Tuesday, April 3, 2012

OTEC Receiving Renewed Attention around the World; Big Wind Continues Battling Its Way in the Legislature

SEPTEMBER 2012 UPDATE: As noted in the heading above, we've essentially stopped writing the Hawaii Energy Options blog now that we've moved to Northern California. Hawaii continues to struggle with its renewable energy options, and several of this blog's 2012 posts called attention to the tradeoffs citizens will or won't make to reduce their dependence on foreign oil for their energy needs.

This April 2001 post noted the ongoing fight in the Legislature over Big Wind (cable-transmitted power from the neighbor islands to Oahu). We mention it again because the fight still hasn't been resolved after years of wrangling. (February 2013 update of our September 2012 update: "Molokai Ranch ends wind farm talks with Pattern Energy, Bio-Logical Capital"

Civil Beat had an update (subscription may be necessary to view) on the Big Wind energy project and the state’s emphasis on its importance. Meanwhile, OTEC and other ocean energy technologies continued their drift toward the front burner – or maybe they were still on the back burner, but the intensity level was far above simmer.

Forbes published an article on activities of some of the major players in the drawn-out OTEC development experience, including Lockheed and OTE Corporation, which has an office in Honolulu.

We’re as high on OTEC as ever. It’s just that our OTEC attention span is on simmer and is likely to stay that way as agencies and corporations with the financial ability to back significant OTEC construction still ponder whether they'll ever get around to it. Here's hoping they finally make the commitment that will get Hawaii off oil and out from under its energy storm clouds.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blame It on the Holidays; We Get Back to Business as Legislature Opens Session with Energy a Big Concern

This break has lasted way too long, and we’ve let too many headline-making renewable energy issues go by without comment since our most recent post in early December. Today’s opening of the Hawaii State Legislature’s 2012 session is reason enough to get back at it. (See our Yes2Rail blog to know what we’ve been up to.)

Still big on the state's energy agenda is the Big Wind project slated for Molokai and Lanai. If anything, the opposition has strengthened its hand in the past couple months, continuing to build on its public and media relations campaign with frequent emails and postings to their websites.

The IAlohaMolokai group has its own channel on YouTube now and has posted videos of its PSAs, energy festival, legislators’ visits and other occasions.

Geothermal energy continues to attract interest and spark enthusiasm. Hawaii Electric Light Company said earlier this month it will begin soliciting bids for and additional 50 megawatts of this baseload power.

Just today, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription) reported on the deep cut in the cost to install installation photovoltaic systems in the islands. The decline was attributed to a worldwide overproduction of panels and the increase in local competition among installers and is good news for consumers who’ve been tempted to take the plunge.

As usual, what little enthusiasm we see for ocean thermal energy conversion is self-generated, although a piece in The Economist early this month wrapped up recent developments that include a modest starter plant in the Caribbean. This blog began nearly four years ago in a fit of pique over OTEC’s usual absence from the renewable energy discussion in the islands, but at least it’s no longer virtually out of sight and mind.

Some continue to believe at least a portion of the state’s push on the not-likely Big Wind project should be diverted toward OTEC, and we're one of them. Maybe this will be the year for a breakthrough on OTEC’s presence in the islands – but we’ve said that before.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why Doesn’t Columnist Just Come Out and Say It? ‘Molokai Is Subservient to Oahu Residents’ Needs’

The headline in Tuesday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser – “Molokai cannot be allowed to isolate itself from Oahu” – was another way of saying Molokai residents’ preferences don’t count.

Read it yourself if you can; the newspaper’s login portal often is flawed. The writer’s upset with Molokai was triggered by the “blockade” of Molokai’s Kaunakakai port that prevented a tour boat from offloading its passengers there on several occasions recently.

The columnist is a former Coast Guard officer and practices maritime law; he presumably feels qualified to write on port blockades, but he then jumps to another issue involving resistance on Molokai.

“How different is this from barring Big Wind from Molokai? These things are all part of a continuing campaign to isolate Molokai from Oahu and keep it free of wind farms, cruise ships,tourism and a local economy. Secede from anything that smacks of Oahu, excpept for the social safety net, is a one-way isolationism…..

“Actually, it’s just as much our island as it is your island, and it’s just as much our harbor as it is yours. I am just as much a citizen and taxpayer of this state as you are, and this is my state just as much as it is yours. One island can’t wall off the others. That kind of thinking went out hundreds of years ago.”

Do Oahu residents truly have as much right to determine Molokai’s future as Molokai residents? Columnist Jay Fidell might as well have written, “What’s yours is mine, and since we on Oahu outnumber you over on Molokai, we get to call the shots.”

The state’s energy administrator still seems determined to push through the Big Wind energy project that would plant 200 MW or more of wind power on Molokai. He recently told Civil Beat that “moving the inter-island cable network forward” is one of his three top priorities.

Well and good, but does that mean community-wide opposition to Big Wind on the Friendly Isle will be disregarded in order to achieve the state’s renewable energy goals? The tail is wagging the dog here;  the Legislature set energy goals, and they seemingly could to take precedence over opposition to environmental impacts that would be enormous on an island like Molokai.

Legislators created those laws and they can change them if achieving them would extract too high a price. Better to do what other island societies are doing – pursuing ocean thermal energy conversion as an off-island energy source that Hawaii’s leaders still can’t bring themselves to pursue equally as hard.

At least state energy administrator Mark Glick seems supportive. If only his superiors would band together as determinedly as leaders in the Bahamas, Guam and Indonesia seem to be doing (Google “ocean thermal energy conversion”).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Buried Lead: Murdock Says Lanai Island Is for Sale; Big Wind Project Faces Climb up a Glass Mountain; Oil Costs Are Up Again, Drive Electricity Rates to All-Time High

The Star-Advertiser's graphic tells the rising-power cost story.
Once again we’re playing catch-up here at Energy Options due to the ongoing need to spend most of our time over at Yes2Rail. The anti-rail minority’s obfuscation and dumbed-down arguments need attending to each day.

We may be wrong, but we’ve found only one online mention of billionaire David Murdock’s recent declaration that he intends to sell the island of Lanai. Civil Beat mentions it almost parenthetically in the third part of its series on the Big Wind energy project and the opposition it faces on that island and by Molokai residents.

Part one deals with Molokai, which appears to be in near-total denial about the 200-MW wind farm proposed for the island; part two covers the divisions within Lanai’s community, and part three describes an uneasy future for the project.


Brushing past this series without spending more time on it is definitely uncomfortable, but there’s just no time to dwell on it today. Nor do we have time to recount the presentation made to Mr. Murdock’s representatives a few years ago on how ocean thermal energy conversion could allow Lanai to achieve total independence from fossil fuels and supply abundant fresh water to the island.

Maybe whoever purchases Lanai from Mr. Murdock will give the proposal more attention, now that OTEC is advancing in the Caribbean and even on the Big Island.

Word from the National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) is that its board of directors has selected OTEC International to build a 1-MW OTEC demonstration project at NELHA’s Big Island facility.  As for OTEC elsewhere, the technology is making headlines, including one above a story that complains OTEC and other water-based renewable technologies haven’t received enough attention in California.

Out on Guam, Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation will be using a $50,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for an OTEC plant on that island. And you’ll find other OTEC stories if you use News.Google.com to find them.

Attention corporations and individual billionaires eager to own your own tropical paradise: It’s not too late to leave your mark on history by bringing a commercial-sized OTEC plant to the former Pineapple Isle. It would then be known forevermore as the OTEC Isle.

