How Honolulu, Hawaii is working toward sustainability and supporting its residents in the process

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Solar panels on top of homes in a Honolulu neighborhood.

  • Honolulu has been focused on sustainability and climate change since receiving a grant in 2016.
  • Its resilience plan has promoted access to renewable energy and expanded clean transportation.
  • Other initiatives include reducing energy bills and addressing hunger by supporting local farmers.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”

In his first state-of-the-city speech in mid-March, Rick Blangiardi, mayor of Honolulu, Hawaii, emphasized the city’s commitment to “climate resilience.”

“From sea level rise, rain bombs, and increasing temperatures, we’re taking steps toward a climate-ready Oahu,” said the mayor, who was sworn in at the start of 2021. The island of Oahu is home to the city and county of Honolulu.

“We’re shifting from talking about policy to doing something about it,” Blangiardi added.

Sustainability and climate change are issues that Honolulu’s leaders have been working to address for years. In 2016, the city was awarded a 100 Resilient Cities Initiative Grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to help fund the hiring of a chief resilience officer to work with the city on crafting climate change and resilience plans.

Since then, Honolulu has debuted a Resilience Strategy and a Climate Action Plan, which have helped inspire citywide legislation to reduce the energy burden on residents, promote access to renewable energy, expand clean transportation, and support locally grown food producers.

Here’s a look at some of Honolulu’s sustainability initiatives.

Codifying the Resilience Office’s responsibilities will help Honolulu meet its sustainability goals

Oʻahu Resilience Strategy Steering Committee members meeting during development phase of the strategy, which includes Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.
Oahu Resilience Strategy Steering Committee members meeting during the development phase of the strategy, which includes Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

The Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency was created by a city charter amendment that was approved by the public in 2016. A new bill signed into law in December 2020 “codifies the duties, responsibilities, and reporting requirements” of the office to ensure Honolulu meets its climate change and sustainability goals. 

Bill 65 establishes an energy benchmarking system, requiring Honolulu to create and report energy and water use benchmarks for city-owned buildings. The rule is estimated to save the city $7 million over the next decade. The bill also specifies that the city will transition to 100% renewable energy and become carbon neutral by 2045.  

It also addresses many other climate change and sustainability measures, including a One Water policy, examining efficiencies across the city’s water system. 

The Resilience Strategy addresses affordability and climate change

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The Resilience Office engaging community members on their perspectives of “Resilience.”

One of the central initiatives of the Resilience Office is the Oahu Resilience Strategy, which aims to address “long-term affordability and the impacts of a climate crisis that is already driving islanders from their homes,” according to the office’s website. 

Planning began in 2017 when the office met with Oahu’s 33 neighborhood boards to survey residents about what concerned them most about climate change and how they thought it could be addressed, Matthew Gonser, chief resilience officer and executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, told Insider. 

Hundreds of ideas were gathered from the community. Those concepts were narrowed down into 44 actions, comprising the Resilience Strategy. The strategy focuses on four broad subjects: long-term affordability, natural disaster preparedness and response, climate change, and local community leadership. 

By the end of 2020, significant progress had been made on about half of the 44 resilience actions, Gonser said.

The Climate Action Plan outlines what’s needed to address climate change long term

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The City and County of Honolulu Climate Action Plan open house community engagement session with Hawaii Pacific University and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

Honolulu’s Resilience Office released the city’s Climate Action Plan in December 2020.

The plan was developed based on scientific evidence and community input to fight climate change and reduce fossil fuel emissions on Oahu. It spells out the needed programs, policies, and actions for the city to become carbon neutral by 2045 — and includes nine strategies to focus on over the next five years, including increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency. 

To develop the Climate Action Plan, community meetings with Honolulu City Council members, Hawaii Pacific University, the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii were held, and working groups with stakeholders were set up, Gonser said. 

During the first few months of 2021, the public had the chance to share their opinions and concerns about the plan before it goes to the city council. Gonser said the Climate Action Plan will likely be adopted this year. 

Honolulu updated parking ordinances to promote walkability and the use of clean energy transportation

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Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet, speaking at the signing of Ordinance 20-41, related to off-street parking and loading.

