CIVIL BEAT: Energy Giant AES Has A Big — And Growing — Footprint In Hawaii

The Kahuku wind farm developer opposed a proposed ban on coal in Hawaii.By Stewart Yerton  

When Sen. Gil Riviere tried to visit a constituent at the Kahuku Agricultural Park last month, he was surprised to find the road blocked — but not by police or officials of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which owns the park.

Instead, controlling the road were employees of AES Corp., the energy giant developing a controversial wind farm in Kahuku.

Although relatively unknown in Hawaii outside of energy circles, AES is a major player in the state’s economy — a Fortune 500 behemoth powerful enough to defy an elected representative like Riviere and the agriculture officials who say they had already told AES to let Riviere pass.

And AES’s power and influence in Hawaii is growing. The company will have an outsized role in whether the state will meet its goal of weaning itself from fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2045.

AES Hawaii Power plant coal burning electric powerplant located in Kalaeloa.

AES Corp. has a major presence in Hawaii, including this coal-burning plant in Kalaeloa, which produces 20% of Oahu’s electricity.

The Virginia-based energy multinational provides a fifth of Oahu’s power from its coal-burning plant at Campbell Industrial Park. It also operates a new massive solar and storage project on Kauai, a facility often cited as a model for the type of utility-scale solar that’s part of Hawaii’s power supply plan.

In the works are other renewables projects: a 60-megawatt Kuihelani solar farm on Maui, a 30-megawatt Waikoloa project on the Big Island, and a 30-megawatt West Oahu solar project.

It’s likely the company is considering even more projects.

Earlier this month, Hawaiian Electric Co. announced it received more than 75 proposals in response to a request for proposals to build about 900 megawatts of new renewables or renewables paired with storage. HECO is now in the process of evaluating the bids.

AES would not say whether it has proposed more projects. But HECO’s goals dovetail with AES’s stated mission of “improving lives by accelerating a safer and greener energy future.”

Amy Ackerman, a spokeswoman based at AES’s Virginia headquarters, did not return calls for comment. Pono Suganuma, a Hawaii-based AES spokeswoman, wouldn’t say whether the company has submitted proposals for additional projects.

Mark Miller, chief operating officer for AES’s US generation businesses, also didn’t answer the question.

“AES has been a proud partner with the State of Hawai‘i for nearly 30 years, providing reliable, low-cost energy to the islands,” Miller said in a statement. “Together, we are transforming the generation and delivery of electricity, deploying technologies that offer renewable, affordable power to the community.”

AES, a global firm with thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue, says it is  accelerating “a greener energy future.” But AES uses fossil fuels for more than two-thirds of the energy it produces.

AES Corp. 10-K

Despite AES’s dominant role in Hawaii, the islands play a small role in AES’s global businesses.

Consider, for instance, one of its recently announced projects.

Last week Reuters reported AES had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vietnamese government to build a $1.7 billion natural gas-fired power plant in Vietnam. The deal was so important that it was signed in Hanoi in the presence of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

AES’s empire includes assets worth more than $32 billion that generated $10.7 billion in revenue in 2018, the company said in its annual securities filing for 2018.

The company runs coal plants in Puerto Rico, Maryland and Oklahoma, wind farms in California, Texas and West Virginia, and solar and storage projects in various locales, alone and through a joint venture partnership called sPower.

It has even bigger investments outside the U.S.; in fact, the company says 68% of its revenue comes from international projects, including large operations in South America. Its power plants in Argentina, for instance, represent 11% of the nation’s generating capacity.

Despite talk of embracing renewables, only 29% of the power AES generates at this point comes from renewables. Nearly a third is generated from coal, including major operations in places like Chile.

Senator Gil Riviere stands at Alii Park in Haleiwa with windmills above Waimea Bay on top of photograph.

Sen. Gil Riviere, standing at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park with windmills above Waimea Bay, has said the area already has more than its fair share of wind farms.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Despite its size, AES has failed to impress some members of the community. Riviere is a case in point.

It was late October, during the height of protests against AES’s proposed Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku, and Riviere and two other state senators, Kurt Fevella of Ewa Beach and Kai Kahele of Hilo, went to visit a farmer who lived in the area.

Riviere’s staff had cleared the visit with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which owns the agriculture park where the farmer lives. But when the senators got to the park, Riviere said, AES security officers stopped them and said the senators couldn’t pass.

“They were really, really bullies about it,” Riviere said. “Under what authority are they bringing guards to the state ag park?”

Not the state’s. Morris Atta, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, said the agency told AES that the agriculture park road blocked by AES security was supposed to be open to tenants, such as the farmers, and their invitees.

“We had told AES not to do what they basically did,” Atta said.

Parts of the wind turbunes arrive at Kahuku off of Kamehameha Hwy today.

AES’s proposed wind farm in Kahuku has sparked protests, but the company’s influence in Hawaii goes far beyond the controversial North Shore project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The protests against the Kahuku wind farm, which have led to 160 arrests, come at a time when community support is vital to helping Hawaii achieve its goals to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2045.

HECO’s latest wave of projects will have a big physical presence. On Oahu alone, HECO expects some 3,000 acres of new solar farms, roughly the size of 29 Aloha Stadiums. HECO officials have expressed worry that the projects could be delayed because of resident opposition.

To head off delays proactively, HECO has made community engagement a criterion on which it will choose projects.

But if HECO is sincere about community engagement, something will need to change if AES expects to be seriously considered for any future projects, says Lance Collins, an attorney representing two groups fighting the Kahuku wind farm — one in state court and one before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.

“In the brief experience I’ve had with them, they basically feel entitled to do whatever they want,” Collins said of AES. “They’ll just do whatever they want as long as nobody stops them.”

Opposed ‘Coal-Free Hawaii’ Bill

HECO’s recent request for proposals is closely intertwined with AES’s future on Oahu. That’s because AES’s 180-megawatt coal-burning plant is scheduled to shut down in late 2022, and the plan is to replace the electricity the plant produces with power from new renewables projects submitted in response to the RFP.

