Archive for December, 2010

2011 could be a good year for renewables in Oahu

December 28th, 2010
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ThinkTech Hawaii

It’s good news that the PUC has issued a “waiver” for Castle and Cooke to build a 20 MW PV farm on its land in Mililani, as reported in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser.

The waiver was based on Castle & Cooke’s plan to divide the farm into four separate smaller 5-MW projects that would be independent to the extent possible and the power of the PUC to impose additional conditions on these projects going forward.

Without this waiver or the exemption it had earlier requested, Castle & Cooke would have had to go through a competitive bidding process before it could select a builder for the farm, so the PUC’s ruling is a good result for Castle & Cooke.

The PUC’s ruling took the “waiver” approach rather than issue an “exemption” from the competitive bidding process that would otherwise apply, so this result will avoid a problematic precedent and preserve the PUC’s discretion under the Competitive Bidding Framework adopted in 2006.

While this may lead to a discussion of whether the waiver approach could result in higher renewable costs from larger producers, those costs will in any event have to run the gauntlet with the PUC, with HECO and with the Consumer Advocate.

Although it took four years to get to this point, we now have the prospect of a 20 MW PV farm on Oahu, no less than 17 times the size of the 1.2 MW farm Castle & Cooke built on Lanai in 2008. It’ll be the biggest in the state and will light some 6,000 homes on the Oahu grid.

We’re encouraged that Castle & Cooke can go ahead, but we’re wondering why projects of this nature can’t be approved more quickly. If we keep on taking this long, we risk a loss of momentum and confidence by energy entrepreneurs, investors and the public. There must be something we can do to speed it up.

What does it all mean? It’s significant that HECO is willing to accept a facility of this size on Oahu and that the PUC could find a way to let the project proceed. It will be nearly as big as the 30 MW windfarm at Kahuku, and it’s notable that the waiver comes just as the Kahuku project is coming on line.

Castle & Cooke has learned a lot in building and improving its PV farm in Lanai. They know a lot about PV technology and a lot about clean energy in general. From their PV experience on Lanai, they are clearly competent and qualified to build a PV farm on Oahu, and good for them for sticking with it.

Does this project work against the 400 MW windfarm Castle & Cooke plans for the West end of Lanai? No. Wind energy from Lanai via an undersea cable can co-exist with the PV farm in Mililani and other renewables in Oahu. We want to have multiple sources of renewables, not rely on any single one of them.

Indeed, given the time it will take to build the undersea cable, Castle & Cooke is right to get on with the PV farm now that it has achieved the opportunity to do so. Not only to make a buck selling power to the Oahu grid, but to advance the cause of clean energy in our state.

While we’re looking forward to the expeditious development of the PV farm in Mililani, we also want to see the expeditious development of the undersea cable and the windfarm on Lanai. On the eve of the New Year, these are the signs of progress that could make 2011 an important year for energy.

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Identifying the sea changes and opportunities in "biohacking"

December 21st, 2010
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ThinkTech Hawaii

We always like to identify sea changes, and it's always exciting to spot pockets of scientific creativity.

I did a video interview of Michael Lynch of OPX Biotechnologies last week. He’s an M.D. researcher and chief scientist of the company. He talked about their work in creating acrylic with bio feedstock. I'll post the video on thinktechhawaii.com in the next few days. They have the talent, chutzpah and capital they need. Their technology is cutting edge, and I’d be optimistic about them. They operate out of a relatively new tech community, Boulder. Ten years ago, Boulder and Honolulu were on a par in terms of their tech industries or lack thereof, but now Boulder is way ahead.

Let’s fast forward to the New York Times this past Sunday, and an article there about young hobbyists and entrepreneurs doing do-it-yourself garage biology research in Brooklyn. The article was called “Turning Geek into Chic.” Garage development wasn’t all that hard for IT 30 years ago. It’s a little more difficult and more equipment intensive to do garage development on biology, but that’s what they’re doing. This requires greater sophistication, but it’s reminiscent of IT startups three decades ago.

These kids are doing completely amazing things in their walkup labs in Brooklyn. They call themselves "biohackers," and in their makeshift labs they push the envelope, building centrifuges from eggbeaters, microscopes from webcams and photobioreactors from soda bottles and fish tank pumps. One guy got in trouble for ordering bacteria and one amateur physicist actually built a nuclear reactor in his studio.

What’s the common denominator? These are collaborative young entrepreneurs, trained, curious and determined about science and tech. Clearly, the IT garage model still works, but now for them in much more sophisticated experiments. The transformation from hobbyist to entrepreneur, the willingness of parents, angels, VCs and other supporters in the same kind of high tech democratization we had earlier.

In those days, the idea of doing biology at home was really not workable – it required too much money, equipment and commitment. It was quicker and easier to get to first base in IT. The IT kids proved the garage startup model, and with what seems to be a resurrection of exuberance, we’re seeing it again. There have been some rags to riches stories, and the kids are coming around, ready to take the chance.