At the end of 2020, former mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 2 to update Honolulu’s mandatory parking requirements for new developments. It gives developers more flexibility in how much parking to build and allows opportunities for the land to be used for other purposes, such as affordable housing. 

“It’s making sure that our rules and regulations don’t force overbuilding of parking, empowering more choice and leaving it to developers to determine what’s needed,” Gonser said. 

The bill supports walkable neighborhoods and cleaner transportation options, such as biking and public transportation, which Honolulu plans to transition to clean fuel. 

It could also make housing more affordable since constructing and maintaining parking is sometimes a hidden cost for renters, according to an analysis by the Ulupono Initiative, a Honolulu-based organization that provides grants, investments, and advocacy to support renewable energy, locally produced food, and other sustainability-minded projects.

For urban Honolulu renters, up to 37% of their rent may go toward parking, which, for decades, has often been built based on city regulation rather than actual need.   

“The bill makes progress in the right direction, better aligning with city climate and community goals, while allowing parking to remain accessible for those who genuinely need it and not requiring it of those who don’t,” Kathleen Rooney, Ulupono Initiative’s director of transportation policy and programs, said when the bill was signed

Making solar power more accessible eases Honolulu’s energy burden

Solar array installation on top of the Board of Water Supply, City and County of Honolulu
Solar array installation on top of the Board of Water Supply.

Hawaii has one of the highest average electricity retail prices in the country, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and the state relies on petroleum for most of its electricity generation. 

Reducing the energy burden is a key focus area of Honolulu’s Resilience Office. In December, the city enacted Bill 58 to streamline the permitting process for residential clean energy products, such as solar power, energy storage, and electric vehicle chargers. The goal is to cut down on the costs and time it takes to install solar systems. 

Creating more equitable access to renewable energy is an important component in making Honolulu an affordable place to live, Gonser said. 

“We have one of the highest energy burdens in the nation,” he said. “It’s updating our energy code and making sure that all new things that are being built are ensuring long-term affordability for residents and that they can benefit from progressive infrastructure so that we can reduce the energy burden over time.”

New performance-based regulations could lower energy bills for residents

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A timeline of the Hawaiian Public Utilities Commission.

As another initiative aimed at reducing energy bills, Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission approved a new Performance-Based Regulation Framework in late 2020. The framework would transform utility company Hawaiian Electric by making its operations more efficient, lowering electricity rates, improving services, and meeting the state’s clean energy goals. 

“That’s really groundbreaking,” Amy Hennessy, senior vice president of communications and external affairs at Ulupono Initiative, which provided research and other information to guide the framework’s adoption, told Insider. “The impacts toward changing the incentives for our utility to transform into a renewable energy future are significant.” 

The new structure provides financial incentives for the electric company to meet certain goals, like creating savings for lower-income customers and reducing greenhouse gases. It also separates the utility’s profits from capital investments, creating a cost-of-service approach. 

Matching grant provides $1 million to fight hunger and support local food producers

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The Hawaii Farm Bureau.

Hunger has been an ongoing problem for many communities, but the pandemic worsened the situation, as unemployment increased and many families have faced new financial struggles. 

To address hunger in Hawaii, Gov. David Ige announced in October 2020 that the state would provide a $500,000 matching donation to the DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program, which doubles the amount of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, that are spent on locally grown food. 

Several private-sector organizations raised $500,000 for the program, including the Stupski Foundation and Ulupono Initiative, which each provided $200,000. The state match offers $1 million total for the program. 

Addressing hunger and providing incentives to encourage residents to buy more locally grown and produced food are part of Honolulu’s Resilience Strategy. The DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program also aims to strengthen the local economy because it keeps residents’ food budgets on the island.

“A million dollars going out into communities for not just those who need access to food, but also our local farmers who needed a market — it’s actually putting dollars in their pockets while they’re growing to help provide healthy options for the community,” Hennessy said. “So it’s really a triple win.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

2 top energy execs share why the oil-price rebound won’t derail clean-energy investment

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Oil prices have rebounded significantly since last year’s pandemic-driven plunge.

You might think that would be bad for clean energy. But contrary to expectations, energy executives say that it’s actually good news for clean-energy investments.

Oil giants like Shell have turned a close eye to clean energy and created new targets to reduce the ‘intensity’ of emissions over the next three decades.