HECO officials are emphatic that the company will not buy power produced using coal from the AES plant after the contract expires in 2022.

However, both AES and HECO opposed a bill that would have put that into law. Their reason: they want to leave open the option to keep using coal after 2022.

AES Hawaii has testified it wants the option to keep open this coal-burning power plant on Oahu, which is slated to close in 2022.

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Titled the “Coal-Free Hawaii” bill, the measure simply said that utilities regulators could not approve or renew a contract to burn coal to produce electricity after Dec. 31, 2022.

But testifying against the bill for HECO, Lisa Giang, HECO’s director for advanced planning, warned of serious problems if HECO couldn’t get its planned projects and grid modifications on line before the coal plant was scheduled to shut down. HECO needs options in case the project can’t come online, Giang said in written testimony.

“The consequences of not having this option could be grave,” Giang said.

Steven Barnoski, AES Hawaii’s business manager, echoed Giang.

“There are numerous factors that could delay progress toward meeting Hawaii’s environmental goals and it is important to keep a full range of generation options open to adequately address a potential shortfall,” Barnoski wrote in testimony. “Because the future is unpredictable, it is important to have contingency plans in place.”

HECO officials have acknowledged the coal plant contract contains a provision allowing the contract to be extended, but the officials pledged the company will not exercise it.

AES Director Wants New Hawaiian Electric CEO

Despite its fight against the coal-free bill, AES has made a highly public push against fossil fuels, at least in Hawaii.

The same day AES was signing the memorandum of understanding for its mammoth fossil fuel-powered plant in Vietnam, an AES director was sending out letters criticizing HECO’s parent, Hawaiian Electric Industries, for not giving up fossil fuels fast enough.

“By embracing inertia, Hawaiian Electric has failed to lead the transition away from oil-fired generation to renewable energy,” wrote Jeffrey Ubben, an AES director who is also chief executive of ValueAct Capital Management, an investment firm with $15 billion in assets, which has invested heavily in HEI.

Ubben expressed doubt HECO could reach a 2022 goal of generating 50% of the electricity it sells with renewables.

“This is a very ambitious goal for the company, and we are not confident about management’s ability to execute given their historical track record,” Ubben wrote. He suggested HEI pick someone from outside the company to succeed HEI’s longtime chief executive, Constance Lau, when Lau steps down.

Ubben’s letter prompted HEI’s board chairman, Jeff Watanabe, to accuse Ubben of spreading misinformation.

“They don’t seem interested in the facts but rather seem intent on pursuing their own agenda – specifically, handpicking a CEO for HEI,” Watanabe wrote in a Nov. 12 letter posted on HEI’s website.

Watanabe went on to point out the connections between ValueAct and AES, and AES’s prominent role in Hawaii doing business under contracts with HECO.

“ValueAct’s activities should be viewed in the context of its substantial conflicts of interests in Hawaii,” Watanabe wrote.

As the protests in Kahuku continue, the Kahuku wind farm still faces legal fights from both a residents’ group, Keep the North Shore Country, and Life of the Land, an environmental organization.

Henry Curtis, who runs Life of the Land, and his lawyers are on a winning streak lately with some major cases fighting renewable projects they said took short cuts getting approvals. A key hearing on Life of the Land’s motion before the PUC is scheduled for Friday.

But even if AES wins its cases before the commission and court, it’s lost considerable community goodwill, Riviere said.

Ultimately, Riviere said, he and his fellow senators were able to get past the AES sentry and meet with the farmer, Chai Yoshimura.

But Riviere still expresses dismay at what he had to go through simply to meet with a constituent leasing land from the state.

“It’s not right that the public has to work so hard to do something that should just be automatic,” he said.

China Highlights Nature-based Solutions’ Potential to Facilitate Climate Action


Content Editor for Climate Change Policy and Adaptation (Russia/Netherlands)24 September 2019


As a co-lead of the Climate Action Summit’s Nature-based Solutions action area, China urges incorporating nature-based solutions in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and giving consideration to the potential of natural systems to facilitate mitigation and adaptation.

On Mitigation, China will, inter alia, enhance cooperation on a “standard system for greenhouse gas emissions control and capacity building”.

17 September 2019: The Government of China has released a statement, outlining the country’s efforts under and position on each of the nine action areas of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit held in New York, US, on 23 September.

As a co-lead of the Climate Action Summit’s Nature-based Solutions action area, China calls for a systematic understanding of the relationship between human beings and nature, full recognition of the ecological value of earth, reliance on natural forces to deal with the risks posed by climate change and fostering a low-emission and climate-resilient society. It urges incorporating nature-based solutions in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and giving consideration to the potential of natural systems to facilitate mitigation and adaptation.

On Social and Political Drivers, China signals its willingness to work with all Parties to strengthen policy support and social policy incentives and play a positive role in promoting the comprehensive and effective implementation of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On Youth and Public Mobilization, China calls on governments to educate young people about environmental protection, listen to their suggestions, support youth in participating in climate action and facilitate their employment and entrepreneurship in related areas.

On Energy Transition, China undertakes to enhance cooperation with other countries to build a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient energy system, promote sustainable energy development worldwide and safeguard global energy security.

On Industry Transition, China expresses readiness to work with all Parties to accelerate low-carbon transformation, promote green manufacturing, innovate green technologies and enhance industrial energy efficiency and carbon emissions reduction.

On Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action, China looks forward to strengthening cooperation and exchanging experiences with other countries on local climate action, green infrastructure development and climate-adaptive urban development.

On Mitigation, China will: strengthen communication with all other Parties on the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the formulation of mid- and long-term climate strategies; enhance cooperation on a “standard system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions control and capacity building”; and promote the transition to a low-carbon economy.

On Resilience and Adaptation, China expresses commitment to strengthening climate adaptation and expanding international cooperation through policy communications with all stakeholders to build a “climate-adaptive society.”