Electricity Rate Record

Never before have electricity costs been higher in Hawaii – and that means the highest in the country except for small outposts in Alaska and other remote locations. For the third consecutive month, Hawaiian Electric’s rates have climbed to new levels – 34.6 cents/kwh for residential customers this month. The Star-Advertiser has the story (subscription).

This is an unsustainable condition. Renewable energy’s development has never had more urgency. Let’s see something done with a technology that holds the most long-term promise – OTEC – and not a easier-to-build short-term solution – Big Wind – that has unacceptable environmental and economic costs.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Big Turbines Welcomed to Maui County, but Not the Whole County; Molokai Digs In Heels, Vows a Fight

Senator Mike Gabbard meets the people of Molokai on Big Wind.
It’s hard to imagine the Big Wind energy project being built as planned. Given an opportunity to speak out against the installation of dozens of 450-foot-plus tall wind turbines on the island, Molokai residents didn’t waste it.

The Molokai Dispatch reported on a tour of the proposed site by members of the State Senate’s Energy Committee, including Chair Mike Gabbard. A 52-minute video posted with the story was filled with residents in green T-shirts standing up and speaking out against the project.

The I Aloha Molokai group presented petitions urging self-sufficiency for Oahu rather than being dependent on Molokai for wind-generated energy. Kanoho Helm of I Aloha Molokai gave the visitors the results of a survey on the issue: 437 opposed to the wind farm-cable proposal, 19 supportive and 13 undecided.

A continuing theme was the importance of conservation – especially on Oahu. Reduced energy demand on that island will reduce pressure to develop off-island energy sources.

Yes on Maui

Back in Wailuku, the Maui Planning Commission has given its OK to Auwahi Wind Energy to install eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines on Ulupalakua Ranch in Upcountry Maui.

All of the electricity generated by the 21-MW wind farm will be used on the island and not exported, in contrast with the Big Wind project.

The good citizens of Maui apparently will be asked to accept and live with both the visual impact of the turbines themselves but also the overhead transmission lines that will convey the power from the wind farm down into the valley. The Commission voted to relieve Auwahi Wind Energy from a requirement to underground the lines at any point.

As an aside, we think most Oahu residents will readily accept the visual “impact” of Honolulu’s future overhead rail line. Call it the Price of Progress in an already developed environment. Molokai residents say they’re not prepared to pay that price for their aina – a view State government ultimately will have to accept.

Ocean thermal energy conversion, anyone?

Seriously -- OTEC Now?

OTEC is making headlines -- seemingly quite a few more in the past couple months since the Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation announced plans to build two plants in The Bahamas.  This blog began in 2008 to publicize the technology as an overlooked but critical piece of Hawaii's future energy mix.

With on-land impacts of other technologies apparently unacceptable to some of our citizens, it's time for the State of Hawaii to get serious about advancing OTEC with more than nice talk. Get Dan Inouye involved at some level in some way. If not now, when the good senator is still in power, when?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Biofuel Contact’a Rejection Stirs Columnist’s Ire, but Questions Still Need Asking about Renewables’ Costs

It wouldn’t be accurate to say nothing’s been happening re energy issues in Hawaii since our most recent post. Just the opposite has been true, but our involvement with the Honolulu rail project hasn’t exactly been on hiatus since then either.

We were jogged back into action here at Hawaii Energy Options by the ThinkTech column in today’s Star-Advertiser (subscription required). Author Jay Fidell argues that the Public Utilities Commission’s rejection of the Aina Koa Pono biofuels contract – subject of our post immediately below – was a huge setback for the cause of renewable energy in Hawaii.

Fidel writes: ”It was a dream deal: local company, local investment,local labor, local feedstock, sending less money overseas, increasing energy security, reducing vulnerability to oil volatility, producing utility-scale renewables that can be shipped anywhere in the state without waiting for an undersea cable, building the economy and making us look good. So good, uyou’d think we’d snap it up.”

Sounds like the deal had everything Hawaii citizens could want – except a price the PUC could accept. According to the PUC’s decision, the price premium residents and businesses would have paid over the anticipated cost of oil during the 20-year contract would have been somewhere between $100,000,000 and $999,999,999.

The deal would have added only $2 a month to the average consumer’s electric bill, according to Aina Koa Pono. With its line-in-the-sand ruling, the PUC says two bucks a month over 240 months is too much.

Best Use of Biofuel?

Some in Hawaii question whether burning biofuel in power plants in place of residual fuel oil or diesel is its highest and best use. With the state’s tourism industry 100-percent dependent on petroleum to bring visitors here in planes and ships, the argument is made that biofuels should be reserved for transportation. Another sharp spike or even a gradual rise (see chart at right) to 2008 oil prices would put the entire industry and everything dependent on it in the tank.

Clearly, the PUC’s decision sent a signal – or fired a shot across the bow – to those who believe renewable energy’s costs have no limit. Reasonable limits must be imposed on how much local residents and businesses are expected to pay to get off oil, and that includes the physical impacts these projects would impose.

If you also think Big Wind when you hear "impacts," we’re on the proverbial same sheet of music.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

PUC Draws a Line, Says Biofuel Plan Is Too Expensive

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s ruling this week that a proposed biofuel supply contract was too expensive could be a tip-off on how the commission will rule on other high-impact renewable energy projects.

It’s worth considering as the Big Wind project attempts to overcome the obstacles that are certain to confound it in the months and years ahead.

Molokai and Lanai residents say they’re determined to fight the planned 200-MW wind farms on each island because of impacts on the aina. There’s little point in denying 400-foot-plus wind turbines will have significant impacts; proponents don’t even try and instead work to offset them with localized benefits.

The PUC has signaled a “too much is too much” attitude. Ratepayers would have paid a premium for the Aina Koa Pono-supplied biofuel of at least $100,000,000 over the course of the proposed 20-year contract. Price details are still confidential, and the PUC refers only to a “nine-figure” premium – which under those guidelines could push the premium to the billion-dollar mark.

Tail Wagging?

It’s also worth asking whether the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative tail is wagging the dog. Just because targets call for significant slashes in the use of fossil fuels in the islands by 2030 is no reason to throw caution to the wind when renewable projects are up for consideration.

The PUC seems to be following a cautious approach to meeting those goals, and we’ll have to see if it applies to the Big Wind project.

Proven base-load geothermal technology is being heavily promoted by those who believe it's a better option than intermittent wind power. And as always, we're promoting the still-nascent ocean thermal energy conversion technology for its potential to play a major role in achieving energy security for the islands.

Geothermal and OTEC development will be expensive – no doubt about it – but some premiums may be worth it.

BY THE WAY: Don't let those charts in the right-hand column column fool you about the direction energy costs are headed in Hawaii. The price of gasoline has been rising here since June even as it declines across the country. We pay the highest electricity rates in the nation (32 cents/kwh on Oahu, much more on the neighbor islands), and the same's true for gasoline. And Subway's "$5 Foot-long" special during October? Forget it: "Prices higher in Alaska and Hawaii." Welcome to Paradise.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

OTE Corporation Signs Memo of Understanding, Will Build and Operate 2 OTEC plants in The Bahamas

 Graphic from today's edition of The Nassau Guardian.
This one does seem to be the “real deal,” and maybe ocean thermal energy conversion technology finally is about to see its first commercial-grade power plants.

OTE Corporation has signed a memo of understanding with the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) to build, operate and maintain two OTEC plants somewhere in the islands – location to be determined.

The company, with headquarters in Pennsylvania and an office in Honolulu, says it will build the plants using its own financial resources and will require no financing by BEC or The Bahamian government.

