Looking For An Economic Transformation? Think 'Big Island Green'


About the Authors

Tam Hunt

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Hilo, Hawaii. He is working on a novel about Hawaii.

Noel Morin

Noel Morin is an environmental advocate with over 27 years of experience in business systems analysis, product management, and leadership in companies like Johnson and Johnson and eBay. He is president of the Big Island EV Association.

Bill Bugbee

Bill Bugbee, who relocated to Hawaii in 2013, is committed to assisting Hawaii’s advancement to a sustainable environment and economy. He is executive director of BeyondKona.com, a community website designed to help Hawaii become a 100% clean-energy economy.

Heather Kimball

Heather Kimball owns a consulting firm supporting communication for science-based policy and decision-making on the issues of climate change.

Scott Laaback

Scott Laaback is a regenerative designer, farm to table chef, and longtime permaculture activist. He is currently president of the nonprofit Center for Getting Things Started and vice-president of Hawaii Farmers Union United Puna chapter.


Hawaii’s residents are facing economic devastation not seen since the Great Depression.

Federal stimulus funds are helping to soften the blow but the $1,200 payments to individuals, and the $600 weekly increase in unemployment benefits are set to run dry by the end of July. Tourism, a critical cog in our economic engine, will likely lag for many quarters. The threat of subsequent global COVID-19 infection waves will likely result in prolonged social distancing norms that will impact school schedules, affect work schedules, and decrease the productivity of local businesses.

What are we to do to keep Hawaii island afloat?

We are indeed at a historic place and time where an economic transformation of Hawaii is warranted, an opportunity for a 21st century New Deal specific to Hawaii’s needs. Even before the pandemic a lot of discussion had taken place locally, statewide and nationally about a Green New Deal, which would combine much-needed jobs programs, stimulate local economic activity, enable net zero carbon emissions, improve social equity, and save the environment.

Looking toward Kona from Kohala on the Big Island. It’s a big island, and it needs big ideas to sustain it.

Aramis Photography

Hawaii’s recent statewide experiment, from 2012 to 2016, in rooftop solar energy and net metering created a statewide economic renaissance –producing the fastest economic growth for Hawaii in decades — created thousands of well-paying local jobs, new solar businesses, saved utility ratepayers substantial dollars which flowed back into the local economy, and produced a lasting effect in advancing statewide solar energy independence. This is a good example of smart policy.

What would a Green New Deal look like on the Big Island, led by local people and the county government? What would it mean to “think B.I.G.” (Big Island Green)?

County Research & Development has recently issued a draft Climate Action Plan with many great ideas. It’s a full-spectrum look at what the island will need to do to meet the statewide 100% renewable energy mandate by 2045, including solid waste management. It will also set the stage for the county to meet the 2017 declaration by Hawaii’s mayors for the county to achieve 100% renewable ground transportation by 2045.

Share Your Ideas

But a Green New Deal for the Big Island could advance the current 2045 goal of 100% clean and renewable energy for the state to 2030 or 2035 for our county.

Think B.I.G. would be a job generator based on green energy, robust local agriculture, smart buildings, smart communities, electric vehicles and public transit, composting programs, public trails and expanded parks, improved water systems, and many other 21st century infrastructure activities. Most of these initiatives will save money and our unemployed need large numbers of new jobs in the near-term.

Aina Aloha is a new group of community members rethinking Hawaii’s economy in light of the pandemic. Their declaration includes a list of guiding principles, the first of which states:

We are of and from this aina that ultimately sustains us. We employ strategies for economic development that place our kuleana to steward precious, limited resources in a manner that ensures our long-term horizon as a viable island people and place.

Our hope is that Think B.I.G. serves the principles described by Aina Aloha.