On Climate Finance and Carbon Pricing, China will: strengthen cooperation with Parties on policies and rules of carbon market development, quota management and capacity building; and work to complete the negotiations on market and non-market mechanisms under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (market and non-market cooperative approaches), at the Santiago Climate Change Conference in December 2019. [China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on Call by BASIC Ministers for “Strong Signal” on New Climate Finance Goal] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on BRICS Statement on Environmental Issues, Including Biodiversity and Climate] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on India’s Climate Finance Position] [SDG Knowledge Hub Curtain Raiser for Climate Action Summit]

Civil Beat: Climate Change is Making Hawai’i’s Beaches More Dangerous

Climate change is contributing to a litany of conditions that can make swimming, snorkeling and surfing more dangerous in Hawaii waters — and it’s only expected to get worse in the years ahead, according to scientists, health experts and ocean safety officials.

Lifeguards have already had to relocate their towers multiple times as beach erosion alters the shoreline. Some of that is natural, but some of it is from rising seas, stronger surf and more frequent severe storms.

Emergency responders have started tracking heat-related health problems as trade winds blow less frequently and temperatures continue to break records.

County and state officials are also bracing for bigger populations of jellyfish from warmer waters, more powerful rip currents from higher sea levels, and increased exposure to water-borne diseases from flooding and runoff.

Honolulu Emergency Services Director Jim Howe said the county has long adapted to gradual changes in coastal conditions and weather patterns that affect ocean safety. But in recent years, he has had to refocus planning efforts as climate change has quickened the rate of change and exacerbated problems.

“From our perspective, this is accelerating,” he said. “We’re doing our level best to make sure we’re like a coconut tree in a storm — that we bend with the wind and not break.”

Ehukai Beach Lifeguards in this December 2018 file photograph.

The lifeguard tower at Ehukai Beach, also known as Pipeline, has been relocated three times. It has affected guards’ line of sight.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

There are 42 lifeguard towers around Oahu, guarding many of the most popular places but far from all of the island’s 179 beaches. It’s a similar story on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Lifeguards are changing how they approach ocean safety in light of the changing conditions. That has meant moving towers and becoming more mobile in the near term.

On Oahu’s Windward side, the county has had to move the Kailua Beach lifeguard tower three times due to erosion. It now sits 40 feet farther back, Howe said. The Kualoa tower was also relocated due to erosion.

In Waikiki, the county had to rebuild the main tower in front of the police substation because the beach lost so much sand that it undermined the concrete columns the tower was sitting on and it was tilting forward.

Howe said it cost “considerable sums,” but did not have exact figures.

Lifeguarded Beaches In Hawaii

On the North Shore, the Ehukai (Pipeline) and Sunset Beach towers have each been relocated three times. And the Chun’s Reef tower was also moved because of erosion.

At one point, the Ehukai tower was strapped to coconut trees to hold it in place, Howe said. Its new location appears more stable, but it cut off some sight lines looking east toward Sunset Beach because trees are in the way, he said, and the trees should really stay because they help stabilize the shore.

The Kawaena tower, also on the North Shore, had an 8-foot drop from the bottom of the stairs to the beach after severe erosion, Howe said. It was later moved back, too.

“We’re seeing more of these incidents at more locations, affecting more places.” — Jim Howe, Honolulu emergency services director

“We’re seeing more of these incidents at more locations, affecting more places,” Howe said.

The county is in the third year of a nine-year plan to replace all of its lifeguard towers, a project estimated to cost $2.5 million.

Changes in weather patterns in recent years, from higher tides to heavier rains, have led to faster-eroding beaches. Howe said the siting of the new towers must take that into consideration.

A lifeguard tower in Kekaha on the west side of Kauai had to be relocated due to erosion.

Courtesy: Kauai County

Part of the solution is portable towers, which can easily be moved back as the ocean encroaches.

Maui’s acting battalion chief, Jeff Giesea, said the portable towers the county recently bought can help lifeguards respond to rising sea levels as well as approaching hurricanes, which are expected to become more frequent.

“We believe we have a responsibility to incorporate these eventualities into our long-term planning,” he said. “Hoping for some technological miracle that will save us from having to adjust to the impacts of global warming is simply not a viable option, nor is hoping that the nearly unanimous opinions of experts in the field worldwide turn out to be wrong.”

A lifeguard tower in Kee Beach on the north shore of Kauai had to be relocated due to erosion from unprecedented rain and flooding in April.

Courtesy: Kauai County

Kauai has faced similar issues. The county has moved two lifeguard towers due to erosion and shifting shorelines, but officials are unable to directly link it to climate change.

The Kekaha lifeguard tower, on the west side, was moved in 2011 and 2012, Deputy Fire Chief Kilipaki Vaughan said. And the Kee tower on the north shore was relocated in April after unprecedented rainfall flooded and eroded the beach.

In some places around the state, the counties are running out of room to move the towers back any farther. One of the Waikiki towers has routinely had waves rolling under it the past few years, and the tower in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue is set back about as far as it can go with the road and other infrastructure behind it.

Visitors ignore signs and lifeguards warnings to venture in dangerous shorebreak at Sandy Beach.

Visitors routinely ignore warning signs and lifeguards cautioning them against entering the dangerous shorebreak at Sandy Beach.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kauai, like Honolulu and the other counties, has also been increasing its lifeguards’ mobility to speed response times, especially to unguarded beaches.

“In tune with the changing of climate, the Ocean Safety Bureau has responded operationally with roving patrol Jet Ski units,” Vaughan said.

“These units are no longer pinned to a particular lifeguard tower,” he said, adding that they can respond to the “seasonal demands of beach attendance as well as the circumstantial demands of mother nature.”

Oahu guards have mitigated the sightline issue at Ehukai in part by using ATVs more to drive along the beach, Howe said.

Be Prepared

These websites contain important information that can keep you safe.

Honolulu’s Ocean Safety division is up to 16 mobile units now, which consist of basically a small fire engine type truck with one or two personnel, he said. They launch rescue craft into the water and are used to pick up lifeguards at one tower to bring them to support an emergency elsewhere.