Stories in The Tribune, caribbean360 and The Nassau Guardian have details on the deal. The latter leaves out the essence of how OTEC works – glancing over the process by saying cold and warm ocean waters “are combined to produce great amounts of stream (sic), which subsequently drives turbine generators."

But we’re in no mood to quibble with the reports coming from The Bahamas (beyond our usual copyeditor tendencies). This would seem to be a significant advance of the OTEC technology, and one can hope it will be pursued quicker here in Hawaii because of what’s will happen there in The Bahamas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Hawaii the State that Says ‘No’ to Green Energy, or Does It Say ‘Yes’ When the Project Is the Right One?

With the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo convened today, this is a good time to question the notion that resistance to renewable energy projects boils down to NIMBYism.

That’s the criticism in Jay Fidell’s ThinkTech column in the Star-Advertiser today (subscription) that’s headlined “Shortsightedness must stop if clean energy is to flourish.” A different headline writer might have composed “All clean energy projects must be developed no matter what” to summarize the column’s thrust.

Just where does majority opinion lie in Hawaii on this fundamental issue about getting off oil – at all costs, or with reason? Here’s an excerpt from a letter in today’s Maui News submitted by Susan Osako of Lanai City, displayed under this headline: “OTEC and geothermal should be considered first”:

“The mission to create a 100 percent clean energy Hawaii is our goal. We need and want ocean thermal energy conversion and geothermal. Both are firm/constant sources of clean energy in Hawaii. They can provide 100 percent of our electrical needs even more consistently than oil.”

The writer and Mr. Fidell agree that Hawaii must get off oil; where they diverge is their reaction to the impacts the Big Wind energy project would impose on Lanai and Molokai – with scores of wind turbines 400 feet and taller on the islands. Where Mr. Fidell sees a lack of courage in a state more willing to say “no” to green energy projects, Ms. Osako sees it differently from her perspective on the ground:

“The outsiders have descended on Hawaii and are pushing industrial wind turbines, hoping to cover every mile of open land. Recreation, vistas, weather, culture and heritage are invaluable assets to a small island. If you take away all of these things, what good is electricity from any source?” Maybe Mr. Fidell will find himself in a forum where he’ll be asked to answer Ms. Osako’s question.

Saying 'No' to Some
As we see it, projects can‘t be justified when their impacts would be massive on the land, the community and the people. Big Wind is such a project, and technology advocates like Mr. Fidell might want to re-examine the assumptions that have caused them to believe projects like Big Wind are inevitable.

Assumptions like “OTEC is still decades away” and “geothermal is still a cultural issue….” Those beliefs themselves are out-dated; companies working on OTEC plan to build Hawaii's first plant by the middle of this decade, and native Hawaiians are among those backing geothermal energy’s expansion in Hawaii.

The sooner projects like Big Wind are recognized as unacceptable and/or unfeasible, the sooner the entire state can rally behind base-load projects like OTEC and geothermal and truly achieve Hawaii’s goal of energy independence.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Asia Pacific Energy Summit Convenes This Week as Resistance To Big Wind Builds Steam on Molokai

The third annual Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo kicks off tomorrow, and it takes a couple minutes for the website to cycle through the photographs of more than 200 speakers. They include a governor and ex-governor, utility representatives, legislators, military officials, advocates for solar, wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion technology, landfill experts, private equity investors, lawyers and many others. There’s at least one misidentification – the current chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is still listed as a state representative – but getting everything right would be a stretch.

Word comes from Molokai as the Summit gets underway that opposition to the Big Wind energy project is growing, and one wonders whether that community-based effort will be noticed by the guests.

According to the Molokai Dispatch, the “I Heart Molokai” group is growing even as wind energy developers pledge their intent to work with the community.

We suspect the opposition will be explained away by Big Wind backers as NIMBYism, but we continue to believe it represents the fork in the road for energy policy makers here.

Go down one fork and you sink billions of dollars into an intermittent wind energy project with huge localized impacts and that can’t possibly pencil out in the short or long term. Go down the other and you sink billions into a baseload technology that holds the promise of releasing Hawaii from oil’s stranglehold.

We’re talking OTEC, of course, and we’ll be watching the Summit for evidence that something other than more endless praise for OTEC comes out of this conference.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

‘I Aloha Molokai’ Group Speaks Up & Out on Big Wind

A scene from an I Aloha Molokai video.
Let’s dispense right off with the notion that Molokai residents who oppose the Big Wind energy project are a bunch of NIMBYs with no appreciation of the issues.

NIMBYism doesn’t even enter the equation when the size of Big Wind's impacts are considered.

The “I Aloha Molokai” group has launched a campaign against Big Wind that goes to the heart of the matter – Molokai residents’ insistence that energy projects respect their values. Projects that threaten those values are not acceptable, as they are making clear in their campaign.

I Heart Molokai has sponsored series of high-quality videos created with plenty of professional expertise. Here are a couple quotes from one of them, accessible at the group’s website:

"Molokai says 'no' to a lot of things, but we do this to perpetuate our land, our culture and our lifestyle."

"These developers don't care about Molokai. They just want to make their profits and move on to the next money-making location."

Check out the material at the site and see if you can find flaws in the group’s arguments. High-cost Big Wind isn’t wanted on the Friendly Isle, and many of us on Oahu don’t see how the economics make sense – $3 billion to deliver an average of 160 MW of power – let alone the unacceptable impacts on Molokai, and Lanai, too.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

PUC Rejects HECO on ‘Big Wind,’ Directs New RFP

The “Big Wind” soap opera continues here in Hawaii even as Vermont residents add to the drama surrounding proposed utility-scale wind energy projects.

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has rejected a Hawaiian Electric Company request to allow it it to assign half of the 400-MW neighbor island wind energy project to a new developer on Molokai. No dice, said the PUC, which ordered the utility to submit a new request for proposals for that amount of power.

Civil Beat is following the Big Wind story closely and summarizes the most recent action at its website, along with earlier developments; the PUC’s order is also linked there. We note the following from CB’s story today:

“The Molokai wind farm is still a possibility. But Hawaiian Electric must put out a RFP for 200 mw of renewable energy, which can now be sited on any island that can reasonably reach Oahu via a cable, or on Oahu itself. The RFP also must be open to any technology, not just wind. The 200 mw Lanai portion of the project is permitted to proceed, but must gain final PUC approval.”

Ocean thermal energy conversion could be an “any technology” – another glimmer of a possibility that OTEC has a direct and applicable future in the islands. An OTEC plant parked 2 or 3 miles off the Kahe power plant on Oahu would require no extensive cabling to deliver its power to the power grid here. And with a capacity factor near 100 perceent compared to Big Wind’s anticipated CF of 40 percent or less, OTEC would be the better option.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Molokai & Lanai Residents, You’re Not Alone; Vermont Citizens are Fighting To Keep Giant Windmills Out, Too

Vermonters rally against utility-scale wind projects.
 August 25 Update: New England protest nets TV coverage.
Citizens from New England to Hawaii are thinking and speaking along this same line: Just because a renewable energy project is technologically feasible doesn’t mean it’s worth doing.

Vermonters are rallying in Montpelier today against utility-scale wind developments, and their concerns sound almost exactly like what Molokai and Lanai residents have been saying about the proposed “Big Wind” project on their islands.

“We are tired of the State allowing developers to force their inappropriate renewable developments onto the back of our communities and ridgelines,” said Mike Nelson of Albany, VT.

Organizers say they want to draw attention to other alternatives that would advance the state’s energy portfolio without scaring the land. “This isn’t about saying ‘No, no, no!’” said Pat O’Neill of the Lowell Mountains Group. “It is about saying ‘let’s do something that is good for our communities and that we can all get behind.’ The cost of solar is dropping rapidly, and it doesn’t have the impacts on our natural resources that utility-scale wind does. We can do renewable energy here in Vermont without harming our most natural assets.”

