Hawaii Energy Conference Celebrating 10 years Announces Keynote and Program Topics

Hawaii Energy Conference Celebrating 10 years Announces Keynote and Program Topics

After three years of virtual streaming, the Hawaii Energy Conference (HEC) is returning to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center May 24-25, 2023 for an in-person gathering. Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the conference is presented by the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and will feature a mix of keynote speakers, panel discussions, case studies and an exhibit venue.

Daphne Frias, Youth Activist, will keynote the 10th annual Hawaii Energy Conference

The conference will open with a keynote by Daphne Frias, a 25-year old youth activist who is a loud champion for the disabled community. Born and raised in West Harlem, NYC, Daphne has seen how minority communities are disproportionally affected by climate change — she has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to ambulate. Daphne will speak to the innate resiliency of disabled people and how that relates to adaptation and sustainability.

Energy is a complex topic, and it is easy to get lost in the details.  We rarely get to talk about the bigger purpose of our work,” added Doug McLeod, of DKK Energy Services and a member of the HEC Program Committee. “In the first ten years of this conference, the discussion evolved from whether our planet was experiencing climate change to whether our energy policies will be enough to avoid excessive climate change. Our keynote speaker this year is part of the next generation of climate leaders. Her story and her message are inspirational.” 

In 2019, Daphne was appointed as one of the North American Regional Focal Points for Sustainable Development Goal 16 at the U.N. Major Group for Children and Youth. In this position, she works to highlight and represent the voice of her fellow youth and the work they are doing to become pivotal peacemakers. As a freelance organizer, she spends her time speaking at various colleges, summits, and panels. In addition, she consults with non-profits, crafting engaging campaigns highlighting the voices of Gen-Z.

Daphne is a really great spokesperson for personal resilience, for accessibility and she does an amazing amount of community organizing,” said Jonathan Koehn, a founding member of the HEC Program Committee and Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer, City of Boulder. “I think it’s a good opportunity for the conference to kick-off with a discussion oriented to those who are most vulnerable in our communities.”

Daphne’s presentation will segue into a segment of panels that focus on community engagement and empowerment as it relates to energy. The discussion will look at new ways of engagement including the new participatory budgeting model and Molokai’s recently approved community-based renewable energy project.

A second focus area of the 2023 program will look at Hawaii’s clean-energy goals in which panels will question:

  1. It takes how long for a building permit? A discussion on the challenges and solutions of permitting for distributed energy resources like rooftop PV and lithium-ion batteries.
  2. What does the data say? This panel will discuss the different “100%” goals involving Renewable Energy, Carbon, and sustainability, whether Hawaii is on track to meet them and whether the focus needs to change?
  3. Why are large scale renewables across the US coming online slower than expected, and often at higher cost? Wren Westcoatt of Longroad Energy will lead this developers’ roundtable.

A third focus area of the 2023 Hawaii Energy Conference will look at new tools and technologies in the renewable energy domain, including geothermal, aviation fuel, energy storage, and use of hydrogen.

The HEC consistently attracts energy leaders from Hawaii, the Continental U.S., Asia-Pacific, and more exchange ideas on how to better serve our communities in today’s rapidly changing power generation and delivery environment. It is supported by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development and 2023 Sponsors: Johnson Controls, Ulupono Initiative, Hawaiian Electric, AES, Kamehameha Schools, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, Sunrun and STEM Energy.

More program details can be viewed at www.hawaiienergyconference.com. Registration is now open with early bird rates available until March 31.

2022 Hawaii Energy Conference explored all things Electrification

2022 Hawaii Energy Conference explored all things Electrification

The 9th Annual Hawaii Energy Conference (HEC) returned to the virtual stage with 368 participants joining the conversation on “Electrification: Where are we now? What does the future hold?”.

Presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and supported by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development, the online two-day conference May 10 and 12 brought together experts on energy policy, strategies, leadership and innovation to revisit all the aspects of electrifying the grid and transportation—current successes, potential pitfalls, and future opportunities.

The Hawaii Energy Conference provides a forum for the exchange of ideas on how to better serve the community in today’s rapidly changing power generation and delivery environment. In his opening welcome. Mayor Victorino stated, “Hawaii is a leading state for solar energy in the nation with a goal of 100-percent renewable energy by 2045. Our famous trade winds can help generate electricity and we have the potential to capture wave energy and geothermal for our energy needs. We have sustainable energy, and an abundance of sunshine and resources to help us. We look to the engineers, scientists, and other experts at this conference to help the people of Hawaii make a transition to renewable energy sooner than later.”

The virtual conference featured keynotes, panel discussions, interviews, networking, and exhibits. Panel’s discussed Electrification in relationship to — the Community; Transportation; Battery Storage; Carbon, Climate Resiliency, Energy Efficiency and more.

Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO said, “Electrification will completely impact how we approach the issues of energy, production, distribution, energy equity, resilience, and more. Our program focused on the challenges and opportunities before us all in building a resilient, sustainable, affordable, secure, and equitable energy future.”

The opening keynote was presented by Abigail Anthony of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission. She spoke on the topic “When Tradewinds Blow: Maintaining Course during the Energy Transition.” In an interview format Commissioner Anthony said, “Rhode Island, the smallest state in the country, roughly the size of Oahu, asserts that right rates and benefits are needed in order to encourage residents to convert to electrification. Electrification is no longer just for early adopters; it is ready to go to scale. We are focused on advancing equity, by making sure our customers are paying only for things that they can benefit from as well as afford.”

Electrification and Energy Efficiency

Caroline Carl, newly appointed Executive Director of Hawaii Energy, gave a Spotlight Talk on Energy Efficiency. She said “The role of energy efficiency is important in the movement to electrify almost everything. Hawaii Energy, the rate-payer-funded energy efficiency program serving the islands of Maui, Oahu, Hawaii, Molokai, and Lanai, operates directly under contract with the public utilities commission. Our mission is to help local families and businesses make smart energy choices.”

This model began when Hawaii’s first clean-energy initiative was formalized in 2008 when the state committed to achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030. Forty percent was to be from renewable generation and 30 percent from energy efficiency and conservation. This led to the establishment of the state’s energy efficiency portfolio standards, which set a reduction goal of 4300 gigawatt hours by 2030. The Hawaii Energy programs were created to help realize these goals.

“Today the Hawaii Energy programs have saved the people of Hawaii more than a billion dollars off their energy bills by helping them make smart energy choices,” Carl pointed out. “Nevertheless, the programs of the past decade are not what the programs of the next ten years will look like. We are facing a time of significant change across the entire energy landscape. Our programs will need to respond to the impact associated with the number of external drivers. As we face power plant retirements on Oahu and Maui, increasing concerns around capacity reserve shortfall and the Covid pandemic economic impacts remain significant even though looking ahead the outlook appears positive as the global economy continues to recover. Despite all these competing forces, at Hawaii Energy we believe the efficiency programs are key to helping customers and transforming the market for clean energy.”

Day 2 – Keynote Amy Jaffe

Day 2 kicked off with a keynote presentation by Amy Myers Jaffe. The Research Professor and Managing Director of the Climate Policy Lab at the Fletcher School of Tufts University is a leading expert on global energy policy and sustainability.

Considering the question ‘Why Electrification.’, Jaffe said, “We are about to face a major shortfall of diesel fuel throughout the global commodity market. With Hawaii being vulnerable to the volatility in the price of diesel fuel, it does seem that energy security is going hand in hand with decarbonization in thinking about the impetus for electrification.”

“And everything is digital today, everything is connected to your smartphone, it’s all automated, based on data and therefore everything runs on electricity.” she added.

A Conversation with Shelee Kimura

Later on Day 2 Jacqui Hoover, Executive Director at Hawaii Island Economic Development Board and HEC Program co-chair, interviewed Shelee Kimura, the newly appointed President and Chief Executive Officer for Hawaiian Electric. Kimura currently leads Hawaiian Electric’s strategy to provide safe, affordable, reliable clean energy for customers on the islands of Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Lanai and Molokai. With her leadership, Hawaiian Electric plans to cut carbon emissions from power generation 70-percent by 2030. Kimura’s vision is to generate electricity with zero or very little carbon emission by 2045, if not sooner.

 “Meeting our 2030 commitment will be a stretch, but it is achievable if public policies and community priorities are aligned to ensure that this energy transformation leaves no one behind,” Kimura explained. “Equity is an important issue at Hawaiian Electric. We have been focused on it for many years and we look at it in many ways. From a financial perspective, we want to make sure everyone can afford our transition to renewable energy. Also important is equity from a geographic perspective. We need to integrate many megawatts of renewable energy and we know that takes a lot of land. These conversations about where the projects will be sited, how they will be sited, the relationship with community—these are all really important topics that we have been trying to nurture over the last several years. We know that as we put more and more renewables on the electric power system there will be challenges. It is an issue that the entire energy eco-system cannot ignore.”

In addition to watching the presentations live, participants were able to connect and network with each other and sponsors through the virtual platform. Participating sponsors and exhibitors were: Hawaii Natural Energy Institute; Ulupono Initiative; Hawaiian Electric; Kauai Island Utility Cooperative; Burns & McDonnell; Elemental Excelerator; G70; Hawaii Energy; Hawaii Gas; Innergex; Progression Hawaii Offshore Wind; Shifted Energy; and AES.