The units broaden the patrol area and are able to be deployed wherever lifeguards are most needed on any given day, a degree of flexibility that will become all the more useful as climate change affects ocean conditions.

Following Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s citywide directive, Howe said a new lifeguard training facility in Ewa Beach and a storage facility in Kailua have been located outside the 3-foot sea level rise exposure area that scientific modeling shows will likely be underwater by the end of this century or sooner.

Howe hopes this will protect pricey life-saving equipment, like all-terrain vehicles and personal watercraft, that must be moved to higher ground when serious storms approach the islands.

The equipment needs to remain easily accessible, but also safe from heavy rains, flooding and whipping winds that the islands are expected to experience more often in the coming years. The new Kailua facility, to be built on a bluff about 250 yards from the beach, is being constructed to withstand Category 2 hurricanes, Howe said.

“That will become important,” he said. “We expect more hurricanes and tropical storm events as impacts of global warming.”

Changing Waves

Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii climate change professor and vice chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission, described the ocean safety-related impacts of climate change as “complex.”

As sea levels rise an expected 3 feet by 2100 — some studies show it could reach 6 feet — waves that would break farther offshore may start pounding closer to the shoreline, he said. That’s because deeper waters don’t allow the waves to dissipate as much.

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“Shorebreak is a potential killer,” Fletcher said. “It can slam you and you get your cervical injuries.”

In between sets of waves, all that energy will be surging offshore, potentially creating stronger, pulsating rip currents — and in areas that historically may not have had one.

“The current will increase for seemingly no apparent reason,” Fletcher said. “Wave characteristics on the beach that we’re used to may change if we’re not paying attention.”

On Friday, a Kauai lifeguard roving Kealia beach on an ATV rescued a 21-year-old male visitor who was swimming that afternoon when he got sucked out in a known rip current on the south end.

Lifeguards used CPR and an automated external defibrillator to revive him. Firefighters and medics arrived to help, and he regained his pulse and was taken to the hospital, a county release says.

A warmer and more acidic ocean will do more than just cause corals to bleach, Fletcher said. Reefs may collapse as a result of the unhealthy corals, which could translate to deeper waters and impacts similar to those caused by rising sea levels.

Visitors constituted more than half of 712 ocean drownings during the past decade in Hawaii, far outpacing the rate of local residents. And that’s before climate change further complicates safety efforts.

While a small body of literature says overall wave height in the Pacific will decline because overall wind speed will decrease, there is also science that suggests Hawaii will see extremely large wave seasons on the islands’ north shores due to more frequent and stronger El Niños, Fletcher said.

That’s great news for big wave surfers, potentially dangerous for inexperienced surfers, and not so awesome for most of the surfing community.

“This all triggers a need for the lifeguards to be aware,” Fletcher said, adding that there should be increased climate change training for ocean safety officers.

Last month, for the first time, the annual Hawaii Ocean Safety Conferencefeatured a panel on climate change. It included Fletcher, as well as Makena Coffman, director of the UH Institute for Sustainability and Resilience, and Alison Nugent, a UH atmospheric sciences professor.

The packed conference room was glued to their presentations on how climate change, sea level rise and weather patterns affect ocean safety. 

Lifeguards have started paying more attention to jellyfish, especially large-scale impacts, Howe said. As the ocean temperature increases from the effects of global warming, jellyfish populations are expected to expand.

Active monitoring is already happening in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Spain. Now Honolulu ocean safety officers have begun monitoring changes in jellyfish and hydrozoan populations, Howe said, specifically the Portuguese man-of-war and box jellyfish.

Major changes in overall trends have not been documented, Howe said, but there was a big event Tuesday. Lifeguards posted warning signs and verbally warned hundreds of people about an influx of man-of-war at Windward Oahu beaches.

There were 30 stings and an estimated 500 man-of-war at Makapuu Beach, 80 stings and thousands of man-of-war at Waimanalo Beach, and 100 stings and thousands of man-of-war at Kailua Beach, a Honolulu ocean safety spokeswoman said.

Rising Health Risks

Fletcher also has concerns about more hot, windless days leading to serious health issues or even death, as other parts of the world have experienced.

Howe said Honolulu hasn’t seen an uptick yet but the county is on the lookout. So is Hawaii Health Department Director Bruce Anderson.

“There are increased health risks with rising temperatures,” he said, adding that people with cardiovascular disease are especially at risk when it’s hot outside.

But that’s not the only thing Anderson is watching for when it comes to staying safe in the ocean as the climate changes.

As rainfall patterns change and erosion increases not just along the shoreline but in the mountains, more freshwater will enter the ocean — carrying with it everything it passes along the way. Debris, sewage, trash, chemicals, pesticides.

Kaneohe Bay Kahaluu Windward oahu reef aerial with what looks like some soil runoff polution along the shoreline.

The state health director anticipates more brown water advisories as climate change affects rainfall and erosion, causing more potentially polluted runoff. Here is Kaneohe Bay after passing showers last year.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Certain bacteria is particularly concerning.

“When we have storm events, whether it’s a hurricane or tropical storm, we see heavy rains that causes streams to overflow and we see flooding in low-lying areas,” Anderson said. “When that happens, expect to see increased exposure to bacteria that causes infectious diseases like leptospirosis.”

That means keeping an eye out for more brown water advisories, which are already issued frequently.

Last week, advisories were in effect for Kailua Bay on Oahu and Hilo Bay on Hawaii island. The Department of Health’s Clean Water Branch now lets people receive email notifications whenever a beach or brown water advisory is posted or canceled.

“We’ve already seen record rainfalls and more storms coming our way, and we’re posting more beaches as a result of that,” Anderson said. “I can only think that’s going to be an increasingly important risk going forward.”

“A lot of it is just going to be public education so they’re aware of the risk.” — Bruce Anderson, Hawaii health director

The increased flooding also ups the risk of cesspools leaching into streams and the ocean. Hawaii has some 88,000 cesspools — leading the nation — and it’s estimated to cost $1.75 billion to convert them to more sanitary systems.