Sounds like a commitment to protect exactly what neighbor islanders want to protect – the aina. And Vermonters’ support for solar energy is certainly paralleled by solar support in Hawaii, where the solar energy resource is available directly from the sun and from the biggest solar storage battery on the plant – our tropical ocean.


Solar PVs and ocean thermal energy conversion represent Hawaii's one-two punch to provide long-term renewable energy security for the state. Some want to bridge to OTEC using geothermal revenues. Maybe Ku`oko`a is right in holding that vision, but there’s a big puka in that concept – no geothermal resource on Oahu and Kauai.

Bringing geothermal-produced energy to these islands would require either undersea cables – hugely expensive – or fuel in another form extracted from the geothermal process (such as hydrogen), or both. All islands in the chain are surrounded by that great solar energy collector of an ocean; OTEC plants moored just a few miles offshore would feed their energy to the host island using relatively inexpensive cable technology.

Like Vermont, Hawaii is still early in the process of developing utility-sized wind projects such as Big Wind, and like Vermonters, Hawaii residents are speaking up and protesting the NIMBY label that some seem too eager to pin on them.

Vermont rally organizer Steve Write of Craftsbury said ralliers are not NIMBYs or anti-wind. “For us, this is about protecting our state’s highest quality waters and keeping our habitats connected,” he said. “Today we hope officials see us as a growing movement that wants to change Vermont’s energy future for the better.”

Check out this commentary by Vermonters for a Clean Environment, and stay tuned to what happens to wind energy development in the Green Mountain State. It could be instructive here at home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

OTEC Firm Gets ‘First Approval in Principle’ for its Plant; Action Potentially Clears Way for Insurance & Financing, Improves Chances Oahu Will See Facility Built Here Soon

We don’t want to over-promote this, but three lines in the headline do seem appropriate in this case: The latest news about ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) seems to suggest a major milestone that could speed OTEC development here in the islands.

ABS (short for American Bureau of Shipping) has given “first approval in principle” to a floating OTEC production facility that’s proposed by OTEC International (OTI) of Baltimore, MD.

ABS describes itself as the world’s leading classification society in verifying “that marine vessels and offshore structures comply with Rules that the society has established for design, construction and periodic survey.”

The approval amounts to a “seal of approval” of OTI’s design and overall concept for a “moored spar” to generate electricity using temperature differences between the tropical ocean’s warm surface and deep, cool waters from 3,000 feet below.

There’s nothing new about the OTEC concept, which was first theorized in the 19th century and was first proven off the Big Island’s Kona coast in the 1970s. But this may be the first time an international rating agency has found favor with a specific design to commercialize it.

An industry insider we rely on for insights tells us that if any other OTEC proponent has achieved a similar endorsement, it hasn’t been announced.

Significantly, he says ABS’s action means the United States Coast Guard will allow the platform’s use, insurance companies will underwrite it and investors can jump in with a strong sense of assurance, although the latter may not be a concern for OSI, which already has foundation backing. It also means a shipyard can actually build one of OTI's designs; we're assured by a reliable source that if OSI builds in Hawaii, it will be a 100-MW commercial version.

“It is not a sexy milestone but a critical one nonetheless,” our friend says, “because without it, no offshore OTEC facility will get built.”

Ian Simpson, ABS Director of Offshore Technology and Business Development, Americas Division, was quoted in a company press release:

“This concept combines proven offshore principles with off-the-shelf power, technology and proprietary innovations, all assembled in a unique way. The design application illustrates how ABS is able to use its novel concept approach and guidance to provide review of a concept within the framework of established safety standards.”

The “moored spar” concept is being tested by StatoilHydro offshore of Norway in the North Sea to support a wind turbine. Like an iceberg with 90 percent of its mass below the sea’s surface, OTI’s spar concept puts the mechanical components – pumps, heat exchangers, generators, etc. – below the surface in a cylindrical spar and not on a ship or platform on the surface. The slide show at OTI's website makes this concept clearer than we can in this paragraph.

What this leads to depends on a laundry list of variables, but we hope more will be forthcoming soon from OTI about the company’s plans to build OTEC here in Hawaii. A power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company could be in the works.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Environmentalists Stepping Up to Fight ‘Green’ Projects

Photo Credit: BrightSorce Energy 
We’ve taken a break from the energy blog and let the most recent ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC)-related post hang in there while we blogged on Honolulu rail and even the infamous MLB.com Hawaii blackout of the World Champions. But it’s time to get back into an issue that’s hot in Hawaii and around the country.

The Big Wind energy project is becoming more problematic as the months roll by, what with Lanai and Molokai residents objecting to 400-foot-tall wind turbines and others doubting that the economics can ever work out. Spending $3 billion on a project that would deliver an average of about 160 megawatts of wind-generated power to Oahu doesn’t look like much of a deal. We say, better to launch a serious OTEC effort.

A Clean Technica article posted today has a disapproving reaction to environmental challenges to solar energy projects. It ends with this:

“The U.S. government and environmental groups need to take a hard look at the economic and energy future of this country and realize that their actions are making it harder not only to create jobs but the infrastructure this country needs to grow in a sustainable manner.”

The piece touches on several lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club and others and reaches the conclusion we’ve just quoted. The assertion is that litigation delays the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy development around the nation including in Hawaii, which is mentioned.

As we see it, there’s no such thing as a renewable energy project without limits. At some point, the costs and impacts of projects that are technically feasible impose those limits, no matter how well-intentioned the backers or presumably beneficial the project.

That’s why Big Wind seems objectionable from what we know so far. The impacts are huge, and so are its costs for the intended benefit.

Whether you agree or disagree, you’re invited to visit the Hawaii Energy Forum, where you can sign up and exchange views on this and many other energy-related issues. It’s free.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Need To ‘See, Touch and Feel’ OTEC Generation

Lt. Governor Brian Schatz visited Molokai recently and met with The Molokai Dispatch on a number of issues, including the proposed Big Wind energy project. After acknowledging that disagreements can arise over efforts to reduce the state’s dependence on imported fuel, he said this:

“When you think about it, we’re at 90 percent fossil fuel, and in order to move from 90 percent imported fossil fuel to clean energy we’re going to actually have to see, touch and feel the generation of energy. There’s no magic wand we can wave where we get clean energy without seeing, touching or feeling it, or paying for it….”

True, there’s no magic wand, but there is indeed one renewable energy technology just waiting to be developed in the islands that residents wouldn’t see, wouldn’t touch and wouldn’t feel – ocean thermal energy conversion.
OTEC plants would be stationed miles from shore, and depending on their hardware configuration, their profiles might be no more visible than a passing Young Brothers barge on the horizon, and possibly less so. Power would be sent to the islands via undersea cable, and so could abundant amounts of fresh water – again depending on which OTEC process is employed. (Makai Ocean Engineering’s OTEC website, source of this graphic, is the best we’ve yet seen for its explanation of the technology.)

The thrust of the lieutenant governor’s remarks was that fairness must be a part of renewable energy projects. When asked about community opposition that in the end might fight Big Wind on Molokai regardless of what’s fair, the lieutenant governor seemed to suggest a definition of “community” that’s larger than the island’s residents:

“I think it depends on how you define community. It’s very early in the process, and I’m confident that we can find ways to make renewable energy work and still have respect for and appreciation for the places where the energy gets generated… And so if you do these things in a way that’s fair, then you can get maybe not everyone unanimously in favor of something, but you can get some degree of consensus. And I think as long as you’re respectful and fair, that’s the right way to do things.”

