Maui Sustainability Notes

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Sustainability is an issue of critical importance for Maui and the rest of the Hawaiian Islands. Our island paradise is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels and imported food stuffs. There have been quite a few efforts of late to start making Maui and other islands more self sufficient. I thought I would share a few articles that I came across in the last week related to the island’s sustainability efforts.

With its warm climate and year long growing season, Maui in many ways is an ideal locale for growing fruits and vegetables. That being said, much of our produce is imported from off island. Recently, we have seen a few more small scale farming operations emerging on island. It is more and more common to see Maui produce on the shelves of local grocery stores. I think that trend will continue over the next couple of years. One reason I believe that is because of the efforts of the Ulupono Initiative. Friday’s Honolulu Advertiser had an article on the Ulupono Initiative taking over the lease for Kapalua Farms. Kapalua Farms is currently a small scale organic operation that specialized in free range eggs, vegetables and herbs. It was operating on 8 acres. The Ulupono Initiative plans to expand the operation to 158 acres. It will take a few years to scale the operation and improve the health of the soil, but they have already doubled the number of employees working on the farm.

It is worth commenting on the Ulupono Initiative in and of itself. The initiative was started by Pierre and Pam Omidyar. Pierre is the founder and chairman of E-bay. He has been giving extensively to Hawaii non-profits including a recent 50 million gift to the Hawaii Community Foundation. He is also channeling a significant amount of money to for profit and non-profit entities focused on sustainability through the Ulupono Initiative. Specifically, they are supporting island efforts on waste reduction, alternative energy and local food production. The Ulupono Initiative looks like it will be an important presence in the growth of Hawaii sustainability efforts.

While browsing the web the other day, I stumbled across another Maui Company in the sustainability industry. Maui Eco Built offers power audits, photovoltaic power buildings, photovoltaic mounting structures and eco modular construction. The Maui Eco Built products and services that I thought were particularly interesting were the power buildings. If you are going to mount photovoltaic panels on your home, you typically need a good south facing roof line that is not shaded by trees. Of course, not all homes are going to have that ideal orientation. Home owners may also have concerns about mounting a PV system on an existing roof. If your roof is halfway through its shelf life, you may find yourself having to mount your solar system twice. Once when it is initially mounted and again when you need to replace the roof on your home. Maui Eco Built offers solutions to these challenges via photovoltaic car ports and smaller “power buildings. ” These structures offer you opportunities to mount PV in areas with good sun exposure without worrying about your existing roof.

Last but not least, I saw a Maui Time weekly article that captured some of the challenges that we are facing as Maui tries to implement alternative energies on a wider scale. Maui has seen significant growth in the number of homes and businesses that utilize photovoltaic power but are still connected to the grid. The appeal of these systems are obvious. Most systems will be sufficient to account for the majority of a home or businesses power needs. That can be a huge reduction in utility bills. The time to pay off the initial outlay for the system is shrinking as PV system costs decrease and utility costs increase. That being said, these systems can pose challenges to the grid. Demand for electricity from the grid from PV users can fluctuate based on time of day and cloud cover. Too much fluctuation in demand can cause stability issues with the grid. As a result, the Public Utilities Commission has set caps on the amount of PV users “per circuit” on the grid. There are parts of Maui that are rapidly approaching these limits. The PUC and the local utility are going to need to collaborate to see if there is room for additional capacity in these areas that are saturated. It also points to the need to improve the overall grid to accommodate more “soft power” electrical generation.

We will continue to keep an eye on green building and sustainability issues on the Maui Real Estate Blog. Contact us for assistance if you are looking for green properties on Maui.

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