Power from the People

SUBHEAD: You trap a monkey by taking a jar, with a large piece of fruit in it, and staking it to the ground.  

By Juan Wilson on 3 March 2012 for Island Breath - 

Image above: A trapped monkey thinks he sees a better "jar" to stick his hand in. From (http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/the-monkey-trap/255).

Yesterday we received a comment from a person named Valencia on our post of Gail Tverberg's excellent article on "True Sustainability Solutions" (http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2012/04/true-susatainability-solutions.html).

In her article Gail highlighted six points to achieving a low human population by living a lifestyle that would be sustainable on planet Earth. In brief the the points she made were;

  1. We should eat foods that are capable of growing like wild plants;
  2. We should not eat megafauna - cattle, pigs, tuna;
  3. Our shelter should be small with little heat and no AC cooling;
  4. Walking should be our primary transport;
  5. Medical treatment should be limited and low tech;
  6. We need to live in small groups of less than 150 people.
Her point was that these steps could bring us down to a population that might work for a robust population of large primates, like gorillas. Such a population could sustain itself for millennia without turning the planet into a Martian landscape.  

A Planet full of Love
All this seemed quite reasonable to me. I guess this makes me a doomster. At least that's the sense I had if Valencia's comment is taken seriously. You may not have seen the comment because it was entered mistakenly on the "KCC Beekeeping Courses" post that followed Gail's piece. The comment went like this:
The article written by Gail Tverberg is sadly so depressing. I cannot agree and my spirit cannot subscribe to such negative views and solutions. This is fact to me: We already have EVERYTHING we need to have a loving and sustainable planet. We have technology even now that can cure every cancer and heal every need - including transportation needs and feeding every human on earth. "All we need is love" is an apt song for all time. Through love we are even now tipping the scales that have too long been weighed down by greed and immature, self-centeredness. I do NOT subscribe to the premise that humanity is BAD. We are un-evolved and deceived by the mass hallucination of evil behavior justified by scarcity propaganda. That is changing. I am a part of that change. I will continue to cultivate a LOVE vibration and act in accordance with LOVE and KNOW that this behavior is contagious.
We put in bold what we think are particularly delusional points. We do not have the technology to feed, transport and cure the illness of all seven billion human beings alive today. In fact it is our technology (particularly related to petrochemicals) that have pushed that very human population to the point of bankrupting the Earth's resources.  

The Monkey Trap
 As the conversation stretches on about sustainability, self-reliance, alternative energy, food security, green technology, et al; it gets clearer and clearer. We humans are not willing to let go of anything in our grasp that provides comfort and entertainment, even if it means the destruction of the planet and therefore - ourselves. We find ourselves as the victims in the Parable of The Monkey Trap:

You trap a monkey by taking a jar and staking it to the ground. Then you take a piece of fruit that barely passes through the mouth and put it into the jar. When a monkey reaches in, the combination of the fruit and the monkey's paw is too big to be pulled out.

As long as the monkey hangs onto the fruit, it is trapped. When the hunter approaches, the monkey usually refuses to release the prized fruit until it is too late.
I would add that when Valencia says "I will continue to cultivate a LOVE vibration and act in accordance with LOVE." she might better get her hands dirty and cultivate food.  

Smart Meters with a Benefits
This brings us to how the Monkey trap plays out in our use of energy. Recently we received a Kauai Island Utility Cooperative press release that "sweetens the pot" for those that decide to join the Smart Meter Club. It said in part:
KIUC is seeking member volunteers to sign up for the new In-Home Displays (IHDs) pilot program. KIUC is one of 27 cooperatives in 11 states who are participating in this nationwide pilot program to install 3,859 IHDs.

The IHD pilot project is a component of the Smart Grid project that KIUC is set to deploy in May with the installation of Smart Meters. IHDs communicate energy consumption in a way that members can easily understand, it allows customers to easily track and compare their usage, make smart decisions about their consumption, and lessen their environmental impact through educated consumption.

In addition to showing energy usage and rate information, the display provides visual alerts for instant awareness of excessive demand in the home, via a red LED backlight. Some key benefits of the IHD:

  • Calculates and displays the cost of energy consumption
  • Actionable demand alert via LED lights
  • Environmental impact displayed with carbon emissions rate
  • Rates are always up-to-date (no need for members to input rate information)
In response to this program Michael Diamant, of Kalaheo, wrote a letter to the editor of The Garden Island News. It said;
Most of us lucky folks who live in paradise have just experienced the second island-wide power outage in less than 10 days. This latest outage lasted almost two hours in Kalaheo and longer in the Princeville area. KIUC said a transformer failure at Port Allen was the culprit.
Here’s a novel suggestion from a customer/owner of KIUC. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars or more for smart meters, let’s spend that money to purchase a new, modern grid for our island.
After all, one would never think of commissioning a hand-made, jeweled leather saddle for a horse slated for the glue factory, now would one?
And to those spending big bucks on those full page ads trying to make a case against smart meters, re-direct your energy and money.
There is something more basic that is badly needed in paradise — electricity you can count on.
I have to grant Michael he's right about not spending exorbitant amounts of money on a horse headed for the glue factory - but that's exactly what he is proposing when he suggests we replace our current grid with a modern grid. But we cannot even afford the debt load on the one we are paying off now. This is a case of The Monkey Trap - wanting that banana in the chained down jar more than your own freedom. Andy Parx fell into this trap with his article, for Parx Daily News, responding to Michael's letter. Andy argues that:
Those who want to see Kauai participate or even lead the way in alternative, non-carbon, non-fossil fuel energy had better just give it up if the smart grid - and so smart meters - is not part of our energy future. People can forget about lower electric bills too because we will always be dependent on expensive fossil (and other carbon-generating) fuels for energy generation without the smart grid. Let's see if we can make this as simple as possible. Anyone who spends more than thirty seconds thinking about alternative sources of energy will realize that the most abundant and least environmentally disruptive sources here in the islands- solar and wind- are what they call "intermittent." The sun doesn't shine at night and is severely diminished when there are clouds or even rain storms. And the wind doesn't always blow. They cannot be counted on unless we want to be without electricity at different times. And few will disagree that they want enough electricity to make sure it's there when they flip the switch.
It is likely true that without the Smart Meters we cannot support a centralized electric grid whether it runs on fossil fuel or alternatives. Certainly, in the future we won't be able to afford (or have available) the 30 million gallons of diesel fuel KIUC burns a year. And as for the alternatives... If there is one thing sure, here in Paradise, it is that electricity from a centralized grid is something you will not be able to count on 24/7/365 on the most isolated land mass in the world. Moreover, it is not something that is basic or badly needed.