We’ll have to see whether Molokai will continue its tradition of resisting projects with much less impact on the aina than Big Wind’s turbine farm presumably would impose.

This blog's hope is that Lt. Governor Schatz will become an outspoken proponent of OTEC from within the highest level of our state's government because of OTEC's vast potential to be the base-load energy resource Hawaii so desperately needs – one that virtually no one would notice, let along touch and feel.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Editorial Gives OTEC Two Thumbs Up — At Last; Could OTEC Be Rising as ‘Big Wind’ Runs into Turbulence? UPDATE: Ku`oko`a Plan To Buy HEI Scores Big Ink

Sunday Update: Startup Ku`oko`a’s “heavy hitter” board of directors is highlighted in the Sunday Star-Advertiser’s business section. “Big Wind” rates only a minor, almost parenthetical mention in this story. Just maybe our theory (keep reading, below) about declining support for the wind energy project is seeing some proof. Join the conversation on Hawaii energy issues by signing up at the Hawaii Energy Forum (it's free) and tell us what you think about Ku`oko`a, energy efficiency/conservation programs, Big Wind and everything else about Hawaii's energy future.

Is it possible that ocean thermal energy conversion is now flowing along in the mainstream? The week began with OTEC making a splash on the Star-Advertiser’s business page. It ends with an editorial endorsing the technology as a “promising option” to help Hawaii achieve energy independence.

So what’s really going on?

Has OTEC truly gone from overshadowed and unmentioned status (see March 16, 2008 editorial in one-half of the same newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser) to the hottest tech of the moment on its own?

Or does this hot new romance with OTEC hint at something else behind the curtain and below the surface – background radiation from a story bigger than the editorial’s content, which – let's face it – could have been written 30 years ago, and probably was?

OTEC and ‘Big Wind’

We’re thinking it does and that it has everything to do with the growing disenchantment and complications around the 400-megawatt wind energy project targeted for Molokai and Lanai.

Just yesterday the Star-Advertiser reported on a Public Utilities Commission ruling that requires Hawaiian Electric Company to go find a new partner for the Molokai segment of the project. It would appear that the whole Big Wind project is receiving the kind of scrutiny that was missing in 2007-08 when this mega-wind project swept through almost unnoticed by the general public – or so it seems in retrospect. The project prompted dueling commentaries from opponents and defenders in the past week that are linked from the renewable energy discussion Forum at Hawaii Energy’s website. (You’re invited to join the discussion there.)

News also broke in the past week of the intervener status both Maui County and Life of the Land have been granted in the Big Wind docket at the PUC.

Turning on a dime to reject one energy technology while embracing others seems to be the new rage. Both Japan and Germany have resolved to dump nuclear power, and although details are lacking, a friend in France says his country has turned against solar energy.

So that’s what we think is happening here, too. Some of the lever pullers behind the curtains have finally concluded that a $3 billion intermittent energy project isn’t even an intermediary stop on the path toward energy independence in the islands.

The new darling is OTEC, and our guess is that you’ll start seeing more evidence of OTEC’s ascendance the rest of this year. We’ll stick with that theory until something or someone convinces us we're wrong.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Memo to N.I. Residents: Oahu Power Rates Are High!

Graphic from Sunday's OTEC story in the Star-Advertiser
Here’s the deal, and we’ll see if Molokai and Lanai residents think it’s a good one: Welcome the Big Wind energy project onto your island and have your electric rates lowered to equal what Oahu residents pay.

What’s your reaction to that, neighbor islanders? Is that a good deal or just so much snake oil?

We Oahu residents already are paying the nation’s highest electricity rates by far -- with the exception of your rates, of course. It’s impossible to believe they won’t increase after a $3 billion energy project is installed that has to be paid for the only way possible – in our electricity bills!

Maybe your electricity rates will decrease from their current impossibly and laughably high levels, but that’s like being thankful for getting a splinter out of your thumb while your hand is still clamped in a vice.

The other piece of the deal, as outlined today in the Star-Advertiser by an executive of Pattern Energy, is the promise of 100-percent renewable energy dependence on Molokai and Lanai, thanks to Big Wind. Pattern’s David Parquet says it’ll happen because the computer models and studies say it’ll happen.

And if It Doesn’t?

Studies look at historical evidence and predict the future based on the past. Are we slam-dunk positive those trade winds will continue blowing for decades to come as the climate changes? That’s something to consider, because the last thing you want to see if you accept Big Wind onto your island is dozens of wind turbines, each more than 400 feet tall, sitting there doing nothing in breezes too weak to turn their blades.

No matter what is offered by Big Wind promoters, it has to be measured against cost and environmental impact, not only for our generation but for your children and their children. It has always seemed beyond sketchy to us to put all our treasure and hopes into one intermittent wind project, especially when it requires undersea cables to fulfill its promise.

Ask any supporter of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) how far the technology would advance with an investment of $3 billion, and we’re pretty sure you’d hear “all the way to commercialization on a level with what Big Wind would produce.”

With $3 billion backing OTEC, we’d be tapping into the world’s greatest and inexhaustible solar energy collector – the tropical ocean that surrounds our state – and it wouldn’t be intermittent power, like wind. It would be base-load power – running 24 hours a day, every day, taken from an ocean that scientists predict will be even warmer with climate change. (For OTEC, warmer surface water is good.)

That amount spent on Big Wind would preempt OTEC’s rollout on a similar scale, wouldn’t it? Only so much money can be squeezed out of the ratepayer – or so it would seem.

But you be sure to think about it, neighbor island friends. Imagine...spending only what Oahu residents pay for electricity.... Could Paradise ever be as sweet?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Media Finally Giving OTEC the Prominence It Deserves

“The tropical ocean is the world’s largest solar collector and storage ‘battery’ -- so big that small thinking apparently can’t detect it.”

That quote is from the third post here at Hawaii Energy Options -- our reaction on March 16, 2008 to a Honolulu Advertiser editorial that omitted ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) from a list of “the Islands’ reservoir of power.”

OTEC was usually missing three years ago when reporters and editors wrote about Hawaii’s renewable energy options. That’s why this blog's first entry said:

“It's past time for lawmakers to look beyond the obvious and get serious about how to exploit the solar energy trapped in ocean waters surrounding Hawaii. Using existing technology, OTEC can extract that energy and create enough electricity to power tens or hundreds of thousands of island homes, as well as commerce and industry.”

What a difference three more years of near-total dependence on fossil fuel and billions of dollars sent out of state can make. Today’s Star-Advertiser puts OTEC on page one of its Money Section in the print edition – big headline, huge photo, half an inside page devoted to OTEC.

OTEC or Big Wind?

Even as the media were ignoring OTEC in March 2008, prominent space was given to the Big Wind project – 400 megawatts of wind energy on two neighbor islands, power shipped to Oahu’s grid via undersea cable.

Castle & Cooke responded to the mood of the moment with a commentary saying it and other Hawaii companies “are ready to proceed with projects that can help Hawaii meet its goal of generating 20 percent of our energy fro renewable resources by 2020.” C&C proposed a 300-400 MW wind farm – just the ticket to put all that unused Lanai land to use and offset the financial losses of the island’s two upscale resorts.

“We cannot afford to waste another year talking about the problems we face,” wrote Harry Saunders, president of Castle & Cooke Hawaii. “We know what they are and how to solve them. What we need is for government to facilitate private investment in renewable technologies and remove the roadblocks standing in the way of a secure and sustainable future.”