“There is no doubt that the push to electrification will affect our way of life,” concluded Frank De Rego, Jr., Director of Business Development Projects, MEDB, and Co-Chair of the Conference Program Committee. “Electrification demands attention, among other things, to upgrading the grid, working out a reasonable and responsive regulatory framework, and responding to community needs and concerns, including equity.”

The Hawaii Energy Conference is planning a return to an in-person event on Maui in 2023.

Abigail Anthony, Commissioner,
Rhode Island PUC gave the keynote on Day 1 of the Hawaii Energy Conference
Caroline Carl, Executive Director of Hawaii Energy spoke about Energy Efficiency
Amy Jaffe of the Climate Policy Lab at the Fletcher School of Tufts University gave the keynote on Day 2 of the Hawaii Energy Conference
Shelee Kimura, President & CEO, Hawaiian Electric Company addressed the Hawaii Energy Conference on Day 2
Johnathan Koehn (bottom left), Chief Sustainability & Resilience Officer, City of Boulder; Interim Director, Climate Initiatives Department, City of Boulder moderated a panel on “The Role of Electrification in a Climate Resilient Future” Panelists from top left were Rachel Golden, Carbon-Free Buildings, RMI; Karl R. Rábago, Rábago Energy LLC; and Craig Lewis, Clean Coalition
Hawaii Energy Conference returns virtually to explore Electrification 

Hawaii Energy Conference returns virtually to explore Electrification 

Amy Myers Jaffe, a research professor at Tuft’s University, boldly declared in the Wall Street Journal, “The electrification of (almost) everything is coming, and we’re just not ready for it.” The 9th Annual Hawaii Energy Conference will explore the theme “Electrification: Where are we now? What does the future hold?” as it revisits the challenges of electrifying the grid and transportation – current successes, potential pitfalls, and future opportunities. 

Presented by Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and supported by the County of Maui Office of Economic Development, the conference will again be virtual and will feature keynotes, panel discussions, interviews and exhibits over two days – May 10 and 12. 

The concept of electrification usually refers to a loosely defined slogan – the “electrification of everything,” explained Frank De Rego, Jr., Director of Business Development Projects, MEDB, and Co-Chair of the Program Committee. “In essence, electrification means all the energy we rely on to power our homes, offices, industries, and transportation will eventually come from electricity. For a growing number of states in the U.S. that energy must be produced by 100% clean, renewable sources by a date certain – for Hawaii it’s the year 2045.” 

Electrification has created the potential for new technologies associated with the production and use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel source and has necessitated innovations in battery storage for utilities and transportation. Electrification also demands attention, among other things, to upgrading the grid, working out a reasonable and responsive regulatory framework, and responding to community needs and concerns.  

“There is no doubt that the push to Electrification will affect our way of life,” stated De Rego. “A study by Princeton University predicts that by 2050 electrifying transport and buildings could double the amount of electricity consumption in the U.S.” 

He continued, “Our communities will need to develop disciplined, proportional responses to the challenges Electrification poses. Strategies for energy efficiency and the equitable distribution of electrification’s benefits must balance building capacity for increased consumption.” 

  The two-day discussion will review the issues surrounding electrification with the following thoughts in mind: How do we define “electrification” and is it the same everywhere? How are the community’s needs and concerns being addressed as the infrastructure for electrification become more prevalent? How is resilience being brought into the equation of electrification? What has been and will be the impact of COVID-19 on customers of the utility? What should the climate goals of electrification be – net zero carbon, net negative carbon, or zero emissions?  What is the role of hydrogen in electrification?  …and more 

With in-person gatherings still impacted by COVID-19, the virtual presentation allows the energy industry leaders from Hawaii, the Continental U.S., Japan and Europe to continue to exchange ideas on how to better serve the community in today’s rapidly changing power generation and delivery environment.  

The conference will also include a virtual exhibit hall for companies to showcase their products and services and connect with attendees.  The virtual venue will be open up to a week in advance, encouraging attendees to network to connect and build important relationships prior to, during and after the conference.  

Learn more about registration for the 2022 Hawaii Energy Conference.

Frank De Rego, Jr, (pictured right) Director of Business Development Projects, MEDB and Co-Chair of Conference Program Committee hosts the 2021 Hawaii Energy Conference with former Chair, Doug McLeod

Highlights of the 2020 Hawaii Energy Conference

Highlights of the 2020 Hawaii Energy Conference

The 2020 Hawaii Energy Conference (HEC), postponed in March due to Covid-19, aired in July as a live-stream online event. One of the nation’s leading energy conferences, HEC brought together professionals on energy policy, strategies, leadership, and innovation to focus on how the energy sector should respond to the challenges imposed by the pandemic.

Presented by the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and supported by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, the virtual conference explored the theme Imagining a Just Recovery: What would that look like for the Grid? The free event included industry experts discussing how the energy sector can and should respond to our current challenges by creating a ‘just’ electrical grid.

