HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: Could You Live Off-the-Grid Part II: (Electric) Power to the People

By Kelly Moran

Could You Live Off-the-Grid Part II: (Electric) Power to the People

In my discussion of catching rainwater, last time, I neglected to mention that in some places it’s possible to draw water from a well, especially if your land is near to places where Hawaii County draws its water. But finding a reliable and sufficient source of water underground is not easy, and on the drier, western side of the island, wells have to be drilled very, very deep. So, you may get lucky. Or not. And the cost of drilling could exceed the cost of a catchment tank. Besides, a well needs a pump – and that means you need electricity.

There are four ways that people here generate their own electricity: fuel, wind, hydro, and solar. I’ll cover the first three now, and discuss solar next time.

  • Fuel. By far the easiest way to get power is to buy a generator, keep it stocked with whatever it burns — typically either diesel or propane — and run it until your batteries are charged, roughly six hours a day. With either fuel, you can assume that your electricity will cost a few hundred dollars a month — about what you’d pay Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO), the local utility. Generators are not expensive, but you should balance that low initial investment against the certainty that the price of fossil fuels will keeping going up, even if renewable alternatives like bio-diesel or methane enter the mass-market. (No matter how you make your own power, if you live off the grid you should have a generator anyway, even if it’s only a portable gasoline model, for backup or emergencies.)
  • Hydro. If you have a good-size stream on your land, a hydroelectric turbine may be the way to go. The machinery is not very expensive, and you do not need a waterfall, as long as the water level drops at least 40 feet from the intake point down (through a pipe) to the turbine. But the stream has to run year-round, and in a drought lasting several weeks, even some large streams may shrink or dry up. Ironically, the only serious disadvantage to hydro is that under normal conditions you may get too much power from it! Unlike breezes or sunshine, streams run 24/7. After your batteries have been fully charged, any excess electricity can damage your system: it must either be stored (in yet more batteries) or consumed immediately. One fellow I know had to buy a chest-freezer and an air conditioner solely to soak up all the electricity from the turbine in his stream.
A stream this big could genereate electricity, but only if the water level drops 40 feet or more from the intake point down to the turbine.
A stream this big could genereate electricity, but only if the water level drops 40 feet or more from the intake point down to the turbine.


  • Wind. A small windmill may generate enough power for a barn (or a well-pump) but a windmill sufficient to power a household must be quite large, and hence expensive. On this island, that’s a viable option only if your land is really windy, which you’ll know because your trees are bent over, as they are near HELCO’s “wind farms” — clusters of turbines – -at the northern (Kohala) and southern (Ka’u) capes. On the Hamakua Coast, the onshore tradewinds are not constant; and on the Kona coast, daytime breezes tend to die down at sunset.

View Other Posts in the “Could You Live Off-the-Grid?” Series

Huge Library of Hawaii Aerial & Scenic Images

Big Island SurfWe now have a HUGE library of aerial and scenic images for all the Hawaiian islands posted and available for viewing. This includes the Big Island, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, O’ahu, Kauai, Niihau, Kahoolawe, Kaohikaipu, Kapapa, Lehua, Manana, Mokapu, Mokolii, Mokuhooniki, Mokulua, Moku Mana, Molokini and Okala.  We also have whale, surf and ship photos!

All of these images are presented in a very easy to navigate sorter. Choose your Island from the Island Overview Map, then choose your view. Or view as a slideshow from any image view.

You can view directly using this link or by going to and clicking the “Resources/Coastline and Scenic Photos” link.

All images provided by Brian Powers and (and high quality images are also available for online purchase if you find one you like).

Hamakua Coast Motorcycle Ride

Since I share a love of motorcycle riding, especially along the relaxing and beautiful roads of the Big Island, I’ll be dedicating some upcoming posts to just that. Helping me as a guest contributor is Aaron Geerlings, fellow riding enthusiast and University of Hawaii at Hilo student. We also have an Aloha Rider page dedicated to this adventure, which includes motorcycle links of interest and a short bio to help you get to know Aaron.

