in permanent decline.

There is sadly no way to replace our main economic engine in the next five years, but prompt action now could make all the difference 20 years out when Honolulu might otherwise make Detroit look like the Emerald City of Oz.

Fred Duennebier, tectonics and geophysics professor:

Christmas 2015, Mom. We would love to visit but there are so few flights. Since groceries are so expensive, we've been growing vegetables in the yard, but the hungry homeless just steal them. We won't be able to pay the mortgage much longer, and soon we'll also be homeless. We pulled the kids out of Punahou and canceled our PV contract. The planned opening of the rail was delayed again for the lack of funding, so we'll car pool with the neighbors while we can; at least there's no more traffic jams. Some Christmas! Love, Fred.

Hilo is hard, Fred. Thank goodness our community garden is doing well — the stores are so low on food. Our neighbor shares an occasional fish, but there aren't many left to fish for. Another wind turbine broke last week. There are no parts being shipped now, so we have rolling blackouts most every day. Too bad geothermal didn't expand while it could. My back bothers me these days, but there are no specialists left here to treat it. Hope 2016 is better! Love, Mom.

Pat Takahashi, retired engineering professor:

Within five years, and certainly 10, the price of oil will skyrocket way past $100 and even $150 a barrel. Hawai'i will still be so dependent on tourism that as the price of jet fuel escalates our visitor count will plummet, perhaps as much as 50 percent, putting Hawai'i's economy into a long-term depression.

It's already too late to diversify Hawai'i's economy. We should protect what's left by stimulating research for a next generation of aircraft and non-fossil jet fuel. We should ask Sen. Inouye and President Obama to initiate a multibillion dollar effort as soon as possible.

Scott Yim, future studies graduate student:

If furloughs continue for the next five years, Hawai'i's students will be more socialized. They will have more time to spend with their friends, parents and role models. Some will improve their test scores. Others will run amok.

Some parents will use the furloughs to spend more time with their kids. Others will enjoy their newfound freedom and opt for child care. Some employers will cut wages. Others will allow workers to bring their kids in.

Teachers will have more time to prepare, and be less stressed. But they may not want to go back to longer hours.

By 2015, everyone will have learned to accept lower standards. Some will have forgotten the higher ones.

Manfred Zapka, engineer and energy consultant:

Hawaii will have decided among two choices for energy. The first is to attempt a spate of glamour projects, hoping that systemic changes won’t be necessary. The second is to initiate courageous and sometimes uncomfortable energy changes. By 2015, we’ll find that the first won’t work but the second one will.

Rather than concentrate on glamour, we’ll have implemented smart energy solutions that yield rapid payback. By 2015, our energy initiative will properly focus on smaller, more manageable projects throughout the economy. With that, we’ll be well on our way to a sustainable energy future. Hallelujah.


What will Hawai'i be like in 2015? How can we mend our ways to improve the prospects? If we examine those prospects, perhaps we can achieve the insight to enjoy a happier Christmas and build a better New Year.

Dickens was right — questioning the future can help us prepare for it, but perhaps we need to be on the brink before we can find an answer.

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December 6th, 2009

The Coral Ballroom never seemed so crowded. More than 900 people showed up at the WSRSOL 90th birthday party for CJ William S. Richardson. The gemutlichkeit was running free, punctuated by champagne toasts. Everyone seemed to know each other, and that’s a mighty large network for Hawaii, or anywhere.

The animated handshakes filled the room cheek-to-cheek, and there were old friendships rekindled, old contentions forgotten and new introductions exchanged. The kind of open socialization that really feels good after a long Friday.

The Richardson family was there in force, as was the Law School and for that matter the University, featuring Dean Avi Soifer, Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and UH President MRC Greenwood, immersed in graduates, the bar and the legal community.

The program was elegant. Not just the obligatory birthday greetings, but a well-made movie of his life, more than nostalgia - a lesson in Hawaii history. It included footage and interviews not only of CJ and his family but important events with his close friends John Burns and John Burns’ son Jim Burns.

The judges spoke, Ron Moon and Craig Nakamura, to give CJ their thanks for his help and support over the years. The dean spoke of how important CJ was, is and will always be to the Law School, and how they are raising money to raise the roof, a project the dean has been working on since he arrived.

The centerpiece was CJ himself. Working up to it, he listened and smiled as we learned the details and depth of his professional and personal life. But then it was his turn to speak. It was hard for him to get to the podium, and it wasn’t clear what would happen when he got there.

At first he made fun, asking what he was supposed to be doing there, quips that caught you off guard, charmed you and brought you close to him. Then he spoke more seriously and moved into a poetic expression of his appreciation to those around him, making us all family for the moment.

He spoke softly, but with the crisp edge of a man skilled in the law. He chose every word so carefully and tailored his remarks so perfectly for the occasion of the 900 strong. It was pure haiku. I envied that he could talk to us with such precision, and reach us with such warmth, even from the frailty of age.

With all that, his remarks were brief. I think they were well less than five minutes, all the more of a phenomenon. I will remember the evening as a compliment to the school and the community, as a collection of post-statehood generations coming together with heartfelt admiration for a special friend.

The tables held hands as we sang to close. Thanks, Dean Soifer, for putting this together. I hope you do it again, and I hope you raise your roof, as you did on Friday night, with the same inimitable style.

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