Rep. Mina Morita's Blog

Tipping Point

Posted in Clean Energy,General,Legislation/Capitol,Sustainability by Mina Morita on May 14, 2010

There has been a whirlwind of energy announcements over the past two weeks beginning with Nissan announcing Hawaii as a launch site for the Nissan Leaf electric car.  The next announcement was CT&T, a Korean electric car manufacturer, siting Hawaii as an assembly site creating as much as 400 jobs.

On Wednesday, I drove a fuel cell/hydrogen vehicle as the GM-The Gas Company partnership was announced.  Visionary, Dr. Patrick Takahashi, Emeritus Director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, and one of the early drafters of hydrogen research and development legislation in Congress for U.S. Senator Spark Matsunaga covers our shared experience in his May 13 blog.

Yesterday, I participated in the press conference where Hawaii Energy (for electricity customers serviced by HECO and its subsidiaries) and Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (Kauai residents) announced their cash for clunker refrigerator rebate program.  The program will begin on May 24 and last as long as the ARRA grant monies hold out for qualifying refrigerators and proper disposal of the old refrigerator.  The second part of the press conference was an announcement from the Energy Division of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism of its electric car and recharging system rebate as well as its request for proposals for a systems management approach for the recharging of electric vehicles.

In August 2002 I gave one of my first major speeches at a   Hydrogen Partnering Meeting on the Big Island.  The following month I was quoted in Hawaii Business that I would hope for the day when people would say “hydrogen” and “Hawaii” in the same breath.   That certainly happened this week.  Although I have become a little bit more pragmatic in my approach to a hydrogen economy, I still strongly believe the marriage of renewables and hydrogen can be a pathway to peace.  But more importantly, in the short-term, Hawaii is pushing the envelope in integrating its electricity and transportation sectors in its clean energy policy and incorporating energy efficiency.  That’s a huge tipping point.

Hydrogen Partnering Meeting
Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel
Hawaii State Representative Hermina Morita
Chair, House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection
Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The renewable energy, hydrogen and fuel cell technology expertise in this room is overwhelming. I am honored to be here and included; however, I couldn’t help but notice that I am the only politician on the participant list. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I do not presume to have the academic, technological or business expertise to contribute anything significant and I have spent the past week trying to figure out how I can best participate. I have come to the conclusion that I am here for a somewhat obscure purpose — so obscure that the only way they could fit me in was to make me the dinner speaker. However, with the audience mellowed by a few cocktails and a glass of wine at dinner any politician can sound pretty good — perhaps even purposeful and palatable.  But, before everyone gets too mellowed out I hope you are ready to hear about my personal quest to have the words, “hydrogen” and “Hawaii” said in the same breath when anyone speaks of a hydrogen-based economy. When this happens, I know I will have been successful as a politician and in carrying out my obscure purpose. And, I, along with you as partners, will have shaped a preferred future for Hawaii that the rest of the world will model to gain economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and social justice and equity.

My presentation is based on a talk given by Hawaii futurist Dr. James Dator before the House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection, which I Chair. His message played a pivotal role in my personal development as a Legislator.  Here is a story worth retelling. More than a generation has passed since the Hawaii 2000 Project.

In the late 1960’s, an era typified by the anti-war message of love and peace, mellowed perhaps by an herbal substance, Hawaii’s future looked extremely bright. The Future Studies program at the University of Hawaii, initiated by the Hawaii State Legislature, forged critical links between futurists and decision-makers and decision-makers and Hawaii’s citizens. Funded by the Legislature, Hawaii took an impressive step in “Anticipatory Democracy” – as communities statewide planned their preferred future for the year 2000.  Through this unique partnership progressive legislation flourished – zero population growth, family planning services, the preservation and protection of our natural and cultural resources, universal health care, becoming the first state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and establishing the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute are just some of the few bold steps of the Legislature.

During that same period Hawaii’s own — the late United States Senator Spark Matsunaga — promoted not only renewable energy but laid the ground work for the discussion of hydrogen in Congress. We are so fortunate to have this vision and legacy carried on our present United States Senators Dan Akaka and Dan Inouye.  Hawaii’s Legislators took risks. They thought bold and acted on it. Their primary purpose was maintaining the quality of life for all Hawaii residents.  Then, Hawaii lost its vision and lost its nerve.

First the oil shocks of the 1970’s. In the 1980’s, Hawaii was enticed by Japanese money. This time Legislators boldly reached out – with their hands. They offered little or no resistance to new development and seemingly never met a developer they didn’t like. Despite high interest rates, construction and real estate sales boomed. These activities provided everyone with a false sense of security but created a greater divide between the haves and the have-nots. By the mid-1990’s we, reluctantly, realized that along with boom periods come the bust. The Legislature struggles to just balance the budget.