The Boulder-Brooklyn phenomenon should be instructive to the tech industry in Hawaii. Yes, you can do garage entrepreneurship in things other than IT, in laboratory sciences. You can get the equipment and instruments, and hopefully enough of your scientific classmates have stuck around so you can reach critical mass on scientific expertise and interest. You can do this in your garage or studio, and get a job at night to pay for it. You don’t need a university or Fortune 500 laboratory to make your discoveries.

Hawaii had a certain IT phase in the 1990’s, but success largely passed us by. Then we had some life sciences companies, but only a handful of them survived. Is there any reason we can’t go to the next step and do startup biology, like OPX BIO in Boulder or the biology research companies in Brooklyn? No. We can, and we should. It’s a new generation in biotechnology and there’s a new brass ring. We may have missed some opportunities in IT and life sciences, but now we have another chance.

So here’s a call to action to all those geeks who got excited about biology and chemistry in school. Take the plunge, find a fellow Ph.D. or candidate or enthusiast and go for it – get creative on science and hammer out a fresh idea, such as bio feedstock acrylic, and build a company. We’ll back you and cheer you on. We want to make a home for you and your classmates and friends. We know how important this could be to you, and all of us. Do it, and let us know how you’re doing – let’s get together and spread the word.

Surely, the smart kids in Hawaii can compete with those in Boulder and Brooklyn. There’s nothing they have that we don’t have. Right? Let’s go for it.

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In a world where justice is blind, the one-eyed man was King

December 14th, 2010
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ThinkTech Hawaii

Sam King was an extraordinary man and a great judge, with warmth and an abiding sense of humor and who always managed to find justice in a thicket of complexities. He was fair, wise, smart and understanding and, in short, everything you could ask for in a judge and which you’re never sure you’re going to get. Nobody I know had anything nasty or negative to say about him. He was one of our finest ever, a wonderful man and a bastion of the bench, born to judge.

I was always impressed that he had been born in China. He was the original family court judge in the 60s. He was perfect for that, so good and well-liked that he had to move on. Although he didn't win for governor he won a seat on the federal court, which some say is a much better job.

He was a judge with grace; it came easy for him. He listened, understood, opened his mind to counsel and did the right thing. The best judges, and people, have different relationships with different people. He had different relationships with different attorneys who appeared in his court. He liked people, lawyers too. That made life easier for those who appeared before him.

He was both a powerful intellect and a Mark Twain quality humorist, and he had a million wonderful jokes and cracks ready to relieve the tension of the courtroom, or any other place. They say he coined the phrase, “here today, gone to Maui,” but that was only the beginning.

I remember when he explained to the lawyers in his court that senior judges had to account for their time so it would be okay if they argued through lunch, since then he could write his time down. They loved him for comments like that. No other judge would joke about such things.

And I remember when one lawyer asked him for a 20-day extension of a given deadline. The deadline was March 20th, and instead of going through the month-to-month arithmetic, Sam King immediately granted an extension to March 40th. That was that. Something only he would do.

When a lawyer in his court advised him one day that the Ninth Circuit had just affirmed one of Judge King's earlier decisions, he responded immediately with "yes, I know, but I still think I'm right." That tells it all.

My favorite was when he sat in California and it had been raining for a while. One of the lawyers asked if he could order the rain to stop. He did, and it did. Unfortunately, a drought followed. A year later, he was there with the same lawyer, who asked if Judge King could please order the rain to stop. He did, and it did. You can imagine what the other side thought.

Sam King was a computer maven even in the 1980’s. Sometimes he would call and ask me questions and I was always delighted to help him. It was lovely to see a man so senior relishing new skills in technology. He was very good at it, a man for all seasons, ahead of his time.

In his humor there was courage and in that courage there was also an underlying kindness, even for some players who might not have deserved it. This courage and kindness was a gift not only to the judicial system but to the community. His coming out on the Broken Trust articles reflects that courage.

Sam King and Randy Roth came on my ThinkTech Radio Show after the Broken Trust book was published in 2006. It was a very candid discussion. They had collaborated on the book just as on the Star-Bulletin articles a decade before. Sharp as ever, Sam King joined vigorously in the discussion – he hadn’t lost his fervor on the subject, and knew that they had changed history.

My wife and I have attended the Hawaii Opera Theatre from the beginning, and so had he. He sat a few seats away from us in the second row, and I looked forward at every performance to stumbling past his seat and exchanging stories and jokes. For decades, it was part of our opera experience to say hi. In recent years, we didn’t see him there anymore. It wasn’t the same.

In a world where justice is often blind, Sam King, with one eye, was king. In the cases I saw, his batting average was impressive. He gave us consistency and predictable fairness. His passing is the end of an era in Hawaii. We hate to lose that era, and we also hate to lose him.