“With HEC going virtual, it attracted a bigger and broader audience than its traditional base of energy industry leaders from Hawaii, Continental U.S., Japan, and Europe,” said Leslie Wilkins, MEDB President and CEO. “The conference welcomed over 600 participants from 24 different states and Puerto Rico. An exciting feature this year was our international participation. Six countries joined us, spanning time zones from Europe to Asia.”

The program included four panels plus brief video presentations with information related to the theme. Hawaii Clean Power Alliance presented The Macroeconomics of Change and Ulupono Initiative’s video presentation was on Why We Should All be Talking More About Performance Based Regulation.

“The HEC provides a vital service to our state by convening policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss our energy future,” said Murray Clay, President of Ulupono Initiative. “As we all work together to help Hawaii stabilize and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is especially important to embrace innovative technology, policies and regulation within the renewable energy sector, which will help protect our natural environment, shielding our island state from volatile world fossil fuel markets, strengthening its overall resilience, and aid in its economic recovery.”

Given the importance of these issues across the globe, HEC recognized that Covid-19 has laid bare the stark reality of pre-existing inequalities in society. The elderly, the poor, and minorities have suffered tremendously in the pandemic’s wake. An equitable or ‘just’ recovery is the only path forward to heal communities. Participants discussed what strategies policymakers and regulators will use to achieve results that benefit broad sectors of society. Also, how will utilities and companies in the energy sector contribute?


Scott Seu
President & CEO, Hawaiian Electric Company

In his keynote, Why Energy Equity Matters, Especially to the Electric Company, Scott Seu, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company explained, “Fairly serving all customers is essential to how we run our programs and offer just and reasonable rates. As we transform our energy system to one that is decarbonized, decentralized, and more resilient, the elements of equity, opportunity, and participation are as important as any field source or technology for our successful transition to renewable energy. Working our way through this crisis, I challenge our Hawaiian Electric team to lead with empathy and to consider the level of anxiety and even hopelessness that a lot of people are experiencing.”

Seu continued, “It is not enough anymore to simply say we will all benefit from cleaner, cheaper renewables someday. The duration and the depth of our current economic downturn is unlike anything we have ever experienced; so someday is not soon enough. The leaders of Hawaiian Electric are looking at what bold strategies we can use to benefit the most people, the most quickly.”

Seu added, “The renewable energy transformation must include everyone. That is what equity looks like to me. Then, no one gets left behind. Working our way through this crisis, I have challenged myself and our team to think outside our traditional role of keeping the lights on; to be bold, creative, and come up with ideas, such as a community solar program, that will strengthen our economy; to be the better Hawaii we can all imagine.”

PANEL 1: COVID and the Commissions

This panel provided a comprehensive overview of how four state Commissions have been tackling the response to Covid in their jurisdiction.

Public Utilities CommissionersMODERATOR: Jennifer Potter,  Commissioner, Hawaii Public Utility Utilities Commission
Clifford Rechtschaffen, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission
Mark Kolesar, Former Chair, Alberta Public Utilities Commission
Mark Thompson, Commissioner, Oregon Public Utility Commission

Commissioner Potter stated, “The Commissioners represent states that have displayed innovation in their approach to keeping the utility services intact, addressing affordability during the pandemic, and strategies to evolve the regulatory stakeholder processes to accommodate remote participation. The HEC has regrouped at a critical time for Hawaii and our country. The incredible macroeconomic stress and individual financial burdens across our nation mean that there is no better time to have dialogue on affordability and equity. Building a recovery plan that includes all socioeconomic groups is imperative.”

Commissioner Rechtschaffen commented, “California signed a Memorandum of Understanding with five other states and Hawaii to fight climate change. We look forward to proceeding with these joint efforts. We have all been dealing with serious challenges since millions of people are out of work. In California, our immediate focus when the virus hit was to make emergency measures for residential and small business customers, including a moratorium on disconnections and mandatory payment plan options. We have also worked to expand our bill-payer subsidy program for our low-income customers. We have mandated that utilities engage in extended outreach and have prevented them from removing people from any programs.”

Rechtschaffen continued, “Covid-19 is a call to address equity in all our programs as we go forward. It has also affected the utilities in incredibly significant ways. The under-collections will be in the millions. How can we recover the lost costs? Also, our Commission has had to advance in online technology, having to use virtual for all meetings. Public participation and workshops are virtual. We have had webinars with 400-500 people participating, and are engaged with transparency in the community.”

Former Chair Kolesar observed, “Alberta is a complex market and regulatory regime. Since 1996, Alberta has operated Canada’s only truly competitive wholesale electricity market through which all electricity, whether generated in Alberta or imported into the province, is bought, and sold. We as a province have low oil prices, which has an economic impact. So, what we have is a decline in demand. Wind and solar came on when the pandemic hit.”