Hawaii’s government has gone “all in” on Big Wind since that March 2008 weekend, when oil traded around $111 per barrel on Friday. We can only speculate where government’s emphasis would have gone if commentaries and editorials back then had been pushing hard for base-load, low-impact OTEC instead of intermittent, high-impact wind. (The price quote for Brent crude two days ago was $118.20.)

OTEC's emerging prominence and the public's new awareness of its potential may be what's needed to pull Hawaii's energy planners back from their "all in" gamble on Big Wind -- a technology at once overwhelmingly unpopular with neighbor islanders and insufficient to meet Oahu's long-term energy needs.

With support comparable to what government has given Big Wind, a Big Ocean project using OTEC technology could be launched this decade and eventually meet our needs for generations to come. The time is ripe for the state to shift its focus from the neighbor island wind energy project and start focusing on the limitless and constant source of energy that surrounds us.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Big Wind Public Info Process Shows Signs of Cracking

“You have to go through this process of noise, where you let people feel that they had a platform to speak. But you can’t let the noise distract you because time is a nemesis….” ~ Michael Cyrus, a managing partner at SteelRiver Infrastructure Partners, as quoted by Pacific Business News.

“…if they’re asking Hawaiian Electric (not to) say yes to anything because some people don’t like it, we can’t do that.” ~ Robbie Alm, executive vice president, Hawaiian Electric Company, as quoted by The Molokai Dispatch.

We’ll try not to read too much into those quotes. Taken one way – the way the speakers would want you to take them – they simply are evidence of the dogged determination and commitment Big Wind project supporters have to bring this wind energy project to fruition.

Taken another way, they could suggest a dismissive attitude about the public involvement process with neighbor island residents who have long complained that they feel like second-class citizens. We’d hate to see Big Wind confirm it for them.

Here’s another quote about the Big Wind public meetings, as supplied by Robin Kaye of Friends of Lanai: “Can’t we talk about something besides wind?” Governor Neal Abercrombie asked during his July 2 meeting on the island.

Maybe so, but it’s a pretty good bet that 80-percent-plus of the comments and questions the Governor will get on Lanai and Molokai any time soon will be about wind. After all, he’s the man who threatened back in April to condemn 10,000 acres on Molokai if it were necessary to move Big Wind forward.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), the technology many of us believe is Hawaii’s best long-term hope for energy independence, continues to attract media coverage, as it does in today’s edition of Pacific Business News.

Governor Abercrombie would indeed have something else to talk about if he’d direct more of his resources toward base-load energy technologies like geothermal and OTEC and less toward intermittent wind -- especially when there's a headwind blowing at him on the neighbor islands.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

‘Kill Big Wind Project before It Kills Our Pocketbooks’

Today’s Star-Advertiser carries a commentary under the above headline (it’s slightly different in the original) by Mike Bond, energy industry veteran and Molokai resident. His piece rips the proposed wind energy project on Molokai and Lanai.

Bond calls Big Wind “an engineering and financial tsunami that will enrich its backers and leave the rest of us far worse than before.”

He follows a thread we’ve been picking away at for several months – the myth that Big Wind’s planned 400 megawatts of installed generation will satisfy a sizable chunk of Oahu’s power requirements. (See this February post and several others in March and April.) Inconsistent winds, line losses and other factors would not allow neighbor island wind farms to deliver more than a small fraction of their theoretical potential to Oahu via undersea cable.

Bond’s bases his argument against Big Wind on several factors, with the project’s financial impact taking the most heat. He writes, “In fact, no developer will even touch Big Wind unless the entire $1 billion for the undersea cable can be charged to HECO customers, raising our electricity bills by 30 percent.”

The piece should be required reading for anyone affiliated with the Big Wind project – if for no other reason than to be the basis of their response to the newspaper, which we can expect to read in a few days. Drawing out proponents would be a healthy outcome of Bond’s critical assessment of Big Wind, which on this Independence Day weekend concludes with a pitch for greater transparency and democracy through ratepayer participation:

“The governor, HECO et al. should realize that Maui, Lanai and Molokai are not colonies, nor part of the former Soviet Union. It’s time we were given the truth about Big Wind, so this ridiculous project can be quickly killed before it eats us all out of house and home.”

Friday, July 1, 2011

Pattern Energy ‘Won’t Go Forward’ if People Say No; HECO says Opposition Not Enough Reason To Stop

This sign greets visitors at Molokai's airport.
We should have learned by now to check in frequently with the neighbor island newspapers for their coverage of the proposed Big Wind energy project -- The Molokai Dispatch, for example.

It wasn’t until this morning’s report on Hawaii Public Radio by a Dispatch reporter that we heard one of the most important utterances to date about Big Wind, which would install 200 megawatts of wind generating capacity on Molokai and another 200 on Lanai. Their output would be transmitted to Oahu via undersea cables.

A June 26th story at the Dispatch’s website quoted Christian Hackett, senior developer for Pattern Energy, which wants to build the Molokai project:

“We have no doubt that if the community does not support the project after we’ve gone through the process and provided the information and answered questions thoughtfully, this project won’t go forward,” he said. “Molokai residents have a history of successfully stopping projects that they don’t believe in, and that’s gonna happen here – if we don’t get community support for the project, the project won’t go forward.”

Mr. Hackett undoubtedly is an optimist out of necessity and still has hopes of attracting the community support he needs. According to the Dispatch, however, public opinion surveys have found opposition to Big Wind above 90 percent on Molokai.

We don’t know the surveys’ questions, protocols and margins of error, so we have no way of evaluating their quality, but it wouldn’t be surprising if scientific surveys using accepted best practices in opinion polling found similar results. No survey suggesting anything but overwhelming opposition to Big Wind has been publicized to our knowledge.

Count us among the skeptics that Big Wind will ever be built – not with the widespread opposition as described in the surveys and newspaper stories.

“We Can’t Do That”

The bigger reason to question the project, though, is the intermittent nature of the energy source. As a long-time believer in ocean thermal energy conversion and its eventual role in supplying base-load abundant power to the islands, we can’t join the enthusiasm for Big Wind as expressed by some of Hawaii’s major energy players.

That includes Hawaiian Electric Company, which apparently is positioned to endorse major energy projects like Big Wind regardless of public opinion. HECO’s Robbie Alm told the Dispatch last week: “…if they’re asking Hawaiian Electric (not to) say yes to anything because some people don’t like it, we can’t do that.”

“Some people” in this case would seem to be virtually the entire population of Molokai. That’s a questionable position for any company to take – especially a public utility.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Big Projects Panel Let’s ‘Big Wind’ Off Easy

It’s no knock on attorney Jerry Sumida to suggest that the Big Wind segment of last week’s Big Projects panel at the Plaza Club didn’t quite match the build-up. (We would have posted about the June 23 event earlier but for a getaway week in Waikoloa on the Big Island. If any place in Hawaii deserves the “Big Wind” designation, this is it.)

Careful as always to measure his words, Sumida presented the basics of the Big Wind energy project without prejudicing the issues, going only so far as to suggest “not making or delaying a decision (on the project) is actually making a decision. Either we remain stuck in our dependence on oil as we are today or we do something about it.”

Some of the pre-event publicity implied that NIMBYism might thwart plans to build 200 megawatts of wind energy generating capacity on Molokai and another 200 MW on Lanai, but Sumida didn’t go there. He instead noted that Hawaii exports about $4 billion annually to buy the oil that runs 95 percent of the state’s economy.

