Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative is putting a lot of stock in wind – whipping up early resistance from some rural areas
The U.S. Department of Energy works with residents in a lot of rural communities in the national effort to develop renewable sources. Most of them accept that as good policy, at least in the abstract, as they increasingly see oil supplies as finite, the oil market as a rollercoaster and the oil itself as an environmental threat.
“Hawaii is 90 percent dependent on foreign imported oil; Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in the nation,” said Allen Kam, a planner with the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Renewable Energy Office, who has been meeting with communities statewide about a major wind power initiative. “With the events that are happening right now in the Middle East, the supply of oil, as well as the cost, is quite volatile.”
But the prospect of hosting a fleet of enormous wind turbines along coastal areas on the state’s most rural islands – that’s not abstract. Additionally, each island in the archipelago has its own identity. That sense of separatism does not enhance a proposal, with an estimated $1 billion cost, that would pepper Molokai and Lanai with windmills and then pipe the electricity along undersea cables to satisfy Oahu’s ravenous energy appetites.
After holding a series of “scoping” hearings on Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Lanai, Kam and other staffers from DBEDT, in partnership with the federal DOE, now have a clear sense of the unease on Molokai and Lanai.
“One-fourth of our island will care for only one-tenth of Oahu’s use,” Martha Evans, a member of Friends of Lanai, said in her written testimony. “The writing is on the wall – if you can use one-fourth of the island, why not more? After all, the aim is noble even though the means don’t justify the end.”
The project is known as the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program. The hearings collected testimony for a study – a programmatic environmental impact statement – in a comment period that ends Tuesday (see box at right).
The objections seem to fall into two categories: worries about the impact on the environment and the conviction that technologies other than wind may be preferable.
“It would take away a fourth of the island, and for a lot of people it’s an important piece of land,” said Malia Preza, a Lanai resident. “A lot of people rely on hunting and fishing, and there are cultural sites … it’s something I really care about.”
While Hawaii is certainly familiar with EIS scoping hearings, a programmatic EIS is different. Rather than spell out the specifics of an individual project, the study will identify the broad community concerns that any future participant will need to address. Proposals to produce a total of 400 megawatts of wind power on Lanai and Molokai have come, respectively, from Castle & Cooke Inc. and First Power. One megawatt is equal to 1 million watts.
William Kucharski is the renewable energy director in the Pacific region for AECOM Technical Services Inc., the state’s consultant in preparing the programmatic EIS. Kucharski said the primary focus of the study is to lay out the rules for specific developers who want to meet the 400-megawatt goal.
“What we would do is come up and develop what’s called special conservation measures, or best management practices, which are sort of the rules that the agencies would come down and say, ‘If you’re going to do this, you have to do certain things,'” he said.
Further, a programmatic EIS generally doesn’t outline alternative technologies, Kam said, but because the hearings yielded a lot of testimony about other forms of renewable energy, state officials have decided to include such a discussion in this study.
Among the alternatives highlighted in the hearings is ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), which uses the temperature differential between cold, deep seawater with warm surface water to generate power through the transfer of heat. So far development has not proceeded beyond experimental and pilot projects. When oil prices receded some 20 years ago, the incentive to develop a commercial-scale plant dried up, along with most federal grant money.
Joe Van Ryzin, vice president of Makai Ocean Engineering, has been involved in OTEC for years and believes that technology may ultimately offer the best of all worlds: power that is firm, without the intermittence of solar or wind, achievable through offshore platforms that don’t create blight on land.
“An OTEC plant is a little dot on the horizon and looks like a ship coming in from sea, and you have a cable come on shore,” he said. “My issue with the process is if you’re going to invest a billion into something, would you not do at least a couple million worth of study, do your homework to decide what the best way to do it was?”
Van Ryzin added that the state’s previous undersea-cable idea had been focused not on wind but geothermal energy.
“Technologies have not fundamentally changed,” he said. “What’s changed? I think it’s lobbyists, promoters catching the ear of state government. And that’s fine, until you’re at the point of asking the taxpayer to invest a billion bucks.”
OTEC will be attractive one day, said Steve Lindenberg, the federal DOE’s senior adviser for renewable energy. But he cited some remaining engineering challenges – stormproofing a platform’s collection system, for example. He also said a windfarm of 400 megawatts can take a bite out of Oahu’s 1,200-megawatt electricity demand. He added that it’s also Hawaii’s best option for meeting a deadline now adopted in state law: producing 40 percent of its electricity through renewable sources by 2030.
State and federal officials hope to persuade more residents of this, in part by adding sweeteners for the affected islands. A “community benefits package” – which could involve anything from electricity subsidies to construction of facilities the island needs and wants – will be part of the final deal, Lindenberg said.
Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric Co. will be buying this electricity for its grid, and its executives believe all technologies will be needed. Robbie Alm, HECO’s senior vice president, doesn’t want to see parochial fights distract from the overall clean-energy mission.
“We’re way early to take anything off the table,” he said. “I keep saying oil is the enemy and we keep making each other the enemy, and I worry about that.”
A GLANCE AT WIND POWER INITIATIVES IN HAWAII
Commercial wind power development has been tapped even before the 1980s, when early-generation windmills spun above Kahuku. None of the projects rival the proposed scale of the HIREP plan for Lanai and Molokai, but here’s a list of Hawaii’s more sizable generation plants:
» Oahu – The new Kahuku wind array, now under construction by First Wind, will consist of 12 2.5-megawatt wind turbines. One megawatt is equal to 1 million watts.
» Maui – First Wind also has the 30-megawatt Kaheawa wind farm in West Maui. The state Public Utilities Commission just approved a 21-megawatt expansion nearby. And Auwahi Wind Energy LLC proposes a 22-megawatt project at Ulupalakua.
» Big Island – Hawi Renewable Development owns and operates the 16 turbines of Hawi Wind Farm at North Kohala, with output topping 10 megawatts. Pakini Nui Wind Farm at South Point comprises 14 1.5-megawatt turbines, and Hawaii Electric Light Co. still operates the Lalamilo Wells Wind Farm at Waikoloa, built in 1985, with a yield of 2.3 megawatts. Apollo Energy operates 24 250-kilowatt machines at South Point.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Testimony on wind power is still being taken through Tuesday, through the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program site (www.hirep-wind.com) – use the “submit a comment” link in the upper right corner.
Comments submitted after the deadline will still be considered, but the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism will respond to individuals submitting by Tuesday.
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