Rep. Thielen questions NextEra Energy Hawaii – HB 1468 Interisland Transmission System

March 3, 2015

ThielenRepresentative Cynthia Thielen questions Eric Gleason, president of NextEra Energy Hawaii, LLC. about the bill HB 1468

Henry Curtis of Life of the Land also comments on HB 1468henry

3/2/2015 H The committees on JUD recommend that the measure be PASSED, WITH AMENDMENTS. The votes were as follows: 11 Ayes: Representative(s) Rhoads, San Buenaventura, Brower, Creagan, Hashem, Kawakami, C. Lee, Morikawa, Takayama, Woodson, Thielen; Ayes with reservations: none; Noes: none; and 3 Excused: Representative(s) Belatti, Nakashima, McDermott.

Contact:  or Henry Curtis at

Report Title:  Public Utilities Commission; Interisland Transmission System
Description:  Removes the authorization granted to the public utilities commission to establish a regulatory structure for the installation and implementation of an interisland high-voltage electric transmission cable system. (HB1468 HD1)
Companion:  SB1339
Package: None
Current Referral:  EEP, CPC/JUD

Excerpt from Capitol TV

Who should own the electric company?

March 2, 2015

Star Advertiser By Vicki Viotti  March 1, 2015

As a Florida-based utility seeks to take control of HEI, those who want a different option see an opportunity for a customer-owned energy cooperative

Historically, Hawaii residents have felt powerless where electric power is concerned — most are customers of Hawaiian Electric Industries (HEI) subsidiaries, all privately owned utilities. But history has been changing.

The advance of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has offered the lure of independence to those who can afford it. Even those who can’t might have a way to own a piece of their own power generation through community solar projects, a program proposed in House Bill 484 and Senate Bill 1050 (see story, Page E4).

But it’s the truly customer-owned model, the cooperative, that has been the buzzword lately.

“There have been a number of people on this island talking about this for some time,” said Marco Mangelsdorf, spokesman for the Hawaii Island Energy Cooperative. “But the crystallizing event that got a lot of people thinking was the proposed merger between HEI and NextEra.”

The state with the highest fuel costs in the country — and thus the highest electricity rates — is dependent to an enormous extent on the import of oil, a commodity with extremely volatile prices. The dominant players have been HEI’s Hawaiian Electric Co., Maui Electric Co. and Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO), the latter serving Hawaii island.

The NextEra deal is the subject of a pending review by the state Public Utilities Commission. Mangelsdorf’s group is a newly formed cooperative wanting status as an intervenor in that review; it is among 28 interested parties asking the PUC to formally be a part of its decision.

Mangelsdorf acknowledged that HELCO is not for sale, but the group wants a front-row view of the PUC action, as preparation in case a buyer ever is sought.

“It became clear to us that if we are going to get a seat at the table, the time would be now,” Mangelsdorf added. “That’s where the main game is being played now.”

The co-op members — as well as consumers statewide — have been watching the precedent set by Kauai. In 2002, the Connecticut-based Citizens Communications Co. sold its subsidiary Kauai Electric Co. to the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), which is a nonprofit owned by its customers. Whenever there’s a revenue surplus, it is reinvested in the co-op or rebated to the ratepayer/members.

The company has a current operating budget of $178 million, with total assets of $327.1 million, said Jan TenBruggencate, chairman of the KIUC board.

It employs 151 people, a 10 percent cut since 2008 when the board saw the need to reduce costs. But there’s progress, too, he added: About 27 percent of the original loan of $215 million has been paid off, all equity owned by the customers.

At the time of the purchase, Kauai residents paid the highest electric rates in the state; in recent months, TenBruggencate said, they’ve dropped below rates paid on Maui and Hawaii. Oahu’s economies of scale give HECO that advantage, he said.

Utility cooperatives were pioneered nationally in the 1930s with the help of the federal government, which sought to get the broad expanses of rural America electrified despite their sparse population and customer base.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization representing about 900 of the nonprofit businesses, all governed by their “consumer-members.” Federal regulations require them to have “democratic governance,” according to the association, and to operate at cost.

Consumer-members can elect local boards to provide oversight. And the co-op is required, in most cases, to return to consumer-members any revenue above what is needed to cover operational expenses.

These co-ops still have the benefit of federal loan assistance, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. And because of population growth, some areas are no longer rural. There are also nonprofit finance institutions, such as the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., that provide loans; this was the entity that financed KIUC.