“What could we do with these funds if they stayed here,” he asked, saying the choice is between exercising greater independence in our energy future or not. Big Wind could contribute to achieving that independence, he said, but questions need to be asked and answered for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Biggest of the Big

The Big Projects panel sought to understand why large projects like Big Wind, the Super Ferry and Honolulu rail seem to take forever or don’t succeed at all. In that regard, former Governor Ben Cayetano dominated the event with his recitation of why he’s fighting the rail project. We wasted no time addressing his comments at our sister blog, Yes2Rail.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

“Hey, Gang! Let’s Put On a Show and Call it ‘Big Wind’”

6/20 Update: PBN story says "HEI's credit rating could complicate Big Wind."
It’s whacky, but when we read the editorial in the Star-Advertiser this morning on the Big Wind energy project, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland popped into mind.

The connection with the young actors of the late ‘30s and early ‘40s was the over-the-top enthusiasm for Big Wind in some circles – the same kind of boundless enthusiasm oozed by Rooney and Garland on the silver screen in their “backyard musicals.” Maybe you’ve seen them on TV.

The lasting impression from those musicals was the brainstorm the actors would have about what they could do with all their singing and dancing talent. “Let’s put on a show!” one of them would shout, and then they would. It was cute, and audiences loved it for a while.

In the end, audiences cooled to the cuteness, and we’re wondering if that will be the ultimate outcome of Big Wind, the plan to build 400 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity on Molokai and Lanai and transmit it to Oahu with seafloor cables.

There’s plenty of enthusiasm for the project – from Hawaiian Electric Company, the State Energy Office, the Public Utilities Commission, wind energy producers and landowners Castle & Cooke and Molokai Ranch.

But the ranks of the skeptical and unenthusiastic are growing. Neighbor islanders appear united in near-unanimous opposition to forever turning over thousands of acres of their islands’ open space to the farms. Environmental organizations and even the County of Maui are complaining about the lack of transparency.

And then there’s the presumed inadequacy (from where we sit, at least) of putting Oahu’s energy eggs into one neighbor island basket and relying so heavily on the intermittency of wind power. Oahu needs base-load power, but even an optimistic assessment of Big Wind’s potential suggests that only about 160 MW would be available on average for Oahu’s grid. OTEC, anyone?

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney never had to worry about whether their on-screen musicals would succeed. MGM had it written into the script.

Big Wind’s script is only a broad outline, however, and there’s still doubt about who some of the major players will be. Then there’s the potential for strange plot twists, such as possible State condemnation of Molokai land to bypass local opposition. And you thought Spider Man has had trouble on Broadway….

Big Wind will be part of a panel discussion on Thursday sponsored by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association and ThinkTech under the broad title, “What makes Big Projects so hard in Hawaii?The public is invited to register for the paid event.

Monday, June 13, 2011

‘Big Wind’ Starting To Look Like a ‘Big Denial’

Honolulu Star-Advertiser graphic
The “denial” of which we write is the string of denials issued by the Public Utilities Commission to parties that want a seat at the table in the formal consideration of Big Wind, the 400-megawatt neighbor island wind power project. The Friends of Lanai and Life of the Land both have received rejections of their bids to intervene in PUC dockets on the project, and now the County of Maui is asking for more Big Wind transparency.

Another “denial” might be the apparent tendency to dismiss neighbor island residents’ concerns about the impact of adding 200 or more wind turbines to their rural landscape. Some in the community are crying NIMBY and implying that not-in-my-backyard concerns are illegitimate.

The Hawaii Venture Capital Association is hosting a panel discussion on June 23 titled “Big Projects – Why Are They Stuck?” The event’s online announcement says “the program will examine some of the Big Projects we’ve been waiting for and try to find out why they haven’t been completed and what should be done.” Big Wind and the Honolulu rail project are on the agenda.

The apparent willingness to embrace Big Wind also is a denial of sorts of the promise of base load technology to address Oahu’s future electricity needs. Some see more promise in geothermal than wind energy for that purpose, whereas we continue to believe ocean thermal energy conversion is the best long-term answer.

What seems certain at this time is that Big Wind will continue to provide its share of "Who-Shot-JR” moments in Hawaii’s long-running renewable energy soap opera.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hawaii’s ‘Tsunami of Isolation’ Dictates Innovation

A long holiday weekend with plenty of writing time helps break the silence here at Hawaii Energy Options. Frankly, we’ve been giving the Big Wind Soap Opera a rest until the producers have settled on a permanent cast and the characters are either married off or poisoned out of the script. New plot developments might test our resolve, however.

No such writing drought has affected Pat Takahasi, the innovative thinker and chief advocate of the Blue Revolution. Pat is a staunch supporter of breakthrough energy solutions, with ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) at the top of the list.

One of Pat’s contributions to Huffington Post earlier this year noted that the earth’s surface is two and one-times more water than land, yet “almost never is the ocean recognized as part of the (energy) solution.”

Pat recently wrote about Japan’s energy crisis that became apparent thanks to the March tsunami and crippling of the country’s nuclear energy industry – not just one plant but the whole concept in that nation.

“Suddenly, the Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster has thrust the Blue Revolution as the optimal solution for Japan’s future,” he wrote a week ago today at his Blue Revolution Hawaii blog.

Hawaii’s Energy ‘Tsunami’

Unlike hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis that cannot be ignored, Hawaii’s energy crisis has been a decades-long slice of life for island residents. Our state’s isolation requires energy lifelines thousands of miles long to meet our needs. This dependence is like a nagging discomfort in the body that one day becomes a catastrophic illness; we’re vaguely aware of the problem and maybe take an aspirin to relieve the minor pain, but we go about our business without doing much of anything to address the real problem.

The public-private push behind Big Wind strikes us as a misstep that's likely to delay real progress in addressing our energy tsunami – a head-long rush to develop an intermittent power source that can’t possibly provide the long-term energy security Hawaii requires. A comparable effort behind OTEC would make ocean energy a reality.

The Blue Revolution concept includes plans for a Pacific International Ocean Station (PIOC), an ocean version of the International Space Station. The PIOC would pioneer OTEC and other ocean-based energy and clean water applications.

Innovative thinking, like the Environmental Island concept offered by the Shimizu Corporation (at left), is all around us, yet “official” Hawaii seems oblivious to these concepts. Big Wind advocates have invested their energies in a project that would have tremendous impacts on two of our neighbor islands and do nothing to ensure base-load power delivery to our populations for generations to come.

Pat Takahashi is one of Hawaii’s authentic visionaries and deserves a place at the table in discussions of permanent energy solutions to meet Hawaii’s needs a century from now. Unfortunately, the focus now is on meeting a paper goal to achieve a percentage of renewable energy use by 2030.

Our best suggestion on Memorial Day weekend: Bookmark Pat Takahashi’s various websites and visit them often!

Friday, May 13, 2011

PUC Rejects FOL’s Petition to Intervene in ‘Big Wind’

It was more than predictable. Legal technicalities tend to outweigh the down-home emotions of individual citizens as revealed in the petition filed by the Friends of Lanai with the Public Utilities Commission seeking to intervene in the Big Wind project docket.

Rather than repeat all the “who shot JR?” twists, we’ll direct you downward in this column to previous posts on Big Wind. We’ve called it a soap opera due to all the romancing, spurning and dissing among the players.

The PUC rejected FOL’s petition (which is what Hawaiian Electric Company urged it to do) and noted that FOL isn’t a party to the docket and therefore couldn’t petition for intervention.

Where this harried project goes next is anybody’s guess. Will the Governor condemn 10,000 acres of Molokai land for Big Wind? Will First Wind find a parcel somewhere in the county to build 200 megawatts of wind power? Will all 400 MW end up on Lanai, as apparently is still possible? Will Pattern Energy and Molokai consummate their budding relationship? What next for the Friends of Lanai? Does a $3-billion investment in an intermittent wind resource make sense?