Other corporations like Facebook are joining in by buying huge amounts of solar and wind power. Smaller startups have in the meantime made progress on breakthrough technologies like batteries that last for days – a key component to transitioning to cleaner energy.

The new administration has also signaled that clean energy is a key priority. President Joe Biden set forth an ambitious climate-change agenda, and investment in clean-tech is booming. Energy executives told Insider they’re watching closely and hope to see alignment of regulatory authorities and support to offshore wind industries among other moves from the new president.

Insider’s Benji Jones gathered four top executives in the energy industry for a live roundtable earlier this month to talk about how Big Oil can make good on its promises, how to generate returns for shareholders while pivoting into cleaner energy products, and which breakthrough technologies are needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Panelists also discussed how rising oil prices may actually benefit investments into clean energy, as contrary as that may sound. West Texas Intermediate crude trades for about $61 a barrel, around pre-pandemic levels. Crude tumbled last year as COVID-19 put a stop to travel and manufacturing, driving down demand for oil.

The panelists included: Urvi Parekh, Facebook’s head of renewable energy; Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy’s cofounder and CEO; Shell’s EVP for renewables and energy solutions, Elisabeth Brinton; and Francois Austin partner at Oliver Wyman in the UK and head of the group’s energy practice.

Brinton told Jones that Shell – known for being a major oil and gas company – is investing in energy storage well as many other cleaner technologies.

“We’re involved in offshore wind, onshore wind, onshore solar, storage, hydrogen. So green hydrogen for industrial and transport uses,” Brinton said. “We have the largest LNG business in the world, and so we have a lot of experience moving ships and transport.”

Shell is “technology agnostic,” according to Brinton, who added that the company is really focused on use cases and how it can help various sectors reduce their carbon footprints.

Oliver Wyman’s Austin told Insider that the oil-price recovery isn’t putting the investment case for clean energy at risk. On the contrary, Austin said, the rising prices will actually “enable the Shells of this world to finance this transition” to clean energy.

“I think society has shifted. I think COVID has been a wake-up call,” he said. “Momentum is there.”

Austin said that oil and gas are going to continue to be part of the energy mix as far out as 2040 or 2050. The transition to clean energy is expected to take a long time as new technologies develop over time.

Brinton agreed, adding that she believes the near-term price of oil actually helps speed up the transition by funding it.

“That’s a really important point because a lot of people think, ‘Well, that’s bad. It’s going to slow things down,” she said. “Actually, it’s very helpful.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 top energy execs share what they want Biden to do to help move the US toward cleaner energy

Wind turbines produce renewable energy outside Caledon, South Africa, May 20, 2020.  REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Wind turbines produce renewable energy outside Caledon

Some of the biggest companies in the world have pledged to move toward cleaner energy. They say they want to see support from the US government as they move forward on their promises.

President Joe Biden has set forth the most ambitious climate-change agenda in the nation’s history, and investment in clean-tech has been booming.

But transitioning to renewable energy takes time. Though the US government and large corporations alike agree that clean energy is a key priority, making the transition would require overhauling infrastructure, some of which has been around for decades.

In the meantime, oil giants like Shell have announced new targets to reduce the ‘intensity’ of emissions over the next three decades, while corporations like Facebook are buying solar and wind power. Smaller startups have in the meantime made progress on breakthrough technologies like batteries that last for days – a key component to transitioning into cleaner energy.

Insider’s Benji Jones gathered four top executives in the energy industry for a live roundtable earlier this month to talk about how Big Oil can make good on its promises, how to generate returns for shareholders while pivoting to cleaner energy, and which breakthrough technologies are needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Panelists also discussed what they would want to see from the Biden administration to help the US move toward clean energy.

The panelists were: Urvi Parekh, Facebook’s head of renewable energy; Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy’s cofounder and CEO; Shell’s EVP for renewables and energy solutions, Elisabeth Brinton; and Francois Austin, partner at Oliver Wyman in the UK and head of the group’s energy practice.

When asked about what she would like to see from Biden, Shell’s Brinton told Insider that she wants the new administration to “continue to lean in with a commitment and a pace.”

Biden could do this, for example, by supporting investment tax credits and providing support to offshore wind to get projects up and running, Brinton said.