The year 2000 has come and gone. The great efforts of Hawaii’s citizens in the Hawaii 2000 Project have fallen to the wayside. Instead of living up to the project’s slogan, “Somebody better care about tomorrow”, many decision-makers have been guided by the mantra, “Somebody check out the next poll”. And, I do not believe this is trend is unique to Hawaii. Unfortunately, with this breakdown in the critical links between futurists, decision-makers and Hawaii’s citizens, we have seen a dismantling in not only anticipatory democracy but also participatory democracy. Once we were known for our innovation and daring as a community. We have stopped dreaming and live for the here and now with little regard for future consequences. And, this too is not unique to Hawaii.

So, in these difficult times what should be the role of the Legislature be? What is our obscure purpose?

Dr. Dator puts it succinctly. He says, “Legislators need to become futurists — the applied futurists for our society. As such, they should enable citizens to identify significant trends and emerging issues, to understand the long-range consequences of their actions so as to anticipate alternative futures and to envision preferred futures. And then they must enact legislation.”  He continues, “Politicians should provide strong leadership and vision, not by pretending they know all the answers, but by becoming the social experimenters, by trying out different responses to various problems and opportunities on the basis of the community’s preferred vision. They should be open to change on the basis of experience, new problems and new opportunities.”

In the midst of the Great Depression — and these words should guide leaders today — Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it, if it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But, above all try something.”

I believe the temper of the community I represent, which, hopefully, will be validated by the results of the General Election in November, is a community that desires a clean, renewable energy source based on the principles of sustainable practices. I believe that this temper is not unique to the community I represent but is one shared statewide, nationally and internationally.

However, I am an advocate for a hydrogen economy for a selfish reason. I am Hawaiian and I cannot bear the thought that the Hawaii I knew as a child will be different for my grandchildren. I view the transformation to a hydrogen economy as the only means to protect the natural and cultural heritage of my identity. I am convinced that this is the only answer to sustain Hawaii’s fragile environment and to stabilize and diversify its economy.

Much like Mayor Harry Kim and Senator Dan Inouye in their visions for the Gateway Project, I want the experiences and lessons that Hawaii will learn in this transformation to be a model for the rest of the world. I believe we must move forward because it is the only moral and ethical choice we have. The very existence and survival of many island nations and their people are dependent on this progressive transformation. Island nations, including Hawaii, are the canaries in the mine, gauging the adverse consequences of climate change.

A hydrogen economy that utilizes renewable energy resources captures the basic principles of sustainability in promoting environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and social justice and equity. In Hawaiian we say that this is “pono”, that it, this is right and just.

Hawaii is at a critical juncture. We are all on an outrigger canoe trying to catch a wave. We are dependent not only on an expert steersman to guide the canoe but each paddler doing his or her part to stay just ahead of the breaking wave. With all our combined efforts we can catch that wave to for an exhilarating ride. With the help of my legislative colleagues like Senator Lorraine Inouye, I hope to cultivate the political will to catch that wave on the first attempt. But if not, I and many of my colleagues will definitely try again and again, to do our part to help rebuild a bold Legislature of vision and nerve.

However, in this room, our collective passion for a hydrogen economy is one of the few ways to reestablish the critical partnership between the future, politics and humanity. In this room, our collective passion for a hydrogen economy can rekindle the hopes and desires of all citizens of the world in shaping the preferred future.

But most importantly, in this room, we are not just politicians, scientists, technicians, civil servants or business executives but we are partners in an extraordinary humanitarian effort to build a better future. In this room, we are the somebodies that care about tomorrow.


One Response to 'Tipping Point'

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  1. Kauaibrad said,

    A couple of points. In the recent announcements about GM & The Gas Company it was mentioned that The Gas Company aims to price the hydrogen at an equal price to what gasoline would cost to cover the same distance. If that is the case, that will not be a good deal for the consumer going forward. Hydrogen production should be a lot less expensive than sourcing petroleum/gasoline from afar. That is a huge margin that a hydrogen supplier might be envisioning if they only want to match the gasoline price. Also, they talked about using either natural gas (or propane gas) to power the electrolysis to get the hydrogen. That is using shipped-in fossil fuel to get the hydrogen. That won’t be sustainable in the long-run and is not a real answer for what will be needed in the future.

    Last point. Right now hybrid cars are about twice as fuel efficient as standard internal combustion engines. It also so happens that electric cars are about half the price in electricity operating cost compared to standard internal combustion engine cars to cover the same distance. So, as it stands right now, hybrid cars and electric cars cost about the same to operate over comparable distance. The difference is that there is a lot more flexibility in using the hybrid car. Something dramatic is going to have to change for the electric cars to overcome the fact that they are not any more competitive in operating cost than hybrid cars that are already on the market. BTW, if hydrogen were priced with a reasonable margin, the operating cost per mile of hydrogen cars would be a lot less than both hybrid and electric cars.

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