The Department of Health in 2017 published a report that prioritized the places, mostly rural areas, where cesspools presented the most danger to human wellbeing.

“It’s a big problem,” Anderson said. “A lot of it is just going to be public education so they’re aware of the risk and avoid swimming when we have heavy rains.”

The Department of Health is still working on defining what health risks associated with climate change will be of most concern and is working with other agencies to try to anticipate what will happen.

“Hopefully, we can find ways to address many of those issues,” Anderson said.

Sea Walls Shrinking Beaches

Hawaii taxpayers are already spending millions of dollars to replenish the sand at the most popular beaches, like Waikiki, as erosion eats away the shoreline.

At the same time, county and state agencies are reckoning with policies that for decades have destroyed beaches, whether it’s allowing development too close to the coast to permitting sea walls to protect private property at the expense of public resources.

“Human populations have always wanted to live as close to the coast as possible, and climate change is making those areas more prone to disaster,” said Josh Stanbro, who heads Honolulu’s voter-created Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.

When a property is armored, it affects neighboring beaches by changing the natural process.

Erosion routinely exposed the concrete foundation of the old Waikiki Tavern at Kuhio Beach. The two photos were taken about six months apart this year.

“When we lose the beach, it does become more dangerous for folks,” Stanbro said.

He anticipates changing dynamics when it comes to ocean safety as Hawaii loses some of its beaches to rising seas and erosion. More people will be jammed onto smaller areas, he said, and there could be more debris in the water. It also gets harder to get in and out of the water.

Hawaii has already seen erosion uncover concrete, rubble and rebar on beaches, the remnants of developments that were buried under sand.

The old foundation of Waikiki Tavern is regularly exposed at Kuhio Beach in Waikiki, Stanbro said, presenting a hazard to beachgoers. The county has tried to ameliorate it with “sand blankets,” and last year the state allocated money toward projects that could provide a permanent fix.

Part of the challenge has been determining whose responsibility it is to clear that stuff out, Stanbro said.

“Humanity has never dealt with this before,” he said. “We don’t have a guidebook.”

BBC News: Climate Change: What is being done around the world to plant trees?

By Manish PandeyNewsbeat reporter, July 6 2019.

Related Topics Climate change

*Disclaimer: Sierra Club Hawai’i believes that tree planting is an effective way to combat carbon emissions, heat waves, and restore our native forests. Though, it is a large undertaking to be affective. Our Tree Planting Program (check website for more info) is an opportunity to be a part of the mission to reduce carbon emissions on our islands. However, we still demand policy change to radically shift Hawai’i towards a carbon neutral economy and society.***

Small tree

Planting trees is now the best way to tackle rising temperatures and climate change, according to a study this week from a group of scientists.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide which means they can help to stop rising temperatures around the world.

They also keep soil moist and reduce the risk of flooding.

So if this is really “the best climate change solution available today” what is being done around the world to plant more trees?


The Great Green Wall:

There is an 8,000 km wall of trees being built in Africa – making it the largest living structure on the planet once it’s finished.

The wall aims to spread across the width of Africa and through more than 20 countries including Senegal, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

A decade on from its launch, the wall is currently 15% complete, with 11.4 million trees planted in Senegal alone.

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, more than 2 million seeds have been planted from over 50 different species of trees.

Trees that have been planted.
Image captionIn Pakistan, hundreds of millions of trees have been planted to fight deforestation

The 10 Billion Tree Tsunami:

In August 2017, way ahead of schedule, Pakistan hit its target of planting a billion trees to combat the effects of climate change.

So in 2018, they decided to launch a new target – planting 10 billion trees in the next five years.

India’s tree boom:

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, India has pledged to increase its forests by a massive 95 million hectares by 2030.

In 2017 around 1.5 million volunteers planted more than 66 million trees in a record-breaking 12 hours in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

School children planting trees.
Image captionSchool children planting trees.

The UK’s planting too:

The UK government announced it wants more than 10 million trees to be planted across England and it would create a £60 million fund to do so.

That includes £10 million to plant at least 100,000 trees in towns and cities.

The Woodland Trust – the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity – is aiming to plant 64 million trees in the next 10 years. To meet its aim, it’s giving away hundreds of thousands of trees for free to schools and communities to encourage tree planting.

There are even drones planting:

In Myanmar, there are now drones planting trees.

The drone flies over the area where it wants to plant trees, picks the best location to plant and then fires a pod filled with seeds into the ground.

According to Worldview Impact – an organisation involved in the drone planting – two people working with 10 drones can theoretically plant an impressive 400,000 trees a day.

Civil Beat Series: Hawai’i 2040

For more info:


Throughout 2019, Civil Beat is exploring the effects of climate change in the islands and what is being done about it. Scientists predict the worst will hit in about 21 years. But Hawaii is already feeling the effects of a warming planet.

WHAT’S AT STAKE The effects of climate change in the islands go far beyond increased temperatures and rising sea levels.

DEATH & DISEASE Increase in temperature-related death and diseases as well as human illnesses spread by insects.

LOSS OF FARMLANDS Land degradation and desertification will impact soils, vegetation and the terrestrial ecosystems.

LOWER FISH STOCK Warmer waters will negatively impact fish populations and result in less fish near the islands.

THREAT TO FRESHWATER Less water will be stored in aquifers due to erosion in our mountains, affecting our freshwater supply.

TOURISM DECLINE Without our beaches, healthy reefs and reliable infrastructure, Hawaii will see fewer visitors and a weaker economy.

LOSS OF ENDEMIC SPECIES The already endangered plants and animals native to the Hawaiian Islands will die off.

CORAL BLEACHING As ocean temperatures rise the coral that protects our shoreline will suffer mass bleaching and mortality.

LOSS OF COASTAL REGIONS Rising sea levels will exacerbate shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and water pollution.

Civil Beat: Hawaii Struggles To Maintain Its Worn-Out Hiking Trails

“Honestly, we’re just trying to keep up with demand,” the state’s trails manager said.By Stewart Yerton / July 17, 2019 Reading time: 9 minutes.   