Kolesar continued, “The utilities are supporting their own customers by providing opportunities for them to change the way they pay their bills. It became pretty clear that the utilities do have an incentive to keep as many customers on and support them. On the large industrial and commercial side there was a lot of concern about the lack of short-term rate relief. I think that most of that centered around demand changes. If a business has to stay open with no revenue—that is a big concern, not yet resolved.”

Kolesar added, “Long term, there will be a significant revenue short-fall for a lot of the utilities here. I do not know how big that currently is, but it is a major and complex issue. There are a lot of questions around reduction in demand, revenues and costs incurred. For example, how do the utilities recover, and how much is there to recover?”

Commissioner Thompson expressed, “In the midst of other important events, the scope of our efforts is also to remodel social equity issues. We changed late fees to make the procedure easier, more inclusive, and efficient for customers to follow than in the past. We have created an internal group to reach out to stakeholders and social justice organizations with the goal to work holistically on these issues as we try to be responsive to their needs. We have had public meetings and workshops with different groups, and I can say that the scope of the work is that everything is on the table with a list of ideas to bring relief to all the stakeholders.”

Thompson concluded, “As a new Commissioner I have felt that this is the most meaningful work because the issues are key and the need is great. The way forward is not yet clear, but it is a chance to do good for all parties involved in a situation that is serious.”

PANEL 2: Solar Jobs—Being Part of the Solution?

This panel discussed how jobs in solar and other parts of the clean energy sector can contribute to a ‘Just Recovery’.

Moderated by Will Giese, Executive Director, Hawaii Solar Energy Association
Scott Glenn, Chief Energy Officer, Hawaii State Energy Office
Dawn Lippert, CEO, Elemental Excelerator
Odette Mucha, Regulatory Director, Southeast, Vote Solar

Giese commented, “The Hawaii Solar Energy Association represents about 90 percent of the local solar contracting development in Hawaii. Across the world, Covid has shocked the system. In Hawaii, where our economy is primarily based on tourism, it is just not happening now, and we are seeing the impacts of it. I have been thinking about what Hawaii will look like in the next year or two. If we build an economy based on clean-energy jobs, what are the steps that we have to take to get there? Additionally, what steps do we need to take to get to the economy that we would all like to see? A good equity question is how do you get involved in a new industry and get the jobs into the community?”

Lippert observed, “I think large structural change is a really important piece of it. To recognize, as we talk about equity in particular, that equity does not lift everyone in the same way. Some people will have to give something up and experience loss as the result of having more equitable policies. Currently we have agreed on new energy and climate change goals, and we agreed that it is technically feasible to get there. I think now there is a general agreement about equity, but where the tradeoffs actually happen and what they look like is a much more difficult conversation. Some of the work we are trying to do is bring in those voices to think about how we can actually make those tradeoffs.”

Lippert continued, “The innovation ecosystem is really strong. The first quarter of 2020 there has been a lot of movement from climate innovators. There are a lot of question marks as Covid-19 came into play, as to what would happen to the innovation ecosystem. However, we see in the last couple of weeks, more is coming back into play with a lot of interest from funders in the climate and energy technology. The interest from youth and new talent coming from other fields into climate- and energy-related jobs is amazing. This year alone, for an internship that we opened, there were 350 applicants, most of which are from Hawaii, with much interest to work in solving climate problems. So, innovation is really strong. We need internships, fellowships, and different programs in strong industries such as energy, water, and regenerative agriculture to move forward. These are all needed because of the huge amount of interest.”

Lippert added, “In the future we have to get much more flexible on how we think of Hawaii’s place in the global economy. We are thinking about it from the innovation perspective. We can have Hawaii residents work here. We have an enormous opportunity right now to think differently about how to bring in talent, entrepreneurs, innovators, board members, and technical folks, to Hawaii from the technology and other industries. We are thinking about the Kama’aina Come HomeTM  program in a completely different way. On the flip side, it is also much easier to access capital and talent from Hawaii then it ever has been before. We are actively doing business with Asia and all over the mainland where most of the funding for Elemental Excelerator comes from. It has been a benefit to be virtual because everyone is able to connect to Hawaii.”

Lippert concluded, “We see a lot of potential to work with universities and research institutions. We are seeing that beyond the Hawaii energy sector, we have a huge amount of agriculture innovation. That is where we see the university and academic institutions be the most active. There is certainly always more that we can do, specifically around having university and academic innovation spin out into the community. This is a good time to think about how to use that opportunity for our state.”