Bringing together different environmental agencies is also key to drawing a clear path forward and accelerating clean energy, she added.

Oliver Wyman’s Austin agreed.

“I think it’s about aligning the regulatory authorities,” Austin said, adding that everybody is on the same page about the issue.

“I think the government wants to do it. The administration wants to do it. The consumers want it. Corporates want to do it,” Austin said.

Form Energy’s Jaramillo said that he’d like to see the administration following through on the commitments laid out in its infrastructure plan, which is expected to include spending on clean energy deployment. Form Energy is aiming to build cheaper-long duration batteries.

Facebook’s Parekh said that she would like to see long-term commitments to next-generation decarbonization from the Biden administration.

“I would love to see some high voltage transmission efforts and also continuing the progress on storage,” she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The pullback in clean tech stocks presents a ‘rare buying opportunity’, Morgan Stanley says

Sunrun solar installation
Sunrun installers put panels on a home in Sunnyvale, California

  • Morgan Stanley told clients on Wednesday that the clean tech stock pullback is a buying opportunity.
  • Analysts upgraded a basket of clean tech stocks to “outperform”, citing “strong growth in renewables and energy storage.”
  • Morgan Stanley’s US power supply mix forecast says 40% of energy output will be renewable by 2030.
  • Sign up here for our daily newsletter, 10 Things Before the Opening Bell.

The recent pullback in clean tech stocks presents a “rare buying opportunity” according to analysts at Morgan Stanley.

In a note to clients on Wednesday, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Stephen C. Byrd said they are recommending clean tech stocks with “strong growth and cash flow” after a recent fall in share prices.

The analysts upgraded a basket of stocks from the sector including AES Corporation, Atlantica Sustainable Infrastructure, Solaredge Technologies, TPI Composites, and SunRun to overweight in their note.

The team cited “strong growth in renewables and energy storage given favorable economics and further cost declines” as the main reason for their upgrade.

The analysts also said the trend towards increased environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) spending would be a positive for the clean tech sector moving forward, and argued ESG capital is “being deployed on leaders in clean energy” like the names they’ve upgraded.

The team from Morgan Stanley added that they believe federal support in the form of clean energy and infrastructure legislation is an “under-appreciated upcoming catalyst” for the clean tech sector.

Additionally, according to Morgan Stanley’s US power supply mix forecast, there will be a huge increase in renewable energy use over the next decade from 12% of current power output to roughly 40% by 2030.

Still, the analysts reduced their price targets for the sector somewhat due to “a higher cost of capital given a rising rate environment and higher equity risk premium.”

The analysts noted that many investors believe valuations are high in the sector after a run-up in share prices in 2020 and into 2021. However, according to the team, after the recent pullback there are “many Clean Tech stocks reflecting growth that is far below their rapid, multi-decade growth outlook.”

The analysts also noted that “corporate and residential consumer interest in clean energy and energy storage continues to rise substantially.”

The clean tech sector has been booming of late. So much so that Global X started the CleanTech ETF or CTEC, last October to allow investors to bet on the sector as a whole. The ETF has posted a 50% return since inception.

Read the original article on Business Insider

To reconnect with rural voters, Democrats must invest in local renewable energy projects

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Mark Russell, public works superintendent, pulls on an anchor of a floating solar array that feeds into the power supply of a water treatment plant in rural Colorado on Thursday, August 22, 2019.

  • Democrats did poorly among rural voters in the 2020 election. 
  • To reconnect with rural America, lawmakers can spur economic growth with local renewable energy projects. 
  • Communities are already on board, and the investment would create millions of jobs and slow the effects of climate change. 
  • Brandon Presley is Public Service Commissioner for the Northern District of Mississippi.
  • Jeff Cramer is executive director for the Coalition for Community Solar Access, a national trade association representing innovative businesses and nonprofits working to expand customer choice and access to solar for all American households and businesses through community solar.
  • Jigar Shah is president and co-founder of Generate Capital. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the authors. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden may have won the 2020 election by the largest margin against an incumbent since 1932, but more than 74 million Americans – close to half of all the people who cast a ballot – voted for the incumbent.  

