Like some bizarre weapon of the former Soviet Union, Big Wind is finally being revealed for what it is: an engineering and financial tsunami that will enrich its backers and leave the rest of us far worse than before.
Its promised 400 mega-watts (MW), at the outrageous cost of $3 billion to $4 billion, makes no economic sense, but the full story is even worse.
Because wind is so inconsistent, Big Wind will produce only about 20 percent of that fictional 400 MW, or 80 MW (the Bonneville Power Administration, with 12 percent of America’s wind generation in one of its windiest locations, gets only 19 percent of its installed capacity).
And because most wind power is produced in non-peak hours when it can’t be used, turbines must then be shut down (curtailed). This “curtailment factor” lowers Big Wind’s potential 80 MW to about 48 MW. An additional 2-3 MW will be lost across the cable, bringing Big Wind down to 45 MW.
Moreover, wind requires backup fossil generation to run parallel offline for when the wind fluctuates or stops.
Called spinning reserve, this backup generation wastes millions of kilowatts and brings the Big Wind’s net generation down to about 40 MW.
And it’s why countries with extensive wind power like the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany are finding wind power doesn’t reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
Hawaiian Electric Co. could build a new 40 MW power plant on 30 acres of Oahu rather than 22,000 acres of Molokai and Lanai, and with no billion-dollar cable, for a fraction of Big Wind’s costs and carbon dioxide emissions. Or for Big Wind’s $3 billion, HECO could install rooftop solar on 165,000 homes, generate more power than Big Wind, and create 1,000 Hawaiian jobs, whereas Big Wind will create only a handful.
With rooftop solar, customers need only HECO for load-balancing and low-demand night use, thereby depriving HECO of its cash cow, the captive consumer. That’s why HECO has limited rooftop solar to 15 percent on its circuits. It’s as if we’re told we can’t grow vegetables in our own gardens; we have to buy Mexican vegetables from a supermarket chain.
Conservation is even easier, since 2008 state agencies have cut electricity use 8.6 percent at almost no cost. This could easily be implemented throughout Oahu, twice Big Wind’s net generation and saving $3 billion to $4 billion.
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.
Contrary to the governor and HECO et al., Big Wind should be in public scrutiny. This is known as democracy.
And they should admit other potential tragic costs of this project, including the desecration of 35 square miles of beautiful coastal wilderness, possible damage to archaeological sites and endangered birds, a reduction in neighboring property values, and dynamiting in America’s finest coral reef and the Hawaiian National Whale Sanctuary.
No wonder that opposition to Big Wind is 98 percent on Molokai and nearly that on Lanai.
And when our nation is suffering the worst financial crisis in its history, a pork-barrel project adding billions more to our deficits seems nearly treasonous.
“The truth shall make us free” is a maxim of democracy. The opposite is also true: Cover-ups steal our freedom.
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.
Molokai resident Mike Bond is a former CEO of an international energy company, adviser to more than 70 utilities and energy companies, and author of studies on electricity transmission, cable operations and power generation alternatives.