Glenn shared, “One of the things to start thinking about in the next one or two years is structural change. It often takes a long time to really manifest. You might make a change in one or two years before people realize what has happened. The way the Energy Office has been thinking about this and engaging with others is, what can we do in the next one to two years that can get people back to work? What are the kinds of more intermediary things and what are the longer-term things that we need to start doing now to get the payoff in five years or ten years? Focusing on this, the Department of Economic Development and Tourism is pending a state budget to rollout an internship program to bring on folks that are high school and college graduates, or displaced workers from the tourism industry, who are looking to have an earn-while-you-learn experience. Clean energy is first and foremost, but we are also looking at food production and agriculture and how we can get folks into these industries. What comes after this program when the Cares Act money is finished? What can we work on now so that we can provide real job pathways for people who were in tourism? We are hoping for internships with a clean-energy company to get some experience─ and then once the Cares Act program wraps up, have an opportunity to use that experience in a new path.”

Glen added, “We are looking at the labor suppliers, the colleges, the unions,  and the different programs they are producing with needed skills for the projects that are coming over the next four to five years. Can we help with skill and labor supply matching? There is a lot in the works that will be coming up in the next few months. We need to figure out how to deal with Covid-19 and position ourselves to do something once we are able to move forward.”

Glen concluded, “Reflecting on what was already said by other conference guests about a new clean-energy efficiency economy, there is universal agreement so far that equity matters for decision and policy- makers. Common thought is that we do need to achieve our 100-percent Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard goals. It is how we get there and how we ensure that the benefits and the impacts of achieving these goals are equally distributed so that everyone has the opportunity to take advantage of it. No community should be overburdened with the impacts of this transition. We need to think, as decision- and policy-makers, what are those impacts and who benefits, and who is affected? I think we are now seeing that people are actively exploring these questions. We have groups that are having these conversations about how do we pursue a transformation of Hawaii with these big lofty goals, but in a way that is more equitable and grounded in a real community grass-roots level of support. These kinds of conversations are really important. Having business and community leaders at this conference is a way to have this conversation together.”

Mucha expressed, “Vote Solar has been engaged at the state level on the Covid-19 crisis and how to deal with the energy efficiency solutions now needed. In the long term, how do we get people back to work? I would challenge everyone to think about where we want to go in the future and how we invest today to get there. Another thought is, how do we bring equity to the forefront of the conversation to get people back to work and make sure the people get it who need it the most? How do we reduce the energy burden, if we think about equity, to make the future brighter for everyone?”

Mucha concluded, “In so many ways, Hawaii is leading when it comes to solar and when it comes to grid modernization. Plus, a long term energy project can actually develop new jobs and opportunities that could bring more people to Hawaii.”

Giese reflected, “It is an interesting and tough time for all of us, but it is encouraging to see people working to maintain and accelerate the goals that we have in a time when it is hard to think about what is coming tomorrow or next week. It is exciting to see how the state will deal with building a sustainable renewable economy.”

PANEL 3: Develop With Us, Not For Us

This panel welcomed both policy and pragmatic perspectives centered on how to design and develop with, and not just for, communities. Panelists discussed how societal harms exacerbated by ill-informed energy development can be remedied through co-creative clean-energy design.

Moderated by: Rachel James, Attorney, Hawaii Public Utilities Commission
Ali Andrews, Co-Founder and CEO of Shake Energy Collaborative
Alvaro Sanchez, Director, Environmental Equity, Greenlining Institute

James commented, “At Hawaii Public Utilities, we work with investors contributing to electrification, who want to find partners in communities to advance those goals. We connect them, and help the community group design the project, and work with the utility to make a business plan. We are trying to make a policy package that works for everyone, to be inclusive to address the inequities in our society.”

James continued, “We must articulate the specific actions that the institution and its layers are going to commit to do over the course of the future to be able to address the inequities that happen in the bureaucracy system, so we are focusing a lot of our time on providing guidance and recommendations. For example, what are the specific things that you need to do in your planning processes, evaluation, and analysis to advance equity processes? We need to work with equity at the core, it has to be the approach; it has to be front and center.”

Andrews expressed, “We are now required to think deeply about engaging in communities. As a new developer, I am learning so much coming into partnerships with communities in disadvantaged neighborhoods. I am working with communities to see what they need to better inform the utility in terms of what they want developers to do. We need to develop with communities and not just for them.”

Andrews continued, “Financial and emotional ownership over the project is key. We are doing research to try to understand how we are successful or not in creating that sense of emotional ownership. Looking at shortcomings of residential solar policies and the cost, we should look more towards community scale projects, sharing, and co-ownership and build a shared project that fits the community.”