Jasper Schneider, USDA’s acting administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, said in an e-mail statement to the Star-Advertiser that the model is used by a “wide range of businesses in both rural and urban areas.”

For example, he said, the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative near metropolitan Washington, D.C., used a $90 million USDA loan to help build a biomass facility, which produced both electricity and jobs.

“The project illustrates how natural resources in rural areas can help meet the energy needs of more developed, densely populated areas and contribute to rural economic growth,” Schneider added.

headshot dec 2011One person who is very interested in the changing landscape is state Rep. Cynthia Thielen. Even though Oahu is not positioned for such an option, Thielen doesn’t think Oahu should be excluded from the discussion.

“Oahu is not too big to become its own stand-alone energy co-op,” Thielen said. “The major flaw is, in today’s era we should not have a monopoly utility beholden to its shareholders. We need to look at what better model we should have.”

Thielen has been a champion for renewable energy for years, but this session the Republican legislator from Kailua introduced House Bill 3. The bill would require the University of Hawaii to consult with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism on a study gauging “the benefits of establishing public electric utilities in the state that are publicly owned.”

The alternatives, according to the bill, include co-ops “that are owned by the customers” such as KIUC, as well as municipal utilities and “the establishment of a public power district, which is created with the specific legislative intent to take over territory being served by privately-owned public utilities.”

The bill did not get a hearing — not unusual for a measure introduced from the minority caucus in a Legislature dominated by Democrats. But Thielen is encouraged by small steps toward the distribution of power generation to small entities and individuals, from those who install their own PV to participants in community projects; she supports HB 484, which aims to create a community-based renewable-energy system.

“Control of the market is what has driven people away into PV,” she said, “so we don’t need the control by a single entity.”

Even advocates of co-ops will affirm that they don’t represent a panacea, and they come with their own set of challenges. KIUC has navigated through two member-initiated disputes of board decisions, related to the installation of “smart meters” enabling control of energy use by individual customers and a contractor hired to study hydroelectric resources, TenBruggencate said.

“We have had to understand what it is to be a cooperative,” he said. “We’ve had to learn how best to communicate with our membership; that’s been the sometime-rocky learning experience.”

Larger areas can have capital needs best met by sources available to a private corporate utility, he said.

“But the sources available to us are absolutely appropriate to our needs,” TenBruggencate added.

“All in all, the record shows it’s been a benefit to our members,” he said. “We’ve returned $40 million to our members, which otherwise would have gone to off-island investors.”

Rep. McDermott sues the University of Hawaii for details of secretive sex survey of school children

February 26, 2015

State Representative Bob McDermott (40th District—Ewa Beach) filed a lawsuit against the University of Hawaii for denying him access to a Pono Choices survey instrument.  The survey questions contained therein potentially ask 11 year-old students questions about their sexuality and sexual behaviors.

McDermott has taken this action after numerous attempts to obtain this information on behalf of Hawaii parents and taxpayers.
After learning that Pono Choices was a research project, Rep. McDermott sought to obtain a copy of the survey instrument.  The University of Hawaii denied him his request, claiming that “release of the instrument is being withheld in order to prevent disruption of the study”.

Chapter 92F of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, however, states that “All government records are open to public inspection unless access is restricted or closed by law.”  If an agency wishes to deny access to a record, the agency bears the burden of proof of explaining why denial is proper.  Rep. McDermott, however, does not believe the University has adequately met its burden.

“This is a government record”, said McDermott.  “Students have already been given access to the instrument’s contents.  The information has therefore already been released to members of the public.  So it is time for the rest of the public—especially parents—to have access to that same document.  It is nonsensical to allow middle schools access to a government document, but deny it to grown adults.” Rep. McDermott’s legal counsel is former State Senator John Carroll.

“This is very reminiscent of my earlier attempts to get copies of the original Pono Choices curriculum material,” said McDermott. “The DOE and University just don’t seem to understand that parents and taxpayers own these institutions, and are entitled to see what their money is buying — especially when it comes to materials of a very sensitive nature put in front of their children for secretive research activities.”

Rep. McDermott holds the position that the public should have access to what is being taught in public schools.  The University of Hawaii authored Pono Choices, which is a sexual education curriculum designed for 11 to 13 year-old students.  The curriculum is also a human research project.  The Department of Education is utilizing a survey instrument (authored by the University) to ask students intrusive personal questions—presumably some are sexual in nature.  However, we do not know what the exact questions are—since the University of Hawaii is refusing to release the survey instrument.

