S.B. 2785 shows Abercrombie is out of touch; Big Wind, undersea cable will add huge debt, damage ecosystems
Notwithstanding the Legislature’s final treatment of Senate Bill 2785 — Gov.Abercrombie’s mega-billion-dollar corporate welfare project to raise our electric rates and reward Castle & Cooke, Hawaiian Electric Co. and Mainland investment banks with the Big Wind interisland cable — the project’s very concept shows how out of touch he is with Hawaii.
This nutty idea would be hilarious if it weren’t so potentially dangerous to Hawaii’s finances, economy, tourism, marine and land environments, and cultural and social values. Comprising $4 billion undersea transmission cables dynamited and drilled through the National Whale Sanctuary, the Molokai Reef (the world’s largest and most pristine coral barrier reef north of Australia) and the critical marine habitats of Penguin Bank, it is tied to construction of hundreds of huge industrial wind turbines across 40 square miles of Molokai and Lanai, and perhaps another 20 to 40 square miles of Maui. It has been intensely pushed by Gov.Abercrombie without consideration of its destructive financial, economic, social and environmental impacts.
Initially the governor promised that no island opposing the project would be targeted. But in the face of 97 percent opposition on Molokai and nearly that on Castle & Cooke-dominated Lanai, he instead threatened eminent domain. He invited Mainland wind developers and bankers to provide back-door language for the legislation and proposal requests, and withheld funds and support from legislators who had the courage to oppose him.
With Hawaii’s highest electric rates in the country, the governor should be trying to lower them. This project would push them much higher. If it covers all five target islands, Big Wind and the cable could cost Hawaii ratepayers $10 billion — $25,000 per customer. Yet its industrial wind factories would not reduce greenhouse gases or fossil fuel use because wind is so erratic that HECO’s diesel generation would have to run constantly to back it up.
HECO desperately wants the Big Wind Interisland Cable to prop up its sagging balance sheet and keep it from junk bond status. Castle & Cooke needs it to forestall the reported $600 million in loans it owes on Lanai. But instead of begging for corporate welfare, HECO should raise the penetration ratio of residential rooftop solar, which would reduce our electricity rates, said Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz, “to a fraction of what you are paying today.”
Perhaps the governor hasn’t realized that keeping HECO on life support isn’t good for Hawaii. Nor are huge projects employing mostly non-Hawaii workers that destroy thousands of beautiful island resources and tourist attractions. By comparison, HECO could install rooftop solar on 165,000 Hawaii homes, generate far more power than Big Wind and create 1,000 local jobs at a third the cost of Big Wind and the cable.
Last week one of the nation’s largest utilities, National Grid, canceled further plans for a high-voltage undersea cable in Massachusetts because an undersea cable is “a high-risk installation, has increased environmental impacts, has increased project costs and poses adverse long-term maintenance/reliability issues.” Yet, National Grid’s cable was much smaller than the governor’s, and in far less treacherous waters.
Big Wind and the cable will saddle Hawaii with generations of debt and destroy two of our state’s most extraordinary tourism resources. Molokai has just been rated by Yahoo Travel and MSNBC as the most beautiful undiscovered island in the United States, and one of the 10 most beautiful in the world. On Lanai, the area including the Garden of the Gods that would be destroyed by industrial wind factories was named last year as one of Hawaii’s most endangered places by the Historic Hawaii Foundation.
It seems the governor doesn’t care about Hawaii. With his dislike of native Hawaiians, working families, teachers, Republicans, the environment and tourism, he may have done well in the lobbyist-infested corridors in Washington, D.C. But he’s surely out of touch with Hawaii.
Mike Bond is the former CEO of an international energy company, advisor to over 70 of the world’s largest utilities and energy companies, a renewable energy expert and author of over a hundred studies on electricity transmission, cable operations and power generation. He lives on Molokai.