Editor’s Note: “Tourism’s Tipping Point,” is an ongoing series that looks at the future of the vacation industry in Hawaii. 

By almost any standard, Hawaii’s hiking trails are a world-class recreational resource. The state’s trail system alone encompasses 855 miles of trails and access roads, from epic, remote routes like the Kalalau trail on Kauai’s Napali coast to easily accessible day hikes like the 2.5- mile Makiki loop trail.

And that doesn’t count trails run by the counties or the National Park Service.

But hordes of tourists have made the system increasingly difficult to manage. The number of visitors to Hawaii is expected to top 10 million this year. Those numbers, combined with the increasing popularity of hiking and the popularization of even the most remote trails, are creating lots of stress for trail managers.

The results are well-known to residents: cars clogging residential streets around trailheads, eroding trails, hikers getting lost or injured or simply ignoring no trespassing or warning signs.

Signs posted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, like these at Manoa Falls, often do little to discourage hikers from visiting spots deemed dangerous by the state.

Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

It’s a struggle to keep up, said Mike Millay, who runs the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Na Ala Hele trails management program, which manages some 850 miles of trails statewide.

In a first sign of taking more aggressive steps to reduce the impact of hikers, the state has started prohibiting parking at the trailhead for the Kalalau trail on the North Shore of Kauai. But so far officials haven’t taken major steps to restrict access to trails.


“Honestly, we’re just trying to keep up with demand,” Millay said.

One major new initiative could help state officials at least quantify the demand, which for now remains largely unknown. Although there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that many trails are growing increasingly popular, gathering data is difficult. With only a few exceptions, trails don’t typically have monitors or attendants counting people at the trailheads.

Millay said the state might consider limiting the use of some trails, but first it needs to know how many people are using them.

”Those are indicators that we need to know,” Millay said.

An initiative the Hawaii Tourism Authority has launched might provide some answers. In June, HTA finalized a contract with UberMedia of Pasadena, Calif., under which UberMedia will use cell phone data to track specific locations that tourists visit.

Debbie Newton, a recent visitor from Amarillo, Texas, says her group got lost near Oahu’s Valley of the Temples. Now, the hike is memorialized on her Facebook page.

Charlta King

Gladys Kong, UberMedia’s chief executive, said the company will report data in aggregate, but still provide enough detail that HTA can see patterns. For example, she said, the data will show how many people from a region like New England visited a certain area during a certain time period versus people from another market.

Curt Cottrell, who runs Hawaii’s state parks system, said UberMedia’s system could be used to count hikers on certain trails and figure out where they are from, without the need for staff or automated traffic counters.

“The data will just confirm what we already viscerally know as managers.  It’ll just just give us numbers to leverage across the street,” he said, referring to the Hawaii State Capitol.

For now, trail managers, at least for Oahu trails, rely on a far less scientific metric to figure out what trails are the most popular: rescue information from the Honolulu Fire Department.  Paradoxically, some of the easiest hikes have the most rescues. That’s because they are easy and accessible, which attracts a lot of people, some of whom come unprepared.

The map above shows “hot spots” where the Honolulu Fire Department conducts the most frequent rescues. Take Diamond Head, for instance, which is marked with a target-shaped spot on the southeastern edge of Oahu.

The Honolulu Fire Department rescues on average one person a week from Diamond Head, the iconic volcano, said Socrates Baratakos, an assistant fire chief.

But the data on fire department rescue hotspots is limited, Millay said, because it doesn’t document actual trails, just the general area.

“You don’t know exactly what the precise location is,” he said.

Social media also can create headaches for people trying to manage trails.

The Haiku Stairs trail is a case in point. Managed by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the trail is supposed to be off limits to the public. But that doesn’t stop people from not only wandering into the area but also chronicling their adventures on sites like Instagram.

One recent post by someone named adventuresofthetravelingyogi, for example, shows a woman climbing the long vertiginous stairs, which her post calls “possibly the greatest attraction on the entire island.”

Kathleen Pahinui, a public information officer for the Board of Water Supply, said the issues involve not only public safety but also concerns for the watershed where the staircase trail is located.

“When people go up there in droves, it really can affect the watershed,” she said.

The Haiku Stairs trail remains a popular hike even though it is supposed to be closed to the public.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

Pahinui said the board has asked people to take down advertisements and even, in one case, a newspaper article promoting the trail. That’s “made a dent” in the people trespassing on the trail, she said.

But it’s still a problem.

“It’s locals, too,” Pahinui stressed. “Let’s not just pick on the poor tourists.”

So far, Hawaii lawmakers have been unwilling to provide more funding to help manage the trails. The funding system for Na Ale Hele is complicated even by government budget standards. It gets bits of money from a variety of sources: a portion of the state gasoline tax, federal grants, private contributions, user fees and a portion of the state hotel tax.

But the money doesn’t go directly to Na Ala Hele. Instead, it goes into a special fund used for all kinds of things, including buying land, paying off debts and protecting the state’s water resources.

This isn’t to say Na Ala Hele doesn’t have money to spend.

According to a report submitted to the Legislature for the 2017-18 fiscal year, DLNR had $6.9 million budgeted to cover a wide range of forest and recreation activities, but only one of those was trail maintenance. Still, the department met the goal spelled out in Gov. David Ige’s budget request of doing trail maintenance to 75% of the state’s trails.

But some believe the trails need more funding — and a more clear source of funding.

In a bill introduced in 2019, Sen. Laura Thielen, a former DLNR chair known for her stances to protect the environment, laid out the issues. Heavy use and limited resources have curbed the level of maintenance needed, the bill said.

The Honolulu Fire Department is having to conduct three times as many trail rescues as it did a decade ago, the bill said. People living in the residential neighborhood near trailheads are suffering from “blatant littering, tracking of mud on neighborhood residents’ lawns, and illegal parking.”

The measure requested that $1.8 million be earmarked for the trails program. But after passing out of the Senate Water and Land Committee, the measure died in the Ways and Means Committee, without a hearing.