Here’s Aaron’s first contribution about our Hamakua Coast ride:

Aloha Everyone!
Hawaii as long been known for its great beaches and lovely weather, but what it’s not known for is its great motorcycle riding. Most think of it as an island (which it is), but one that is lacking in great riding asphalt — well I am here to put that myth to rest. Over the following weeks I will be introducing you to some great places to ride, eat and relax here on the island, so suit up and enjoy the show.

Our first ride took us from Hilo, Hawaii up the Hamakua Coast on the Mamaloha Highway that winds along the eastern side of the island. It was simply a stunning day. We couldn’t have asked for better.Our first detour along the way was the 4 mile scenic route along the old Mamaloha Highway. This is a beautiful detour that winds along lush forest, waterfalls, Onomea Bay, smoothie shack and a botanical garden.The road is almost completely covered by plants in some areas, giving a feeling as though you are riding through a living tunnel, and in a way you are — just watch for the moss growing on the road as it is very slippery and can lead to some un-fun sliding.

Onomea bay is absolutely amazing (it can be seen in the first video linked at the end), and to think they once unloaded freight from ships there! After we enjoyed the view for a few minutes we continued on past the botanical gardens to What’s Shakin smoothie shack, where we met Tim Withers who owns and operates it with his wife Patsy. Here we interviewed Tim about his upcoming Baja races and his feelings about Hawaii motorcycle riding.

After our fantastic smoothies we continued our ride along the coastal route before coming back to the highway. It was a true detour.As we continued along the highway enjoying the great view, wonderful asphalt and the gorgeous day, we came in contact with one of the few speed traps on the island. Between two 55 mph zones there is a 45mph zone. It isn’t very big so people don’t seem to slow down, so the police sit on the side of the road and enjoy the easy prey as they fly by. But we easily missed this trap as having lived here for quite some time we knew the secrets. Riding through the gulches can be a lot of fun — long wide sweeping turns allow a lot of space to lean and drag your knee. The rest of the ride was uneventful other than the great view and wonderful weather.

We finished the ride at an amazing home overlooking an amazing bay. We relaxed and enjoyed the view before heading back.

This was an amazing ride that covered approximately 120 miles. Although this could easily be added-to if you explored all the various side roads that wind through farms, forests and orchards, it was a fantastic ride in the middle of February.

Stay tuned for the next entry that I can hopefully do this Sunday if the weather holds out. I also hope to take more stills, but this time our still camera broke at our first stop, and all we had is the video camera.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Overnight Accommodations


By Kelly Moran

Overnight Accommodations

When it comes to picking a place to stay, whether you’re on vacation or searching for a home, there are almost too many choices here!

RESORTS. Many visitors want a resort experience, with a (full or modified) “American plan” under which all or nearly all activities and meals are included in the room rate. The Big Island’s resorts are on the coast of South Kohala: green oases in the district’s otherwise black lava landscape. Golf courses are abundant, but (compared to resorts on Maui and Kauai) the beaches are small and are typically augmented with swimming pools and ponds. Typical of the South Kohala resorts is the Waikoloa Beach Marriott.

Most resort hotels are mid- or low-rise buildings, with function rooms for conventions. But there’s one prominent exception: guests at Kona Village stay in thatched huts, called hales, that are fully modern inside, but (deliberately) have no phones or TVs.

HOTELS. Hilo doesn’t have resorts, but it does have a string of hotels on Banyan Drive, with extensive views of the bay and the ocean. The tallest are the Naniloa and the Hilo Hawaiian; a smaller alternative is Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel.

Close to Downtown Hilo, the Dolphin Bay Hotel and the Wild Ginger Inn are modest in size and price.

There are dozens of small hotels in and around Kailua-Kona; but for a truly “local” experience, there’s no place like the Manago Hotel, in Captain Cook: a family enterprise for over 80 years.