Here’s a partial list of what thinking B.I.G. for the Big Island could look like. These examples are meant only to spur community discussion at this point:

Energy

  • A commitment by the county itself to achieve 100% green energy for all of its operations (electricity, heating and transportation) by 2030.
  • A study of all county properties and parks for solar potential on rooftops, parking lots and other areas that may be solarized.
  • Install hundreds of electric vehicle chargers, with solar canopies and batteries, on county facilities and public parks to charge county vehicles and public vehicles from the sun (“driving on sunshine”), and enable grid resiliency.
  • Install commercial and community microgrids for improved resiliency and grid support.
  • Complete study to determine alternative geothermal energy sites, and tidal/ocean energy sites, on and around the island.
  • A commitment by the County to retrofit all County buildings to achieve either LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certification or Zero Net Energy with a combination of energy efficiency and solar technologies.
  • Community solar facilities for all apartment buildings with roof space or parking lots for solar.
  • Community wind power for areas that have decent wind resources and are otherwise suitable for small and medium-size wind turbines.
  • Robust rebate programs, working with Hawaii Energy, HELCO and the state Public Utilities Commission, for energy efficiency, solar water heating, roof top solar, electric vehicle and charger purchases, and other green-energy retrofits.
  • Install methane capture and power generation technologies at county sewage treatment plants and parks with composting toilets.
  • Job training programs for solar technicians, energy efficiency technicians, green agriculture, and land stewardship.

Local Agriculture And Permaculture

  • Improve local food independence through regenerative agriculture and permaculture design.
  • Support programs for local agriculture of all sizes with focus on the local food economy rather than the international export economy; farmer trainings; workshops; nurseries; and seed banks and libraries.
  • Compost and mulching programs in every community.
  • Creation of food aggregation and distribution hubs following the model of Kahumana farms on Oahu.
  • Identify County properties that could be re-purposed for community gardens and farmlands with low lease rates to encourage new farmers.

Waste Programs

  • Community led design sessions to help identify and implement improved recycling and upcycling opportunities.
  • Implement zero waste education and practices in all public schools.
  • Community led design sessions to identify better mid-term and long-term waste management solutions.
  • Assess the viability of industries related to extending the life of solar panels and batteries, and the recycling of these materials at their end-of-life.
  • Recycling waste water for irrigation.

Parks And Trails

  • Create a series of interconnected bike trails and bicycle friendly roads across the island, reducing vehicle traffic and encouraging bicycle tourism.
  • Trail building programs in areas that are suitable for new trails, like county, state and national parks, and forest reserves.
  • Expand existing parks where appropriate, providing additional green space, species conservation and recreation.
  • Improve and expand park facilities like basketball courts, tennis courts, keiki play areas, community centers, etc.
  • Identify public parks that can host food forests and community gardens and hand over management of those spaces to community groups, reducing the labor burden of county workers.

Education

  • Robust education and outreach programs to alert the public to rebates, job programs, and other aspects of Think B.I.G.
  • Connect Big Island programs to statewide programs working on green energy, waste, local agriculture and other Green New Deal programs.
  • Encourage education curricula designed for careers in renewable energy, battery and fuel-cell vehicles, regenerative agriculture, waste management, parks maintenance, and recycling.

A waterfall near Hilo. Tourism on the Big Island must be environmentally responsible in order to survive.

Aramis Photography

These programs, if implemented in the next few years, would provide literally tens of thousands of new jobs on our island, while also making the Big Island even more enjoyable to live on and reducing our environmental footprint. Hawaii island has the potential to serve as a model for the rest of the world and foster a new brand of environmentally responsible tourism.

And the last major benefit would be a dramatic improvement in our resilience against disasters of all types.

Paying For All Of This

How will all this be paid for? There are a number of possible funding options, including:

  1. federal stimulus (CARES) funding to state and local governments, which currently is earmarked only for coronavirus response, but will almost certainly be expanded for recovery use before long;
  2. state capital improvement program foundation funding — many community, state and federal foundations will be looking for community-level leadership and Hawaii County can offer that;
  3. federal or state community block grants; and
  4. county or state bond measures — if any time warrants bonds to be issued this is it.