Sanchez emphasized, “I not only want a more green and cleaner future, I also want a more just and equitable one. For us, community is the ecosystem that is responsible for making a better world possible. We need to hear from them, learn their perspectives, and recognize their priorities. We must listen to the community to get a better understanding of their needs before planning. The government agencies, the utility, the business groups, the businesses all play a different role in the way that projects take place in community. Everyone has something to contribute. For us, the community is the most impacted, and they have the most at stake in whether or not the projects are going to be successful.”

Sanchez continued, “A lot of the focus in my work is on this and I think right now we are seeing the issues more pronounced. Covid-19 demonstrated all the inequities that are built into our system, showing that there is something at the root that creates disproportionate impacts for some populations versus others. Greenlining Institute has been focusing on the impacts. Race has always been an influence in who is successful and who is not in this country. That is really something that we need to understand when we are coming into communities with a fresh new perspective and a new project. That entire legacy cannot be undone immediately, but I think it is important for us to understand that people are struggling every day. We need to be open to what we propose.”

Sanchez concluded, “We need to do equity, but we have to understand where those communities are coming from in order for our message to be heard. Equity for me is not just about doing something better for me moving forward, it is about acknowledging the past, understanding the current conditions, and intentionally addressing those impacts. That to me is the equity that we have to implement in the work that we do in clean energy projects.”

PANEL 4: Leadership Toward a Just Grid

This panel discussed emerging efforts aimed at bending the arc toward vulnerable populations now, not as a last resort. The discussion was on the big opportunities that can arise from big issues. For example, how can we use the pain from the last few months to create a grid that works for more of society?

Moderated by: Jonathan Koehn, Chief Sustainability and Resilience Officer, City of Boulder
Carlos Martin, Senior Fellow, The Urban Institute
Destenie Nock, Assistant Professor of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
Kathryn Wright, Program Director, Building Energy, Urban Sustainability Directors Network

Koehn commented, “The clear message from today’s energy session is that to reach our clean-energy goals we really have to build and support solutions that truly include everyone. If nothing else, for me, 2020 has been a year of regaining perspective. There is a silver lining in times like these that makes us think of what matters most to us. I heard a determination today not to go back to normal because, even with the energy opportunities emerging, many are being left out. I have thought about the need to design a socially equitable and resilient energy system, and to have an economy that is built to last, and to fix inequities in our system.”

Wright pointed out, “Urban Sustainability has about 200 cities and counties across the U.S. and Canada including four in Hawaii, which are all working on the climate energy transition. Some of our research involves how Covid-19 is making the inequities in the energy system worse. One thing we have discovered is the relationship with energy burden, meaning how much of a household income goes towards paying utility bills? Currently, research shows that many people do not have emergency funds─ which is creating a lot of financial distress. In extreme heat season we are now seeing residential use has gone up for energy demand now that people are sheltering in place at home. There are additional energy burdens by communities already experiencing inequity. We are facing an intense challenge here. Some of our members are trying to attack this problem because they realize that even with the support that has been given towards moratoriums and disconnections, it simply is not enough to help people get through the process of sheltering in place, especially during extreme heat. This presents unique challenges that we are facing with the issues in our system.”

Wright continued, “In our equity research across the country, as well as in decarbonization, we learned it is especially important to put community at the very beginning of the process. Through our Zero Cities Project, a program supporting both cities and their most impacted communities to co-develop and implement actionable and equitable roadmaps and policy strategies to achieve zero net carbon, the building sector has spent a lot of time on what it means to transform a city environment. They are making sure that a lot of the neighborhood-based organizations and residences understand what the core issues are, so that they are able to prioritize. This plan gives the city responsive policy-making. I would say that any new policy has to start with community at the beginning and it involves a level of power-sharing and power-shifting that has not been a tradition of policy-making before in community engagement processes.”

Martin observed, “Community involvement is key no matter who the stakeholder is. The reality is that the utility burden is increasing in households today in the United States. Housing and residential segregation is something we also need to discuss. I measure inequity by housing situations, especially in energy performance. We need to look at all the inadequate housing in this country as problems we need to deal with.”

Martin added, “In my research, I look at the current state of measuring equity. It is about what the outcome is supposed to be and then how you align everything towards that process. Everything needs to be included: social aspects, social equity, and overall jobs. We look at different dimensions, understanding the historical legacies of disparities, and at energy jobs and energy options for long-term social economic outcome and equity.”

Nock asserted, “Thinking about energy burden, some of the people will not be able to take advantage of the programs offered. I am thinking as we are transitioning energy on the grid, the most important thing is not to have the energy burden increased as people are shifting to solar and wind. If they are jumping on and off the grid at a residential level somebody still has to pay for the reliability. The pole and wire prices do not change no matter how much electricity is used. Somebody still has to pay for them. We want to make sure that we are not transferring that burden of paying for the infrastructure side only to those who do not have the ability to jump off the grid.”

