The state has begun working on an environmental study for a plan to deliver electricity to Oahu via undersea cable from wind farms on one or more islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
A contractor for the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism is preparing an environmental study to identify and assess impacts and benefits of the idea.
The study, known as a programmatic environmental impact statement, will help determine what components the system should have, including the size, number and location of wind generation plants, the cable route and where to connect the system on Oahu.
“We have to seriously study the best way we can use the renewable resources we have so that we can significantly reduce our use of imported oil,” said Ted Peck, administrator of the State Energy Office under DBEDT.
The public will have three months to comment on the scope of the general plan through the environmental review process, which will include community meetings anticipated to be held on the neighbor islands in the next month or two.
Public comments also will be accepted after a draft of the study is completed and published.
After the overview study is finalized, more specific environmental impact statements would be required to develop a wind farm or farms, the cable system and electric utility upgrades on Oahu.
The state has concluded from prior studies that neighbor island wind farms represent the most viable, near-term solution to help achieve much of its goal to satisfy 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs through renewable resources by 2030.
DBEDT figures that the 70 percent goal can be achieved through better efficiency (30 percent) and renewable energy development (40 percent). Wind farms are expected to be a source for about one-third of the renewable energy generation.
Reducing Hawaii’s dependence on foreign oil for energy is intended to give the state more energy security, benefit the environment and save taxpayers money.
State officials say Oahu dominates Hawaii’s energy use, but lacks sufficient natural resources to produce enough renewable energy to come close to meeting the 70 percent goal.
The plan for an undersea cable connected to wind farms generating up to 400 megawatts of electricity was announced in 2008. State officials hope a system can be running by 2014.
The state estimates the interisland cable alone could cost $800 million to $1 billion.
The wind farms would add to that cost, but likely will be built, owned and operated by private developers. Savings from not buying oil over 20 years is projected by the state at $5.7 billion.
An optimum setup for the neighbor island wind farm system is part of what the programmatic environmental impact statement is expected to determine.
Options might include one 200-megawatt wind farm on Lanai and one on Molokai, one 400-megawatt farm, or some other mix.
A $1.5 million study by the University of Hawaii last year mapped the ocean floor between Oahu and Maui County, and recommended four potential routes. The environmental assessment will assess benefits and impacts for various routes.
Peck said at this stage the setup for system components remains undetermined. “We haven’t pre-baked what the answer is,” he said.
The programmatic environmental impact study is being done by AECOM Technical Services, a Los Angeles-based firm.
AECOM won the competitively bid contract for the study and permitting work, which is budgeted at $2.9 million and is funded by federal stimulus money.
Under terms of the funding, the environmental study must be completed by April 2012.
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