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The traffic honeymoon doesn't last forever

December 7th, 2010
By



ThinkTech Hawaii

Our new mayor is, of course, still on his honeymoon, and he's entitled to that. But given the traffic congestion we still have, the honeymoon can’t last forever. We can and should expect him to do something about it, and soon.

So far there’s no sign of any improvement and no word on what he will do about it. We have some of the worst congestion in the country, with thanks to Mufi Hannemann, who thought he could make us believe that rail would solve it all. That wasn’t and isn’t true.

Like his predecessor, our new mayor has taken the front page about rail, without giving us any assurance he will also fix the traffic. If only we could hear less about rail and more about fixing the traffic, how happy and encouraged we would be.

The honeymoon isn’t over, but so far the imbalance and the traffic continue unabated.

PATIENCE IS NOT PRUDENCE

We need modern solutions - timed lights, sensored intersections, overpasses, underpasses, HOT lanes. We’re desperate for these things. The technology is there, but we ignored it during the Hannemann years. Surely, we learned something and have higher expectations now.

Multiple solutions are as out there, low-hanging fruit, easy for the taking. What about the low-tech, the walk ways, bike lanes and roller skating paths? We have the climate and terrain. We went to the moon 40 years ago, certainly we can do this. It was never rocket science.

The fix is actually easy. The hard part is keeping city government focused.

Honolulu, the zen city, where everyone waits patiently impacted in traffic. We must be the most patient people on the planet. Nobody even blows his horn. We all just sit there waiting for the mayor to do something, thinking and hoping that he must care enough to do something.

Municipalities are supposed to do three basic things – police, fire and infrastructure. Managing roadways and traffic is definitely infrastructure, but as with the sewers and roadways we seem to forget that while we sit fiddling with the music dial our economy is burning.

It’s a social compact - the city and the mayor take our tax money, and we expect them to provide us with police, fire and infrastructure, including traffic management. If they don’t, they aren’t doing their job and we have to hold them accountable.

Right now, I’d have to say they’re not. Take a drive and soon enough you’ll be caught in a jam.

NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS

We sit there because we think that congestion must be in the natural order of things - that this is the way it’s supposed to be and there’s no point in fighting Mother Nature or City Hall. But this is not the way it’s supposed to be. We can do much better – this is the 21st century.

It’s completely doable. There are experts and consultants all over the world that can help us, equipment suppliers from hither and yon that can provide the technology that will get us where we need to go without the daily struggle of being locked in traffic for hours at a time.

Multiply those hours, your hours in traffic, by what you could earn or do for each of those hours, and then multiply that by all the people in all the thousands of cars you see lined up around you, and you will understand how this forced inactivity affects our QOL and our state’s economy.

And while you sit there, you can’t do anything, not even make a legal call.

A modern city changes to meet new demands, especially in roadways and traffic- a modern city regularly widens old roads, builds alternative new ones, improves intersections, creates traffic circles and a host of other improvements that move the traffic. We don’t. We’re locked in a kind of infrastructure paralysis, neither seeking nor finding any progress.

If our new mayor was looking for excellence he would bring in Panos, the most knowledgeable traffic engineer in the state, to do modern traffic management. But for political considerations that’s not likely, so Panos will have to wait and take his chances again two years from now.

Along the way, a year from now, we’ll have APEC, with heads of state here from all over the world. To the last head of state and governmental official, they’ll be stuck in traffic every day they’re here, and they’ll all know the meaning of our pain and our red-faced embarrassment.

They’ll remember us as the congestion center of the Pacific for years to come.

THE GAUNTLET IS DOWN

As the honeymoon comes to an end, we should be seeing some improvement. We should be seeing high tech timers, sensors and signal boxes being installed everywhere. We should be seeing major construction work going on to improve and rationalize our intersections.

When I think of the waste of human resources by having thousands of people sit idle in impenetrable congestion for hours every day, it hurts me to think of the waste. It hurts me to think how much that time is worth. It hurts me to think that the City’s doing nothing about it.

I’d like to think that somebody in city government is feeling the same pain, somebody in a control room somewhere dedicated to fixing the traffic. But I don’t have that sense at all. I rather think they’re working only on rail - and would say the traffic is our problem, not theirs.

The congestion in this city stands in the way of everything we want to do, and hurts our economy, our disposition and for that matter our way of life. You can’t feel good if you’re sitting in endless congestion. You can’t be truly happy or at one with the universe if you’re locked up in traffic. Even nostalgia can’t help you.

In the old days, you could get from one place to another in Honolulu in minutes. No problem getting to work or going to Kaimuki for lunch. It gave us all a remarkable freedom, one which we lost some time ago. Now we grit our teeth and try to find solace in the creature comforts of our expensive cars, turning the other way on the gridlock around us.

The right thing to do is to sit up straight and make the city accountable. We are or should be frustrated as hell with the congestion in our city. Enough with the zen already.

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