A PLACE IN THE SUN
By Anu Yagi
Down a winding private drive on Maui’s northeastern arch, Jason King’s solar-powered home is perched amidst his manicured lawn and gardens, overlooking a malie bay. Atop his luxury hale are 23 solar panels that power his entire life. With a dual Outback inverter and 24-count battery bank, it’s a robust system that King says, “powers my car, phat sound system, home movie theater, laundry, refrigerator, hot tub, sauna—every single luxury there is.”
“This is groundbreaking,” says King, his passion apparent. “I’m off oil. And it was totally feasible.” King says he feels it’s his “duty” to “let the world know that this can be done.”
King points to the zenith of his sustainable-living achievements, his Chevrolet Volt—a lithium-ion battery-powered hybrid vehicle, rated by the EPA as the most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. King says it’s the only Volt in the state, and possibly the only totally solar-powered car in the world.
“I’ve been trying to live a sustainable lifestyle for years now,” says King. “But still driving a frickin’ car was killing me. So this, this was it. This was the last big step.”
Taking that last big step took time, money and guts.
“Because no one was doing it, there was no one to ask if it could be done,” King says. Not only is the Volt “so technologically advanced” that if it were to break he’d likely have to ship it the Mainland for repairs, but King’s foremost concern was how to devise a system that would effectively power a vehicle that requires “13 kilowatt hours [kwh] from empty to full—like having three hot tubs running at once for four hours.”
After exhaustive research and assistance—namely from Michael Schwarz of Sunstation LLC, who “worked his ass off and did an amazing job”—King has pioneered the successful implementation of “technology that has been here forever.” And having worked out a lot of the logistical kinks, King wants to share what he’s learned. “People who are scared and think they can’t afford it need to realize that they can’t afford not to.”
“The day, water, sun, moon, night—I do not have to purchase these things with money.”
“The whole concept of buying gas that’s been raped out of the earth, refined and shipped across the planet—and we go to war for it—it’s so unnecessary! It’s ludicrous!” exclaims King. And, he says, having an electric car while “still plugging into the grid and getting power from diesel generators” negates a lot of the environmental benefit.
Only nine solar panels were added to King’s system to power his Volt. Nine panels cost him around $7,000, equal to about two years’ worth of would-be gas expenditures. “That means in two years not only is my driving going to be pollution free, it’s going to be free,” he says.
“I get about 50 miles [per charge],” King says, adding he only exceeds that range “maybe once every month or two. I’ve used two gallons to go 2,000 miles.”
“[Unlike] a lot of other electric cars, you don’t have ‘range anxiety,’ scared you’re going to get stuck on the side of the road,” he says. “If I do need to go beyond my range, there’s a little generator [and] I get 40 miles per gallon. I can go 350 miles without stopping.”
The car comes with a 120 volt cord for charging, but King has added a 240 volt charger. He says he charges his car during the day, meaning the energy is “going from the panels straight to the car and barely taxing my batteries at all.”
“I have to say, I’ve never been a big Chevy fan,” he admits, “but they did an amazing job on this car. It’s hella fun to drive, it doesn’t make any noise, and the cool thing about it is electric motors develop all their torque instantly. So when you hit the accelerator—not the gas, but the accelerator—it’s like, boom!”
“Stand a little less between me and the sun.”
“I kind of got screwed because I was impatient—but it was impatience for a good reason,” says King. Before buying the Volt, King says he first tried biodiesel, “but the local fuel available on Maui damaged my vehicles and my generator.”
Frustrated, King decided to try the hybrid route. (Laughing, he adds, “I asked all my friends, ‘If I drove a $100,000 Tesla—but it was all solar powered—would I still look like a pretentious douche bag?’ And without hesitation, all of them said ‘yes.’”)
Disturbed by the “lackadaisical” response from local Chevy dealerships—and facing upwards of “several years” before he could buy one in-state—King shipped a Volt in from California.
“The car is expensive,” says King of the Volt’s $40,280 sticker price. “But it has a [maximum] $7,500 federal tax rebate, and you can get a $4,500 Hawaii rebate. That brings the car down to the low $30,000 range, which is what any decent new car costs.”
However, King says he was denied both tax benefits. On the federal level, the New Qualified Plug-in Electric Drive Motor Vehicle Credit applies, as King explains, “only if you owe $7,500 in taxes.” Locally, King was ineligible because he didn’t purchase his Volt in Hawaii. “I would have loved to keep the money in Hawaii and support the local Maui car dealership that’s going to be servicing it,” he says. “So basically, I got punished for being one of the first ones.”
King feels he was penalized for being a pioneer, and expresses frustration at the roadblocks he’s encountered. “If our government really gave a shit and really wanted to do something to save the environment, rather than subsidizing oil, they would subsidize this for every house in America,” he says. “How many jobs would that create? And instead of paying your electric bill every month, you’d pay a little bit back towards the government. It would be a win, win, win, win situation.”
“At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun.”