The Plaintiff is Rep. Bob McDermott.  The lawsuit regarding access to the Pono Choices records is based on Chapter 92F of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.  Under that law, the Defendant would be the “University of Hawaii”, not the State of Hawaii.  HRS §92F-15(a) states: “A person aggrieved by a denial of access to a government record may bring an action against the agency at any time within two years after the agency denial to compel disclosure” (emphasis added).  The term “Agency” under HRS §92F-3 means:
any unit of government in this State, any county, or any combination of counties; department; institution; board; commission; district; council; bureau; office; governing authority; other instrumentality of state or county government; or corporation or other establishment owned, operated, or managed by or on behalf of this State or any county, but does not include the nonadministrative functions of the courts of this State.

While the University of Hawaii is likely to put up a defense, Rep. McDermott will argue:

• Government records are presumed to be subject to disclosure requirements.
• The agency that refuses to disclose information bears the burden of proof of showing why the refusal is proper.
• The University of Hawaii has already “let the cat out of the bag” by allowing the DOE to ask these survey questions of members of the public.
• Given that the survey has already been released to some individuals, other persons have access under the law.

The real question: what is the University of Hawaii afraid of?

Pono Press Con Feb 2015Contact:

Mike Buck with Rep. Fukumoto Chang Feb 9, 2015 – Audio Only

February 25, 2015

Mike Buck  discusses the Hawaii State Legislature with Rep. Fukumoto Chang   Feb 9, 2015  –  Audio Only

MIKE BUCK Feb 9Contact:

Hawaii lawmakers file resolutions seeking Jones Act exemption, and Senate Minority presents Jones Act documentary film to raise public awareness

February 24, 2015

In a bipartisan effort to positively impact the cost of living for Hawaii residents, several members of the Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives have filed concurrent resolutions seeking an exemption for Hawaii from a provision in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act) requiring that all vessels be built in the United States.  The resolutions also ask that Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico be exempt.

To comply with the Jones Act and engage in coastwise trade between the ports of the United States, a ship must:

1)  fly the U.S. flag;

2)  be built in a U.S. shipyard;

3)  be 75% owned by U.S. citizens; and

4)  be crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Proponents of exempting the non-contiguous trades from the second hurdle (the “domestic build requirement”) say it would create a larger market and foster greater competition in ocean shipping for the noncontiguous trades (in addition to having no negative effect on jobs).

This past Friday, Senator Sam Slom filed concurrent resolutions SR10 and SCR34, co-sponsored by Senators Will Espero, Brickwood Galuteria, Breene Harimoto, Clarence Nishihara, Gilbert Keith-Agaran, Lorraine Inouye, Russell Ruderman and Gil Riviere.  The companion resolutions in the House were filed by primary introducers Representatives Sam Kong, Cindy Evans, Lauren Cheape-Matsumoto, Andria Tupola and Gene Ward (HR21 and HCR46).   The resolutions urge Congress to exempt Hawaii and other non-contiguous trades from the domestic build requirement because of its restrictive impact on the market for shipping goods to Hawaii.

Jones Act

Informational briefing of the Jones Act left to right Cliff Slater, Independent Transportation/Trucking/Railroad ,Michael N. Hansen, President, Hawaii Shippers Council; Cliff Slater, Independent Transportation/Trucking/Railroad, Representative Cindy Evans, Senator Sam Slom and Representative Gene Ward.

Senator Sam Slom said, “The Jones Act was originally meant to protect the shipping industry and maritime trade, but almost a century has gone by and it’s easy to see that the law does not serve its original purpose.  Today, the effect of the Jones Act is that people in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam pay significantly more than the rest of the country for everyday necessities.  Don’t get fooled though, it is not just these more remote locations as the Jones Act also adds to the cost of goods and oil for lower 48 states.  It is time for our U.S. Congress to address the role that the antiquated Jones Act plays in the high cost of living.  I am grateful that so many of my colleagues in both the Senate and the House see that an exemption to the U.S. build requirement can make a huge difference in what we here in Hawaii pay for goods,.”

Hawaii Shippers Council President Mike Hansen says, “A U.S.-build exemption would allow U.S. ship owners to acquire foreign built ships, register them under the U.S.-flag and operate them in the domestic noncontiguous trades.  The advantage of this reform is new ships built in South Korea and Japan are a fifth the cost of comparable ships built in the U.S., and that dramatically lower capital cost will lead to greater competition and moderate freight costs by lowering barriers to entry and increasing contestability in the shipping market place.”