Nock continued, “I have been seeing inequities in my research on how our dependence on energy trickles down to the health impact of people. Communities are likely to live near power plants because land is cheaper, they are also less likely to adopt solar technologies because a lot are renter populations.  People in high rise apartment structures also have limitations on the access to real solar technology so there are a lot of inequities there. Then we also have job inequities. In my group, we are talking about how we can make sure communities have access to jobs so that, when we are moving forward in energy transition, there is more access to renewable technologies, jobs, and solutions. Housing and quality of housing are key, and segregation patterns add yet another dimension into the picture.”

Nock reflected, “My work is focused on tradeoff analysis. One of the things we like to think about is what are the tradeoffs for different investments. Part of that is going into the community and talking to the stakeholders about what they want at the end of the day. There are always going to be tradeoffs, so we have to focus on a single best solution that is going to solve all of the problems. We have to have a deep understanding about stakeholder objectives and what we will agree or disagree on. This will help us understand the winners and losers of energy transition, and plan for the challenges that might arise, which will help the transition go more smoothly. With tradeoffs, you have to think about who are the winners and losers. We want policies that enable communities to develop local renewable energy generation and energy efficiency programs that help produce healthier neighborhoods, reduce the energy burden, and create good jobs for the local economy.”


The Hawaii Energy Conference serves to exchange ideas on how to better serve customers in a rapidly changing energy environment and discuss strategic developments in the policy, business, and technology of energy. This year’s conference focused on imagining a just and equitable recovery in the midst of a world changing event such as COVID-19. This unique opportinuity to hear from industry leaders and innovators attracted keen interest nationally and internationally. Attendees were able to network with each other through a conference browser app, and to access resources provided by sponsors through the virtual Exhibit Hall and digital swag bag.

Thank you to participating sponsors: Hawaii Clean Power Alliance, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), Ulupono Initiative, Hawaii Energy, Hawaiian Electric, Powin Energy, Progression Energy, 174 Power Global, Burns & McDonnell, Dudek, Elemental Accelerator, Greenlots, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, OpusOne Solutions, Par Hawaii.

Keynotes Bring New Energy to 2017 Maui Energy Conference

Keynotes Bring New Energy to 2017 Maui Energy Conference

Gil Penalosa, Founder & Chair 8 80 Cities

Guillermo Penalosa, Founder & Chair 8 80 Cities

A broader focus has attracted new and captivating speakers to this year’s Maui Energy Conference, to be held at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, March 22-24.  Hosted by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) the conference theme covers topics from electricity and gas to transportation and water delivery systems.

Keynote speaker, Guillermo (Gil) Penalosa is passionate about cities for all people.  He is the founder and Chair of the Board of 8 80 Cities, an internationally recognized non-profit organization based in Canada that was created on the philosophy that if you created a great city for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for all people.

Gil is also chair of World Urban Parks, as well as senior adviser to Children & Nature, Vision Zero Network, and America Walks. His leadership and advice has been sought out in more than 250 different cities across six continents. He advises decision makers and communities on how to create vibrant cities and healthy communities for everyone regardless of age, gender and social, economic, or ethnic background.

“While urban design might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to the Maui Energy Conference,” says Conference Program Committee member, Jonathan Koehn, “Urban design dictates lifestyle, and lifestyle has a huge impact on people’s energy footprint. There are so many ways that the physical infrastructure around us influences our energy choices.”

Another draw for this year’s Conference will be Carol Sim, Environmental Affairs Director at Alaska Airlines Alaska Airlines has been a leader in the airline industry in utilizing alternative jet fuel.  It made history in November flying the world’s first commercial flight using a new sustainable alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals.

Carol Sim will join the panel on Innovations in Transportation, which takes a look at what steps can be taken to create and facilitate a resilient transportation sector.

A new feature for the program will include a number of Case Studies presented in special fifteen minute segments.  Boris von Bormann of Mercedes-Benz will share their work with the world’s largest second use battery storage.  In efforts to stabilize the grid, Daimler AG, The Mobility House AG and GETEC have joined forces to develop a 13 MWh battery storage project in Germany using a total of 1000 battery systems from second-generation Smart Fortwo electric drive cars.

Hawaii Energy’s case study will highlight a few of their success stories that showcase their commitment to helping small businesses of Hawaii lower operating costs through energy efficiency. Theodore Peck from Holu Energy will present two case studies of commercial on-grid microgrids operational in Hawaii with third party ownership, integrating PV and energy storage systems to create multiple value streams on both sides of the meter.

In a fourth case study presentation, Silver Spring Networks will share details on how its utility customers deliver savings to consumers via AMI and Smart Grid deployments.

The 2017 Maui Energy Conference is shaping up to be a timely and innovative forum as Hawaii transitions to a clean energy economy.  Early Bird registration ends on January 31.

Click here for the full program.