– Nicolaus Copernicus
“I don’t have any internal combustion engines anymore,” says King, pointing to a neat row of electric tools. “Lawnmower, chainsaw, weed whacker—it’s all powered by the sun. It’s mind boggling to think of all the things that are done with the sun’s energy. That the very sun that grows the grass provides the power to the tools to cut the grass… that inside, the freezer is turning the sun into cold.”
Outside, King’s hot tub has a view of the last breaching humpbacks of the season, and runs on a solar system independent from the house (which King says would otherwise have an operating cost of $150 per month, given Maui’s electricity rates). A small solar panel powers a pump that simply circulates water through a black plastic lining stretched out in a sunny spot on the lawn.
What King is doing may seem ambitious. And it is. But here’s what he hopes everyone takes away: “What I’m doing may cost more in the beginning, but in the end you’re saving money and doing the environment a great service.
FABRIC OF LIFE
By Jen Russo
What are you wearing? Whatever it is, chances are your garments polluted the Earth before adorning your body. Ditto the fabric you sleep under, drape on your walls and use to dry yourself off after a day at the beach. When it comes to big polluters, the textile industry is second only to industrialized agriculture.
Since most major textile manufacturers have moved off American soil, we don’t often hear a lot about the damage the industry causes. Pesticides are used to grow cotton; chemical agents are used to process the plant fibers into fabric; and more dangerous compounds go into the dying process. The result is cheaper clothes—at a great cost to the planet.
Fortunately, there are a number of Maui shops trying to make a difference in the garment industry. At Da Green Tee (871-5326) in Kahului, you’ll find bamboo towels and bedding in all sizes and colors. They also sell bamboo and organic cotton T-shirts and re-usable shopping bags. Bamboo is an up-and-coming sustainable fabric; it grows quickly and doesn’t require pesticides or chemical fertilizers. And people like to wear it because the feel and drape is similar to silk.
Hemp is a “bast” plant, meaning the fiber used to create the materials comes from the stalk of the plant. Naturally insect resistant, it also requires no pesticides. And hemp is efficient—a field of hemp can produce a yield three times greater than cotton. You can find great hemp garments for men and women at The Hemp House (579-8880) in Paia, along with bags, backpacks and accessories.
Wings Hawaii (wingshawaii.com) has embraced the sustainable model for their upcoming summer collection, using an organic nettle and cotton hand-woven fabric. The nettle is grown in the Himalayas and handwoven by villagers, and Wings is adding organic cotton as well as bamboo and cotton blends. They’re also utilizing recycled fabric, including pieces of tablecloths and napkins, which lend a unique quality to their signature looks.
All of the designs are created on Maui—from the sketches through the dying and sewing at Wings’ Pauwela cannery studio. They also hand-screen Ts, and make stunning jewelry. (Check it all out at their open house and fashion show on May 1 from 5-8pm.)
Visit these local outlets and the next time someone asks what you’re wearing, you’ll be able to answer with pride.
LET’S GET GROWING
By Jen Russo
What does planting gardens in our schools have to do with the health and well-being of the next generation? Everything. With the massive industrialization of food production and distribution, a huge disconnect has grown between kids and the things they eat. The good news: a recent movement by local educators, chefs and volunteers to create edible school gardens is working to reverse this troubling trend.
On the day I show up, the Kihei Elementary garden is buzzing with activity. It’s harvest day, and the students are gathering ingredients to make pizza and salad on the spot. Chefs Dan Fiske and Christopher Kulis (of A Private Maui Chef and Capische?, respectively) lead the classes through identifying and picking veggies, fresh herbs and other goodies they planted in October of last year.
Fiske and Capishe? owner Brian Etheredge offer financial support to pay the garden coordinator, a position filled by Kirk Surrey. Volunteer project manager Nio Kindla says the idea was sprouted from South Maui Sustainability, whose mission is to create action through education. “We started [here] with three raised gardens, one teacher and 26 students,” Kindla says. “Now we have 26 teachers, 650 students and 10,000 square feet.”
Lehn Huff, coordinator for the Maui School Garden Network, is a retired educator who is now dedicating her time to championing school gardens. “We are asking schools to identify six supporters, from PTA or businesses to individuals, to start a foundation for these gardens,” says Huff. “With these partnerships in place, the gardens will be less dependent on a single funding source that can make or break a garden program.”
Growing local is good for the environment, but it’s also good for our health. Nearly 30 percent of Hawaii keiki are obese, while the national obesity rate for kids has tripled in the past 30 years. Initiatives from the Federal Government like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, and the Fruits & Veggies More Matters program aim to re-educate families and students on eating right. The Center for Disease Control assists in local programs as well, contributing to a Community Work Day effort called Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), in partnership with the Department of Health and other agencies. The goal is to diminish health issues and prevent obesity through several programs at the hyper-local level—including school gardens.
The CPPW’s mission is spearheaded by executive director Rae Chandler and outreach coordinator Matt Lane. The plan is to mobilize other community members to sponsor and support gardens so they can sustainably operate for years to come. One of the partnerships they’ve formed is with Lehn Huff’s Maui School Garden Network, accessing more than 40 schools with pre-existing gardens to see what improvements they can make together.