Additional funding, possibly a large part, can come from third-party investment — companies that are willing to build the infrastructure and reap the revenue from the energy generated or saved.

When all is said and done we on the Big Island can’t afford to not fund something like Think B.I.G.


Read this next:

Tough Decisions Need Better Data And Inclusive Voices


Before you go…

During a crisis like this, it’s more important than ever to dig beyond the news, to figure out what government policies mean for ordinary citizens and how those policies were put together.

This is perhaps the biggest, most consequential story our reporters will ever cover. And at no other time in Civil Beat’s history have we relied on your support more. Please consider supporting Civil Beat by making a tax-deductible gift.

Contribute

About the Authors

Tam Hunt

Tam Hunt is a lawyer and writer based in Hilo, Hawaii. He is working on a novel about Hawaii.

Noel Morin

Noel Morin is an environmental advocate with over 27 years of experience in business systems analysis, product management, and leadership in companies like Johnson and Johnson and eBay. He is president of the Big Island EV Association.

Bill Bugbee

Bill Bugbee, who relocated to Hawaii in 2013, is committed to assisting Hawaii’s advancement to a sustainable environment and economy. He is executive director of BeyondKona.com, a community website designed to help Hawaii become a 100% clean-energy economy.

Heather Kimball

Heather Kimball owns a consulting firm supporting communication for science-based policy and decision-making on the issues of climate change.

Scott Laaback

Scott Laaback is a regenerative designer, farm to table chef, and longtime permaculture activist. He is currently president of the nonprofit Center for Getting Things Started and vice-president of Hawaii Farmers Union United Puna chapter.


Latest Comments (0)

Wonderful! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼It’s awesome to witness the collaborative efforts within our caring community, which will ultimately shift our island toward a more sustainable and resonant system. As a lead for Vibrant Hawai’i and the for the establishment of Resilience Hubs, I’m excited to know others are aligning their Wa’a toward common actionable goals. Looking forward to implementing these brilliant ideas and so many more as we steward our resources responsibility. Mahalo Nui Loa! 

MaggieK · 6 days ago

Could parts of the old saddle road become bike or hiking trails?

MSCar · 2 weeks ago

Did I read this article correctly?  Well-meaning people got together and created a host of good, solid goals with the serious question of how to restart a better economy on Hawai'i island to achieve those goals.  I sincerely thank you Tam, Noel, Bill, Heather and Scott.  But then your conclusion is ... We can all have great-paying, eco-friendly jobs and lives ... if only someone (else) would give us the money we need to do it?   I have the Hawaii County police reports from years past and their estimates of the value of Cannabis 'eradicated':1986 - $   742,238,000.1987 - $1,737,685,000.1988 - $1,433,353,000.  You get the drift.  What could We the people do now?  What was stolen besides our freedom?  A lot.  Let's grow Cannabis immediately.  It can pay for anything we want going forward.       

RogerChristie · 2 weeks ago

Join the conversation

About IDEAS

IDEAS is the place you'll find essays, analysis and opinion on every aspect of life and public affairs in Hawaii. We want to showcase smart ideas about the future of Hawaii, from the state's sharpest thinkers, to stretch our collective thinking about a problem or an issue. Email news@civilbeat.org to submit an idea.

Mahalo!

You're officially signed up for our daily newsletter, the Morning Beat. A confirmation email will arrive shortly.

In the meantime, we have other newsletters that you might enjoy. Check the boxes for emails you'd like to receive.

  • What's this? Be the first to hear about important news stories with these occasional emails.
  • What's this? You'll hear from us whenever Civil Beat publishes a major project or investigation.
  • What's this? Get our latest environmental news on a monthly basis, including updates on Nathan Eagle's 'Hawaii 2040' series.
  • What's this? Get occasional emails highlighting essays, analysis and opinion from IDEAS, Civil Beat's commentary section.

Inbox overcrowded? Don't worry, you can unsubscribe
or update your preferences at any time.