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Friday, November 12, 2021
‘Community Based Energy’: $27.5M in GEMS for Hawaii Democratic Party Officials, Maui Councilmember
By Andrew Walden @ 8:20 PM :: 2673 Views :: Democratic Party, Maui County, Energy, Ethics

by Andrew Walden

Hawaii's Green Energy Market Securitization (GEMS) Program--funded by the "green infrastructure fee" on Hawaii electric bills--is delivering another big fat payoff to Hawaii political insiders--including a former Hawaii Democratic Party Chair and a current Maui Councilmember.

Under the so-called “Community-Based Renewable Energy” (CBRE) program, the Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority (HGIA) October 27, 2021, voted to set-aside $7.5M for the so-called Hoʻāhu Energy Cooperative.  HGIA also approved a resolution for Hoʻāhu to ‘borrow’ $20M from the US Department of Agriculture.

This has not previously been reported in Hawaii.

To fund this insider giveaway, the HGIA board voted to take away $2.5M set aside for low and middle income households and $5M set aside for multi-family projects.

Ho’ahu bills itself as “composed of community members who have been working towards energy independence on Molokai.”

Not.

Ho’ahu’s Board of Directors includes Walter Ritte’s sister Lori Buchannan, Makena Fernandez, husband of Maui County Council Vice-Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, and former HD13 Democratic Party Chair and PRP operative Chair Todd Yamashita who also publishes the Molokai Dispatch.

Akamai readers will remember that Ritte has involved himself in previous failed schemes to build windfarms on Molokai--usually with the aim of seizing control of Molokai Ranch.  The result has mostly been mass unemployment on the island and political unpopularity for Ritte as evidenced by his poor performance in Molokai precincts in the 2020 Democratic Primary for HD13.

Ho’ahu was incorporated January 29, 2021, according to DCCA BREG.  In spite of its name, Ho’ahu is a corporation with a self-selected board of directors, not a cooperative.

Even before registering itself as a corporation, Ho’ahu selectedMana Pacific’ as its contractor and California-based Shake Energy to employ the Delphi Technique to ‘handle’ (conveniently remote-hosted) community meetings for the so-called community leaders.

Mana Pacific Directors include some rich people from suburban Detroit and one local name--Tim Vandeveer, former Chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party. 

With that kind of backing, it is not surprising that Ho’ahu has been allowed warm fluffy column-inches on Civil Beat and the Star-Advertiser.

One of the insiders’ first acts was to eliminate any possible competition for their so-called community-based solar-battery project on Molokai.

Even prior to becoming legally existent, “Ho’ahu” wrote letters to the State public Utilities Commission on December 9, 2020 and January 6, 2021, and again April 14, 2021, seeking to eliminate competition from HECO’s ‘self-build team’ on Molokai. 

It worked. 

On July 14, 2021 HECO informed the State PUC:

The Company is willing to forego submitting a self-build proposal for the CBRE RFP on Moloka‘i if the Commission determines that is in the best interest of the Moloka`i community.

Another issue that was raised at the Status Conference was whether Hawaiian Electric could or should work directly with the Moloka‘i Clean Energy Hui and the Ho‘ahu Energy Cooperative Moloka‘i on determining project needs and community engagement.

The Company’s RFP rules expressly prohibit the Company from working directly with one developer to set procurement requirements or to determine island needs as this could be seen as giving such a developer a potentially unfair competitive advantage over other bidders with unequal access to information.

These concerns could be alleviated however, given that Hawaiian Electric has expressed its willingness to forego submitting a self-build proposal in response to the Moloka‘i CBRE RFP, and if no other parties are interested in participating in the CBRE RFP.

Then in October, Ililani Media reports, the PUC, “…put on hold the MECO request to release a Molokai request for proposals for new energy projects to enable the Ho'ahu Energy Cooperative Molokai and the Molokai Clean Energy Hui (MCEH) to engage in a community-wide effort to shape their island’s future.”

$27.5M cash and no competition: Political connections pay off.

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