One trail singled out in the bill was the Manoa Falls hike. Located in the back of Manoa Valley, the trail is close enough to Waikiki that the tops of the tourist district’s high rises can be seen in the distance from near the trailhead.

Alonzo, left, Vicki, center, and Skye Ocaranza of Turlock, California pose for a requisite selfie after hiking to Manoa Falls.

Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat

The trail, which leads to a 150-foot waterfall, is just over 1.5 miles long with relatively little elevation gain. It’s an easy hike, close to thousands of hotel rooms with a decent payoff at the end.

That explains why the trails attract about 850 hikers a day, according to Millay, and why DLNR is closing the trail intermittently over the summer to perform maintenance funded by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

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On a recent Sunday afternoon, the trail was characteristically crowded with hikers.

Despite the changes set to close the trail the next day for maintenance, the hikers seemed to be having no problems. Some were hiking in bare feet or rubber slippers; one young mom carried a toddler on her hip. Among those on the trail were Debbie Newton and Charlta King, English teachers from Amarillio, Texas.

The trail seemed to be in good shape to them.

Bt they couldn’t say the same for the Puu Maelieli trail on Oahu’s Windward side, which they had joined a Meetup group to hike a couple of days before.

The hike up to the pillboxes overlooking Kaneohe Bay was fine, Newton said. The trip back: not so good. The trail was overgrown in places with little signage, King said. And the group leader got everyone lost, Newton said. Really lost.

“We thought we were going to have to eat each other,” she said with a laugh.

In the end, that wasn’t neccessary  But what was supposed to be a two-hour hike took four hours.

“It could have been so much worse,” she said.

“Tourism’s Tipping Point” is part of Civil Beat’s year-long series, “Hawaii’s Changing Economy.” That work is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.

City’s Building Energy Code Update Awaiting Reschedule

On July 25th Honolulu City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Planning and Housing deferred Bill 25, to modernize Honolulu’s building energy code. The measure proposed cost-effective changes that would help to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our new homes and buildings while helping to foster our transition to clean transportation. The bill was drafted by the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency (OCCSR) and is consistent with a number of action items in the community-supported Oʻahu Resilience Strategy

Although there was overwhelming written and oral testimony in support of Bill 25, with some amendments. However, there were concerns of “consumer choice” and “job loss” related to the solar water heaters (SWH)  presented by Hawaii Gas and their employees. The OCCSR was able to directly dispel these concerns by citing the options for alternatives to SWH and no current job loss since the bill only affects new construction. Nonetheless, Bill 25 was deferred and Chair Menor assured it will come back in August to allow for further discussion. 

Sierra Club as well as a cohort of other environmental organizations are continuing to work to get the bill moves forward with the EV-ready provision of Bill 25 amended to require capacity for 100% Level 2 charging (instead of only Level 1) for new building construction—a requirement that the city of Vancouver already has on the books. See our full testimony here (attachment inserted?) 

Because we believe in an equitable transition to a carbon free economy, we want to encourage the city council to act with urgency when it comes to the climate change crisis and put pressure on Hawaiʻi Gas to evolve. They can move away from imported fracked gas and start using renewable gas from local sources to create the green jobs we desperately need. But for now, Hawaiʻi Gas is choosing to continue business as usual and threaten our collective future. We cannot let that happen and will be sending out action alerts for more community support when the next hearing is announced! 

Star-Advertiser: New study doubles estimates of land vulnerable to sea level rise

By Timothy Hurley 

October 2, 2018

DENNIS ODA / 2015 Areas like King Street and Dillingham Boulevard in Liliha will be affected by rising sea levels when heavy rains hit.

Turns out future sea level rise in Hawaii may be a bigger problem than previously thought.

A team of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources found that island land affected by sea level rise may be double previous projections.

The study, published Thursday in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, indicates that even some low-elevation areas a mile or two inland are vulnerable in a world of rising oceans caused by climate change.

Lead researcher Tiffany Anderson, a faculty member at the Department of Earth Sciences at the UH-Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said, “A lot of areas will be affected. Losing beaches and access to them is really tragic for Hawaii and its culture.”

Early estimates about how a rising ocean would affect the islands were based on a “bathtub” approach in which a static sea surface is projected onto an unchanging terrain.

Charles “Chip” Fletcher, UH professor of geology and co-author of the the study, said this latest study is more realistic, factoring in additional processes, including chronic erosion and wave run-up, that can lead to more far-reaching and widespread flooding.

The bathtub approach alone ignores 35 to 54 percent of the land area exposed to one or more of the hazards, depending on location and sea level, Fletcher said.

The study also describes the discovery of a “critical point” at which marine flooding accelerates and reaches farther landward.

On Oahu, the critical point falls between 2 and 3 feet of sea level rise. At 2 feet of sea level rise, 6 square miles of the island will be affected by some kind of ocean flooding. At 3 feet of sea level rise, the affected area more than doubles to 12.5 square miles.

Especially vulnerable areas include Oahu’s low-lying south shore from Waikiki to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and Ewa Beach.

Fletcher, associate dean of the UH-Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, said sea levels are expected to rise anywhere from 2 to 8 feet by the end of the century, depending on the behavior of the melting Antarctic ice sheet.

At the current rate of acceleration, he said, rising seas will reach more than 2 feet above present by the end of the century, which agrees with modeling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2013. But that report makes it clear that rapid melting of Antarctica or Greenland is not considered, and since then several studies have identified a rising probability that glaciers in West Antarctica are engaged in rapid and irreversible retreat.

Earlier this summer a report found that Antarctic ice is melting three times faster than only 10 years ago. If these trends continue and worsen, 6 to 8 feet of sea level rise becomes a possibility by the end of the century.

Fletcher said coastal Oahu will increasingly experience the same kind of nuisance flooding that already plagues the streets of Mapunapuna and the coastal areas of South Florida, where millions of people are at risk.