Up at the donated greenhouse space in Omaopio where seedlings and starts for the CPPW projects begin, Lane shows me rows and rows of sprouting plants—the fruits of recent volunteer labor. “If we build the gardens in the right way, the effects will be far reaching,” Lane says. “We’re creating a food movement on Maui starting at the heart of our communities, the high schools. We’re breaking down the traditional idea of community gardens by putting them in the schools and getting the community to support them there. We’re taking lessons from other established gardens like Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha in west Oahu, built next to a school, sustaining itself since 1979.”
Recent volunteer activity at Lahainaluna High School saw Hawaiian Dredging lending a hand with clearing land, Ace Hardware putting up banners and bringing in 20-plus volunteers, Job Corps bringing more volunteers and Napli Kai donating plants and know-how. Other ongoing garden projects include UH Maui, Lokelani High School and Pomaikai Elementary, with the next volunteer day coming up on April 30.
The Haiku Elementary School Garden was blessed Mala O Haiku last October, with 2,500 square feet of vegetables, fruit, flowers and native plants. Robin Imonti, the school garden coordinator, hopes that the garden will “grow a few [future] farmers.”
“I find that the kids are super excited to come into the garden, very curious, and some are already quite knowledgeable,” she says. “They love to eat what they grow on the days that we harvest.” Her support team includes Haiku Community Association, Haiku Hardware, Maui Bio Soil and, of course, community volunteers.
As Kihei Elementary’s harvest pizza party wraps up, Dan Fiske explains his dream for the already flourishing gardens: “I would like to see all this as a garden,” he says, gesturing toward the campus’s open space. “Not just food, but tea gardens where kids are sitting down and reading. The great thing here is we can teach, garden and grow all year long.”
By Jacob Shafer
The soil is a living organism. It sustains us. And it’s where we’ll all end up. So why do we want to go to war with it?” That’s Vincent Mina of Maui Aloha ‘Aina (MA‘A), discussing something that’s literally right under our feet but also easy to overlook.
In January, MA‘A held its annual Body & Soil Conference and on April 29 they’ll host Dr. Hoon Park, an expert in Indigenous Micro-Organisms (IMO), which proponents say can help maintain fertile soil. Also known as Korean Natural Farming, the idea has picked up steam in recent years, spearheaded by Master Han Kyu Cho of the Janong Natural Farming Institute in Seoul.
Mina says Hawaii’s soil is “very young” and thus “can get beat up real quick.” He says years of industrial ag, mono-cropping and petro-chemical fertilizers have done exactly that—and that IMOs are one way to restore balance and vitality. “Farmers have been drugged,” he says. “They’ve been sold a bill of goods. But I think that’s starting to change.”
Mina expresses frustration with the state and county, which he says haven’t thrown their weight behind small, local farms. “You hear a lot of talk about food security and sustainability, but I don’t see the results,” he says.
Thus, he concludes, “we have to take things into our own hands, and educate people about other possibilities.”
By Rob Parsons
Former MauiTime columnist and current Maui County Environmental Coordinator weighs in with the top three eviro concerns facing the county and state…
1) Injection wells/ Water re-use
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the local DIRE (Don’t Inject, REdirect) Coalition forced the County’s hand on this issue over the past two years, pointing to studies that wastewater reclamation facility injection wells contribute to algae growth and degradation of coastal reef ecosystems. Yet County treatment facilities in Kahului, Kihei and Lahaina collectively continue to inject millions of gallons daily deep into the ground, where it percolates into the ocean through Maui’s porous volcanic substrate.
The Arakawa administration is reviewing a number of possible options for expanded water treatment and re-use. Current proposals include one that would incorporate growing a biofuel crop, and using the renewable energy produced to help offset the high electrical costs associated with pumping water to and fro. The key is redefining the term “wastewater” to “wasted water,” and viewing it as the underutilized resource that it is.
2) Cane-burning/ local food production
The annual holiday-season respite from our most infamous pollution source almost allows us to forget the shroud it casts across Maui’s central valley. But the daily phone calls, e-mails and photos sent to my office over the past several weeks serve as an acute reminder that we have yet to shift the sugar plantation’s unsustainable model to a more robust and nourishing alternative. Think bio-diversity, more jobs (rather than lost jobs), and an abundance of local, healthy foods. How about a community forum of ideas and solutions to kick it off?
3) Local renewable energy choices
While the energy goals (40 percent generation from renewables by 2030, and another 30 percent in energy efficiency) set forth by the Lingle administration are laudable, the implementation appears steeped in politics and big business. Wind is our only immediate solution, we’re told, even though it requires diesel backup for non-windy days. Sorry, but with oil prices soaring we must find ways to turn the grid model on its head and return the power to the people. It appears there may be more promise, and fewer problems, with increased solar photovoltaic coverage, geothermal, concentrated solar thermal and, most of all, energy conservation and efficiency.