The Smart Meters and In-Home Displays are part of an effort to modernize a dinosaur after the K-T Boundary comet has already hit. The central grid is doomed. It is not scheduled to be less than half dependent of fossil fuels for over a decade (2023). It is our opinion that by 2023 we will be using almost exclusively alternative sources, and therefore the grid will provide only half the energy we use today. And that's the best case scenario based on a successful roll-out of solar, wind and hydro generation. Our guess is that we won't get halfway there before the financial world ceases up again and money won't be available to KIUC. If that's the case our grid will act much like grids in the rest of the world - sporadically. Power not available regularly with rolling blackouts the norm. Perhaps overnight scheduled shutdowns.

 Power from the People
The only alternative will be for you to make your own electricity - and over the long haul that won't be with a 3,000 watt Honda power generator from Kauai Marine & Mower. If you live in a residential neighborhood that will most likely be with solar panels. Wind generators are fine - in an open field on a large lot, in the right location. Wind towers needs to be above the tree line. A falling tower cannot land in a neighbor's yard. So if you live in Hanapepe Heights or Kapahi, it's not likely you'll have a chance at a 40' tall wind tower.

Besides, the generators and blades make noise, and with all those moving parts wind generators need a lot more attention than solar panels. Solar panels are historically cheap right now. Get some. Even with cheap panels, generating your own power takes time, some expertise and some real money. We recently added a stand alone solar panel system (24 volt, 900 watt) with battery storage (720 amp/hours) that will just handle our refrigerator and a small freezer chest. The cost was about $6,000 for just material and shipping - no labor cost. If we're careful the system might last until 2023. Then we'll adjust to the new future.



  1. Aloha! I just wanted to mention that, um, yes, you are a doomer for sure. =) There's nothing wrong with that. It's a very valuable point of view and in my opinion we need that to balance out the very optimistic opinions we frequently see. I very much respect an author who understands and is willing to acknowledge their own bias. Thank you for your hard work and your so many fascinating articles! =)

  2. Mostly good points on this one, Juan, and yes Andy-the-normally-bright-bulb is sadly in the dark on this issue.

    However, as i have been saying for more than the past 5 years, In Home displays all by themselves WITHOUT the "Not so Smart" meters ARE a GREAT IDEA.

    Call KIUC and ask for one TODAY!

    There is no linkage between the meter & display, except for KIUCʻs failed force-it-on-you policy. The devices can work quite well separately. The Display can work TODAY on kaua`i with NO GRID UPGRADE, and the SAVINGS CAN BEGIN IMMEDIATELY. You will see the savings on your next electric bill.

    The new meters cost 12 mill, and MAY bring some advantage, and will take years to roll-out, but KIUC has already admitted they doʻt know what benefit this might be.

    So, Juan, you donʻt oppose the display, YOU SUPPORT IT. In fact, The In-Home Display is very much like the one YOU ALREADY HAVE (and benefit greatly from) at your house, with your mini-solar systems. Kaua`i needs displays. How would you be able to run your home system efficiently without one? You couldnʻt.

    Just like you would constantly find your self on the side of the road if you did not have any DASHBOARD display in your car. Either because you ran out of gas (again), or got pulled over by a cop for not obeying the speed limit (again), because you had no way of knowing how full your tank, or how fast you were going. Having homes without displays, it like asking for accidents month after month after month. Hey, does this soud familiar?

    The ability for more folks to see where their energy is going in real time, and to see how much of their money is being sucked away by KIUCʻs diesel-powered debt-servicing grid is THE ONE THING that will most quickly reduce Kaua`i consumption of dirty fossil fuels, and hemoraging of island energy capital.

    Yes! In-Home Display! Submit your Opt-IN requests NOW. TELL them you DONʻT WANT the new meter, just the display that lets YOU know what YOUR energy consumption is. THEY need to hear Kaua`i wants inexpensive sound tools to cut our fossil fuel adiction TODAY.

    And fuck em if they donʻt like it.

  3. Aloha Anonymous,

    I agree 100% that all homes on the KIUC grid should have a "dashboard" to let them know exactly how their power is consumed. Information is king in managing our use of power - whether from the grid or self generated.

    The Smart Meters should face "In" not "Out"!

    IB Publisher