B&Bs. A Bed-and-Breakfast is, essentially, someone’s house with nice guest-rooms. If you don’t want the all-inclusive resort experience, and don’t need the guest services of a hotel, then a B&B is ideal, especially if you want to stay in a town with no other kind of visitor accommodations, such as Pahoa, Volcano, Naalehu, Honokaa, or Hawi. Start your search for a B&B at the Bed & Breakfast Online website.

Probably the most celebrated (and, arguably, the most beautiful) B&B on the Big Island is Shipman House, in Hilo, originally the Victorian mansion of a prominent local family, where Queen Liliuokalani and author Jack London were house-guests.

Vacation Rentals. If you’re going to be here for more than a week or two, consider renting an apartment. You’ll be on your own for all meals, with kitchen facilities ranging from plain to fancy, and for housekeeping, with services ranging from full to none.

These accommodations are easy to find and compare, especially on the Konaweb site, or at the VacationRentals411 website, both of which cover the entire island.

And if I may make a suggestion . . . do consider my own vacation rental apartment in Hilo, which I call the Lehua Honeymoon Suite.

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND: Battling Those Weed Trees


By Kelly Moran

Battling Those Weed Trees

A few months ago, I wrote about a tree that was brought here from Brazil

and that has gone terribly wild. It’s officially psidium cattleianum, but commonly called “strawberry guava”or waiawi (“vy-vee”), and it’s extraordinarily invasive: seeds from the fruit sprout easily wherever they fall, and are spread by birds and pigs; if the tree is cut down, it quickly regenerates from stumps and fallen branches, ultimately forming a dense thicket in which nothing else grows.

Researchers estimate that waiawi is now entrenched in more than 800,000 acres on the Big Island, and though its range may ultimately be limited by drier microclimates and higher alititudes, it is still in-filling where it’s already established, especially in Hamakua and Puna, where it squeezes out practically everything else, especially native and endemic species. It also draws fruit-flies, expanding their range, which frustrates efforts to cultivate more desireable fruit.

To fight this weed tree, the Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, the Hawaii Dept. of Agrictulture, and the Forest Service of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture propose to introduce a Brazilian insect called tectococcus ovatus,which severely weakens – but doesn’t kill – waiawi. It tunnels into the leaves, forcing the tree to make “galls” that contain the pest, instead of making new leaves. This is expected to slow the spread of waiwai, allowing people more time to cut thickets down and keep them down. The insect has no wings, and can move to adjacent trees only on the breeze; moreover, tests prove that it can live only on strawberry guava and on no other plant; so the release of this biological control agent is considered very safe.

Waiawi does have some practical uses. The fresh fruit, being in the guava family, are easily made into tasty jams and jellies; the wood, like other fruit-woods, makes an excellent smoke for curing meat and fish; and the trunks – if thick and straight enough – can turned into hardwood poles. So there is a small vocal contingent here, mainly in Puna, that objects to introducing tectococcus, in the name of “saving” the waiawi.

But, the USDA counters this misguided effort by pointing out that, if anyone actually wants to cultivate waiawi, or keep wild stands from being infected, they can do what farmers do for any other orchard crop: i.e., protect it with ordinary (preferably organic) insecticidal spray.

There is another invasive weed tree here that was introduced about the same time as waiawi; but it is currently being decimated without human intervention. The rose-apple (syzygium jambos), though not quite as aggressive as waiawi, tends to spread out more, and to form dark “tree-tunnel” arches over back-country roads. The fruit is rather dry: its “rose” being more of a scent than a flavor.

But rose apple trees are being attacked by a “rust fungus” disease that kills new growth and thereby starves the tree of energy. In a couple of years, many stands of rose apple will be bare and dead – and likely will be overtaken by waiawi, which is often found in the same areas.

There is a small but real danger that this rust could spread to other trees in the same (myrtle) family. The worst-case scenario would be a jump to native ohia. So Hawaii forest managers are urging the state to restrict new imports of nursery trees and other plant material that can harbor the rust. For more information about the rust,
click here