We asked Robin Kaye of the FOL group exactly that – what’s your next step? Here’s his emailed response today:

“Good questions. We're doing the necessary legal research and questioning right now. The PUC has been operating like this (opaque, no-explanations-necessary) for quite a long time. HECO and the PUC appear to move in lock-step. It's really bad government. They write the rules, they interpret the rules, and they then appear to adjudicate the rules. There doesn't seem to be much precedent for challenging the PUC re regulations; lots regarding rate cases, but very little around the issues we're raising. And it's doubtful they consider "residents' interests" at all. One would have assumed that the Consumer Advocate (we think this is an oxymoron) would take that role, but they appear to be in step with HECO and the PUC on this.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Columnist: ‘Big Wind’ a Must No Matter What, Including Condemnation, ‘Bribes’ to Residents, Huge Investment

We believe energy and technology columnist Jay Fidell is on target on most subjects he covers, but his ThinkTech column in the Star-Advertiser today is not one of them.

Fidell thinks the so-called Big Wind neighbor island wind farm and inter-island cable project is so absolutely critical to Hawaii’s energy future that it simply must happen, no matter the cost and no matter how objectionable the project might be to Molokai and Lanai residents and those who agree with them.

Calling Big Wind the “keystone of our Clean Energy Initiative,” Fidell argues that Hawaii must “get over” the reluctance to initiate eminent domain proceedings.

“The governor needs to get the Big Wind parties in a room and jawbone them into a deal,” Fidell writes. “Failing that, he should do exactly what he threatened – yes, condemnation. Take heart, governor. Be impatient about clean energy – you have the power. Make eminent domain imminent. Many people will support you in this, and a condemnation will assure progress on wind and other projects. Do it once and things will be easier going forward.”

In other words, run roughshod over the legitimate concerns of neighbor islanders whose public statements on Big Wind are virtually unanimous in opposition. Is this the state of affairs we want in the Aloha State?

Benefits or Bribes?

The ThinkTech columnist says “there’s a kind of benefits package inflation going on” to – let’s face it – bribe/entice those residents into supporting Big Wind and forever changing the look, feel and nature of their islands. As Fidell notes, a 200-megawatt wind farm requires “something over 10,000 acres” as a footprint.

The benefits on the table include a 50-percent cut in electricity rates; improved water utilities, roads and fire stations; scholarships and educational programs, and preservation of native lands.

That last one is of course ironic – land preservation programs as 10,000 acres are turned over for generations to wind turbine towers taller than the First Hawaiian Bank building in downtown Honolulu.

But think about the education lessons that might flow from these enticements. What lessons would neighbor island children learn about government’s relationship with its citizens if eminent domain is exercised? What lessons would be learned about how one gets what one wants?

The best lesson for all of us from this frenzy over Big Wind would be a recognition that a solid plan has yet to be developed to deliver firm power to the citizens. These overly-involved and intricate plans to make Big Wind happen remind us of the parable of the camel and the eye of a needle. Does a good plan require this much intrigue? Wouldn’t a preferred and superior energy future for the state require far less gyrations and be obvious in its relative simplicity?

The Big Wind Basket

The most dangerous aspect of “Big Wind or Bust” is that this project could soak up $3 billion that might otherwise be invested to ensure a strong energy future for Hawaii. Wind is an intermittent power source, and the neighbor island farms would fall far short of delivering their 400 MW of installed capacity to Oahu.

The farms’ capacity factor is estimated to be between 20 and 38 percent, meaning Oahu would receive on average between 80 and about 150 MW of power -- not the aggregate 400 MW on the turbines’ nameplates.

An average output of 150 MW and less can’t possibly justify a $3 billion investment. That amount, invested in ocean thermal energy conversion, which this blog has been touting since its first post, would surely move OTEC from its current promising-but-risky phase into large-scale energy production – with NO on-land impacts.

OTEC plants floating miles off each island could provide the secure energy future for Hawaii that Big Wind can’t. So could geothermal energy from an expanded resource on the Big Island and possibly on Maui, as well. Like OTEC, geothermal would be a base load energy source.

This blog isn’t the only advocate for these energy technologies; see Kuokoa’s website for background and advocacy regarding geothermal energy. And we certainly are not the only ones who believe Big Wind’s on-land impact would be too severe to tolerate; see the Friends of Lanai website.

Betting the Future

We do have to thank Jay Fidell for painting this issue in the starkest and most alarming terms – the seizure of private land to enable the big dreams of a relatively small group of energy planners who are satisfied with betting our future on how strong the wind will blow years from now.

Are we blind to the bizarre weather shifts Hawaii has experienced this year alone? Don’t our planners believe climate change is happening, and if they do, are they so certain Hawaii’s trade winds will always be there?

Of two things we are certain: The sun will continue to shine and warm our tropical ocean, the world’s largest solar energy “battery” and OTEC engine. And Pele's geothermal power will always be with us, too.

OTEC and geothermal energy are Hawaii’s energy future. That’s where electricity customers should willing to have their dollars invested – if not for this generation's benefit, then for the benefit of all that follow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Public TV Show Reviews Hawaii’s Energy Future

Afternoon Update: HECO urges PUC to reject Friends of Lanai petition on Big Wind bidding.
There never can be too much conversation about getting off oil in the Aloha State, so the topic on public television’s “PBS Hawaii Insights” show last week was more of what we needed.

Watch it and you can pick and choose the parts you like, the parts you don’t like and the parts that support your particular technology preference and/or your major concerns. We’ve noted here our concern about the Big Wind project, which at times has resembled a “soap opera” with its big swings in plot and players.

Our biggest concern is that a great deal of effort and faith has been invested in Big Wind by many key players, including some on this TV show, even though the entire project is highly problematic at this time. The anticipated impacts to be visited on Molokai and Lanai may be so great in the end that Big Wind simply won’t happen, and you can be sure opponents on those islands will be heard.

That’s why we wonder whether $3 billion invested in the two neighbor island wind farms and an undersea cable to connect them to Oahu would soak up so much money from Hawaii as a whole – businesses, residents, government – that there would be nrothing left for other technologies that conceivably could come online later. In that regard, we’ve picked the following quotes.

Hermina Morita, chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission:

“One of the key objectives of Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative is to demonstrate with the US Department of Energy that there’s no one solution, that it will take multiple technologies, diversity and the integration of these various technologies to come to a solution, and what better place to do it than Hawaii….? There’s no one technology that’s gonna solve our problem, and we really have to approach this from a systems (basis)….”

Mike Hamnett, chair of the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum:

“There are a number of (technologies) that are right over the horizon. So in the whole biofuels area, a lot of people are looking forward to the role that algae will play…. The people who are in the algae business they’re saying it’s three years, five years away, but having the diversity of resources allows us to not put all our eggs in one basket, so if we get a new technology….even ocean thermal energy conversion has got a lot of potential….but if we take a diversified approach to the whole thing, and as these new technologies come on line we can swap them out for the things we’ve already developed and get the best of all worlds, rather than putting all of our eggs in any single technology basket.”

There’s that energy basket again, and without actually connecting his remarks to Big Wind, the HEPF chair mirrored the same concern that we have – that the Big Wind project is becoming the technology that’s far more desirable than all the others, notwithstanding the breadth of discussion about other technologies on the program.

Please watch the video, then chime in with your opinions at the Hawaii Energy Forum, which is linked at the top of the page. Click on any of the major issues listed there, such as Energy Policy to comment on the TV show, register in the upper right-hand corner (if you haven’t already) and weigh in on one of the most important conversations happening in Hawaii.