Dr. Kim Kepner-Sybounmy, Chief of Staff for Senator Slom, is another proponent of Jones Act reform.  She has produced a short documentary film to educate the public about the Jones Act, which will be shown this Friday, February 27, 2015 at 12pm in the Capitol Auditorium.  Members of the media as well as the general public are invited to attend.  The program will begin with an introduction by Senator Slom and Dr. Kepner-Sybounmy, followed by presentation of the film.  The presentation will conclude with a question and answer session.

Dr. Kepner-Sybounmy says, “I was first introduced to the Jones Act about a year ago when I attended the Jones Act Video Conference while working for Senator Slom.   During the video conference I listened to the legislative spokespeople from Alaska and Puerto Rico discuss Jones Act reform, and I began to see the economic struggles Hawaii has in common with these locations.  This movie is the result of my desire to make this complex issue understandable.  On a personal level, like many people in Hawaii, my family is constantly looking long term to decide whether we can afford to retire here.  My concern is that Hawaii, along with the other noncontiguous locations, makes up only 2% of the population of the U.S. yet we shoulder most of the cost burden of the expensive Jones Act ships.  This unnecessary cost is frustrating, and it makes you wonder how many new businesses are never started and how many existing businesses are prevented from expanding due to the high costs for shipping as a result of the Jones Act.”


Bringing It Back to the People with Rep. Tupola – Health – Feb. 2015

February 24, 2015

Representative Andria Tupola discusses legislative health issues with Keola Beale, MD, Hematology and Oncology Specialist  and Craig Nakatsuka, MD, Continuing Care Specialist

The views expressed by Drs. Beale and Nakatsuka are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Kaiser Permanente or Hawaii Permanente Medical Group.


Left to right: Craig Nakatsuka, MD, Continuing Care Specialist, Representative Andria Tupola and

Keola Beale, MD, Hematology and Oncology Specialist


Rep. Bob McDermott addresses H.B. 459 – Comprehensive Sex Education

February 22, 2015

Report Title:  Women’s Legislative Caucus Package; Comprehensive Sex Education
Description:  Specifies additional elements in Hawaii’s existing sexuality health education law, including additional criteria regarding implementation of sexuality health education instruction. Requires the Department of Education to provide certain types of information to the public and parents. (HB459 HD1)
Companion:  SB395
Package: None
Current Referral:  HLT, EDN

2/20/2015 H Passed Second Reading as amended in HD 1 and referred to the committee(s) on EDN with Representative(s) Fukumoto Chang, Har, Jordan, Matsumoto, Oshiro, Pouha, Tupola, Ward voting aye with reservations; Representative(s) McDermott voting no (1) and Representative(s) Ito excused (1).

HB 459 McdermottContact:

Excerpt from Capital TV

Rep. Thielen Cynthia gives the “Hawaiian Word of the Day” Ahonui

February 20, 2015

In the Hawaii House of Representatives, Representative Cynthia Thielen gives  the “Hawaiian Word of the Day” Ka Hua `Ōlelo o Ka Lā – Hawaiian Word of the Day
(ah hoe new ee)
Definition from the Hawaiian Dictionary, Mary K. Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert:
patience, patient, enduring, long suffering, to tolerate.
The Literal meaning is “great breath.”

Ahonui is a very special word. Being patient and tolerant is often a difficult thing to do. But isn’t it interesting how ahonui also means “long suffering “as well as the literal meaning of “great breath”. Ahonui is a reminder that when we are faced with situations and people who have challenged our patience and tolerance, we must take a great breath and reflect on why we are feeling impatient or intolerant. A deep breath, the ha – our breath of life will remind us that we are all one, so we must be ahonui with others as well as ourselves.


Excerpt from Capitol TV

Rep. Gene Ward addresses HB 169 Transient Accommodations Tax; Increase

February 20, 2015

Report Title:  Transient Accommodations Tax; Increase; Resort Time Share Vacation Units
Description:  Amends the definition of fair market rental value. Increases the transient accommodations tax imposed on resort time share vacation units by 1 per cent each year to gradually achieve a rate of 9.25 per cent of the fair market rental value. (HB169 HD1)
Package: None
Current Referral:  TOU, FIN
Introducer(s): LUKE

2/19/2015 H Passed Second Reading as amended in HD 1 and referred to the committee(s) on FIN with Representative(s) Ward voting aye with reservations; Representative(s) McDermott voting no (1) and Representative(s) Oshiro, Souki excused (2).