Nowhere is this disconnect between the Democratic Party and voters more stark than among rural Americans. As Biden won in cities and towns, former President Donald Trump dominated in the rural regions. 

There are many reasons Biden did poorly in rural areas, but chief among them is that rural communities have seen little appreciable economic development since the rise of candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. Across the country, so-called “non-metro” regions have remained bound by sluggish economic growth, higher poverty rates, stagnant job creation, and little room for upward mobility

Even as COVID raged – and rages – with the death toll soaring past 280,000 in 2020, rural voters’ chief concern, as the election neared, shifted from the coronavirus to the economy. And the Republican Party has effectively and steadfastly homed in on these fiscal concerns.

To borrow from Clinton’s chief ’92 strategist, it’s the (rural) economy, stupid. 

Local renewable energy projects can strengthen rural communities

Democrats now have a singular opportunity to offer a clear economic vision for rural America. With the start of a new administration and an urgent need for broad economic stimulus, lawmakers – and the nation as a whole –  not only have the opportunity to rebuild the nation, from its bridges to its transmission grids, they also have the chance to reconnect with rural voters by reinvigorating local economies and putting America’s rural counties first. 

Lawmakers can achieve this with a clean energy “Marshall Plan” that will empower rural communities with local renewable power, millions of new jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity, slashed health costs, and, yes, help slow climate change. 

Take the Samson Solar Center in Texas as an example: This $1.6 billion project in Lamar, Red River, and Franklin counties, announced in November, will support up to 600 jobs through its three-year construction period. What’s more, the project promises more than $250 million in payments to local landowners, and another $200 million in property-tax payments to local communities over the lifetime of the project. 

This utility-scale project – once built, the biggest in the US – is just one type of rural clean-energy investment. Thousands of smaller ones can be built across rural America – not top-down from big corporations or the federal government, but built locally from the ground-up by the nation’s rural electric co-ops. 

Rural co-ops once revolutionized American energy, bringing electricity to the communities too small or isolated for the big utilities to bother with. Decades since that effort, they’ve become saddled with the most expensive coal-fired power plants in the country, costing families an extra billion dollars a year while imposing enormous health costs from the pollution.

But due to innovative local leadership, rural electric co-ops have, with little fanfare, become hotbeds of innovation in America’s energy economy – creating millions of local jobs in the process. In Mississippi, for example, the Public Service Commission has steadily expanded solar generation – not only with large, utility-scale projects like the one in Texas, but with smaller, locally managed solar farms. 

This locally-managed effort has catapulted the Magnolia State, with its deep-red bona fides, into the top ranks of green energy generation. In fact, more than 500 rural co-ops in 43 states have started implementing solar power. With access to cheap land, plummeting costs for solar, and subsidized loans from the federal government to convert all of their electricity generation to renewable energy, this transition is accelerating.

Many communities are already on board

This shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve long known that conservative and liberal voters alike broadly support clean energy investment – Democrats largely for the environmental reasons, Republicans for the cost savings and energy independence that solar delivers. 

Community and rooftop solar or “local solar” projects, like the kind implemented in Mississippi, enhance these benefits – especially when paired with batteries to provide around-the-clock power. Local solar systems, for example, can save consumers a half a trillion dollars over the next three decades. And that’s before even including so-called “indirect” benefits like job growth, economic investment, and the health, social, and environmental benefits of less pollution.

State lawmakers, of both parties, are finally starting to catch on. In Pennsylvania, for example, Republican lawmakers, with support from the state farm bureau, backed a bill for community solar. The legislation didn’t quite make it to the governor’s office, but momentum is growing. 

Rural co-ops have far less red tape than traditional utilities and grid operators, allowing them to move more quickly and at lower cost. It’s of course far easier to build infrastructure in less densely populated areas. The electricity these resources generate is cheaper than coal, gas, or oil, saving money for local landowners. And the projects are locally sited, empowering communities to make the pragmatic choices that are best for them. That’s a win-win-win-win.

The Biden administration entered office pledging to Build Back Better, at the plan’s centerpiece a $2 trillion clean energy roadmap. But energy, like politics, is local. To best succeed, and reestablish a long lost connection with rural voters, lawmakers must harness the work and innovation in America’s rural communities, and empower them to lead the way.

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