The most vulnerable areas will experience flooding at high tide on a daily basis within only two or three decades. Summer high tides will cause the greatest amount of inundation, but other times of the year will see flooding as well. Coastal communities throughout the state will experience widespread coastal flooding from the run up of waves at least once to a few times each summer.

The Hawaii study took two years to complete with help from the UH-Manoa High Performance Computer Cluster. The computer was fed the topography of the land and sea floor, a model of mathematical equations, and it made calculations of the waves and erosion along the shoreline.

On Oahu, Maui and Kauai, calculations were made every 65 feet, with the number of calculations reaching into the thousands. Statewide calculations were made from more than 10,000 shoreline locations under four scenarios of future sea level rise.

The modeling presented in this study was conducted to support the Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, which was completed in December to help with government planning.

Adopted by the Hawaii Climate Commission, the report projects climate change-driven sea level rise of 3.2 feet over the next 30 to 70 years.

The report forecasts a future of coastal flooding, erosion and property damage affecting hotels, businesses, malls, schools and community centers, as well as the displacement of thousands of people from their homes.

According to the report, potential impacts of 3.2 feet of sea level rise on Oahu alone include the loss of $12.9 billion in structures and land, 3,800 structures, including hotels in Waikiki, the displacement of 13,300 residents and the loss of 17.7 miles of major roads.

The latest study, titled “Modeling multiple sea level rise stresses reveals up to twice the land at risk compared to strictly passive flooding methods” is online and free to everyone.

“This study is important because we want to head into the future prepared and knowledgeable and ready to develop policies that are empirically based,” Fletcher said.

The study was supported by the DLNR, H.K.L. Castle Foundation, the U.S. Geological Service Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center, Honolulu Board of Water Supply, Honolulu Office of Climate Change Sustainability and Resiliency, Hawaii Community Foundation, County of Kauai and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

Anderson and team are currently incorporating rainfall into the computer model to determine how sea level-related flooding might be exacerbated during high-tide rainfall events.

To see how your neighborhood might be affected, go to, which is an online mapping tool and companion to the Hawai‘i Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report.


The potential impact of a 3.2-foot rise in sea level on Oahu would include:


Structures lost including hotels in Waikiki

$12.9 billion

Estimate value of structures and land lost


Number of residents displaced


Miles of major roads lost

Star-Advertiser: Red Hill fuel tank corrosion worse than expected


By Sophie Cocke 

Testing by the Navy on one of its massive underground fuel tanks at Red Hill suggests that tank corrosion at the facility is more extensive than it predicted, elevating concerns among Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials and environmentalists about the aging facility’s potential for leaks and the risk that poses to Oahu’s drinking water.

As part of an agreement with federal and state regulators, the Navy sampled 10 steel plates from one of its 20 tanks at the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor. At least five of the plates, which measured 1-foot by 1-foot in size, showed considerable corrosion, according to the Board of Water Supply, which was briefed by the Navy on the findings. More troubling, parts of the tank’s original, quarter-inch-thick steel liner have become extremely thin and it appears the Navy overestimated the remaining thickness of some of the plates.

For instance, the Navy had anticipated the thickness of one steel plate to be between 0.135 to 0.187 inches. However, testing in June indicated that the remaining thickness was about half of that. The steel liner is the only thing separating the fuel from a release into the environment.

“The Navy’s predictions are so far off, and the corrosion is so far gone, that the risk of another significant leak, potentially catastrophic, is far more severe than previously thought,” said Marti Townsend, director for the Hawaii Sierra Club, in a press release. “Once the fuel escapes there is no way to get it back. It is irresponsible to continue the current course of action on these tanks.”

Townsend said the Navy needed to retire the tanks and relocate the fuel away from drinking water supplies.

Department of Health officials have said that fuel leaks, including a 27,000 gallon release at the facility in January 2014, are nearly impossible to clean up.

Officials have worried that past and future fuel leaks could migrate to an aquifer that supplies drinking water to residents from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai. The aquifer sits just 100 feet below the tanks. Fuel leaks also pose a risk to a nearby Navy well that supplies drinking water to about 65,000 people at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

If the aquifer is polluted by a major failure at one of the Red Hill tanks, the Navy’s own studies indicate the cleanup of the critical water supply could take decades or be cost prohibitive.

The corrosion testing is required as part of an agreement that the Navy entered into with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health after the 2014 fuel release.

The Navy and regulators are also in the process of assessing six options for improving the tanks, including building new tanks, constructing a tank within a tank and double lining the tanks. The Navy informed regulators in August that it would likely be recommending the option that its own report described as involving “minimal changes to the status quo.” The corrosion testing is likely to increase pressure on the Navy to choose more aggressive tank protection options.

A plan for tank improvements will have to be approved by regulators who are expecting the Navy to take into account its corrosion study, as well as studies on leak- detection methods, in making its formal recommendation, which is due at the end of the year.

Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply, said that the findings, which have not been released in a final report, raise concerns about the Navy’s current methods of inspection and repair of the tanks. The Board of Water Supply is urging the Navy to expand its corrosion sampling to more tanks.

The Navy didn’t respond directly to an emailed question from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser asking whether it would be willing to test for corrosion in additional tanks. Instead the Navy issued a news release, stating it would brief elected officials and regulators on the latest information during an annual state Senate task force meeting on Oct. 3.

The Navy stressed that the corrosion study is “ongoing and has not been completed,” with final results expected in late October and warned against making conclusions based on incomplete information.

“Ensuring tank integrity is the top priority and key to the exhaustive review approach we’ve agreed to,” said Lt. Cmdr. Blake Whittle, fuels director at Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor, in the news release.

In recent years the Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency have spent $45.3 million to help identify the best alternative to improve the facility, while conducting groundwater studies, the Navy said. An additional $260 million has been spent since 2006 on maintaining and modernizing the facility and conducting environmental testing.

“We have not and will not rush to judgment or conclusions, and we will continue to keep the drinking water safe, no matter what,” said Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. “There is much more work to do in studying, analyzing and then implementing all the right initiatives at Red Hill.”