Excerpt from Capitol TV

House and Senate Republicans Join Forces on Legislation

February 19, 2015

Hawaii reporter Logo February 19, 2015

The Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives Minority Caucuses have joined forces this year and introduced several pieces of companion legislation, in an effort to relieve the burdens on Hawaii citizens.  A top priority for the Minority Caucus is reducing the rising cost of living in Hawaii, where expenses like rent, home prices, taxes, groceries, fuel, child care and education carry a steep price tag compared to the rest of the country.

Senator Sam Slom said, “People in Hawaii are struggling, and I have yet to see the legislature or the executive really address the needs of those people who are holding multiple jobs, sacrificing time with their families, and just barely making ends meet.  Those are the people we lawmakers have to think of when we are asked to extend this tax or increase that tax.  So far there has not been any real action to reduce taxes or to bring the cost of living down.  So, early in this session my colleagues in the House and I met and discussed our goals for 2015, and what we could do to make a real impact.  We realized early in our discussion that we had several common objectives that were important to us. It just made sense for both the House and Senate Minorities to work together.”

Representative Beth Fukumoto Chang said, “The Minority Caucuses in both chambers have always been in favor of lowering the cost-of-living and creating job opportunities for the people of Hawaii. We know that the economy is always an important issue for our constituents and the Legislature doesn’t always do enough to help. These ideas are meant to help alleviate financial burdens and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

Other important initiatives the Minority Caucuses introduced this year are bills promoting citizen empowerment, protection of our keiki, and education reform.  The Minority Caucus’s companion bills include:

Cost of Living

  • SB956/HB469 amends the Historic Preservation Act to alleviate some of the costs associated with maintenance and renovation of historic property and encourage collaboration between the state and private owners.
  • SB957/HB477 exempts food purchased for home consumption from the state general excise tax (GET).  According to the US Department of Agriculture, Hawaii families spend significantly more on groceries for the home than families on the mainland.  An exemption could save Hawaii families hundreds of dollars off their grocery expenses every year.
  • SB958/HB470 repeals the corporate income tax.  With this bill, the Minority Caucuses hope to alleviate Hawaii businesses of some of their tax burden, improve Hawaii’s business climate and promote job growth.
  • SB959/HB476 does away with estate and inheritance taxes, deemed by the Minority Caucuses as a form of double taxation on individuals.


Citizen Empowerment

  • SB 951/HB474 amends the Hawaii Constitution by providing for recall, empowering citizens of Hawaii with the ability to remove a public official from office.
  • Similarly, SB952/HB472 would provide for referendum, enabling Hawaii voters to invalidate an act of the legislature, as long as the act is not related to levying taxes.

Child Protection

  • SB953/HB475 has to do with criminal court calendars and protection of child victims, and allows judges to prioritize criminal cases involving minor victims upon written request by the minor’s parent, guardian or other advocate.  The measure is an effort to minimize the trauma inherent in having to prepare a child victim for trial only to be delayed.


Education Reform

  • SB954/HB468 allows homeschooled children to participate in extracurricular activities at the public school the child would otherwise be required to attend.
  • SB960/HB471 calls for the State Office of the Auditor to conduct a managerial, financial and program audit of the Department of Education.  The bill also prompts the DOE to present findings and recommendations to the legislature before the start of the 2016 legislative session.

Finally, the Minority Caucuses will seek to preserve the state’s shooting ranges as resources for the public, military and local law enforcement by introducing SB 955/HB473, to protect shooting range operators from burdensome regulations and frivolous lawsuits over noise pollution.

Of the 10 companion bills introduced, three got unanimous support from the House Minority: HB477 (exempting food from the GET), HB475 (court calendar priority for child victims) and HB471 (calling for audit of DOE).

Senator Slom said, “I am very pleased to see that Rep. Fukumoto Chang has taken a more proactive, pragmatic approach as House Minority leader than her predecessor, and has shown real commitment to working together with her House Minority colleagues and the Senate Minority on important issues for the betterment of Hawaii.”

Causus Pic # 3The House Minority Caucus is comprised of Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto Chang, Minority Floor Leader Andria P.L. Tupola, Minority Leader Emeritus Rep. Gene Ward, Minority Whip Rep. Lauren Cheape Matsumoto, Minority Whip Rep. Feki Pouha, Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Bob McDermott, and Assistant Minority Floor Leader Rep. Cynthia Thielen.

Senator Sam Slom 2Senator Sam Slom represents the Senate Minority.


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