Big Wind is back in the news.
Referred to this year as “long extension cords out to windfarms on Molokai and Lanai,” this holdover project from the Lingle Administration continues to drag the State of Hawaii down the wrong path – towards intermittent energy (which will always require back-up fossil fuel generators on standby) instead of firm power – like geothermal, wave and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).
Last year’s attempt (SB367) to provide a regulatory structure that would overcome both Hawaiian Electric (HECO) and the State of Hawaii’s inability to finance the $1 billion undersea cable to Lana’i and Moloka’i failed to pass the Legislature. This year’s version (SB2785) has the same cast of characters behind it – HECO, Governor Abercrombie, Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Consumer Advocate. As this bill wound its way through the Senate, with opposition simultaneously increasing in numbers and becoming more and more vocal, it was amended by Maui’s Senator Roz Baker’s Commerce and Consumer Protection (CPC) Committee to include this sentiment: “Nothing in this Act is intended to require the construction of an interisland cable from the islands of Molokai or Lanai to Oahu unless the communities affirmatively request an interisland cable.”
Before crossing over to the Senate, a majority of Senators (including Lana’i’s Senator English) voted either “NO” or “With Reservations” – a clear signal that this bill, like last year’s, was neither invincible nor inevitable.
Undaunted, Abercrombie appeared at the first House hearing with his own hyperbole: “No community should be allowed to opt out, it’s undemocratic!” So the House committees removed the Senate amendment and replaced it with language submitted by Pattern Energy (the would-be Moloka`i Big Wind developer): “Nothing in this Act is intended to require the ￼construction of an interisland cable from any particular island.” Still, the bill had two “No” votes – Representatives Thielen and Riviere.
Look at the testimony. Almost 200 comments were submitted just for the House Committees’ hearings. Of those 200, 8 were from unions, 11 from Castle & Cooke employees, 4 from the State government (Governor’s Office, DBEDT, PUC, and the Consumer Advocate) 1 from HECO, 2 from wind developers – and 158 from organizations and individuals opposed to this legislation.
The bill then went to the House floor for its second reading, where it generated many critical comments and questions from state representatives, and resulted in a doubling of “No” votes, now including two Democrats – Rep. Hanohano and Rep. Wooley. Six representatives, including Lana’i and Moloka’i’s Mele Carroll, voted “with reservations” on the floor.
What’s interesting to watch through this legislative session is how the proponents of SB2785 have shifted their arguments over time. Last year’s failed attempt with SB 367 was all about wind – and driven largely by Castle & Cooke’s desire to make big bucks through tax breaks and incentives, and enormous revenues (some estimates projected close to $150 million per year) to C&C’s private owner – a big Lingle supporter. (Note that this week, those tax breaks and incentives for wind energy developers were not continued by Congress.)
Then, as community opposition on both Moloka’i and Lana’i intensified and expanded, it became a way to serve those islands with broadband. Next, it was marketed as a two-way cable, able to provide Neighbor Islands with power from O’ahu. Later arguments positioned it as a way to provide “energy security” to the entire state – a seemingly bizarre argument when you consider what would happen to our state’s energy supply and “security” should there be a break in the cable like – with an earthquake or a tsunami – neither strangers to our shores.
But the latest justification for this billion-dollar undersea cable is the most troubling to many of us on Moloka’i and Lana’i. “This cable isn’t about Big Wind, it’s about connecting to Maui and the Big Island to capture geothermal power” is what we’re being told.
“Don’t worry; Lana’i is ￼￼off the table” is how some have put it. That would be great if it were true, but unfortunately the evidence is underwhelming. DBEDT, in its recent HCEI Road Map, Introduction & Overview, 2011 Edition, states unequivocally that Big Wind is still its target: “By the end of 2015, HECI hopes to have 15% of electricity demand supplied via renewable energy. In addition to projects already completed, this will require a number of actions, including the 400 MW “Big Wind” project (wind farm, inter-island cable, and Oahu grid integration…” Interestingly, note that HECO predicts Big Wind wouldn’t start until 2018, but DBEDT projects it as starting in less than three years!
It’s clear that Castle & Cooke didn’t get the memo shifting the focus of why a cable is needed. Asked last month when billboard-sized pro-wind signs that have proliferated on Castle & Cooke properties on Lana’i over the past year would come down, President of C&C Harry Saunders replied “… when we have completed all the necessary environmental studies, the permitting process, [and] the construction of the Lana’i Wind Farm…” C&C employees recently received a directive to submit testimony in support of SB2785; clearly not a sign that Big Wind on Lana’i was “off the table” for this developer.
As for HECO? When the PUC required them to draft an RFP for 200 or more megawatts of renewable energy from any island (including O’ahu) that could reasonably serve O’ahu, it did not even hint that HECO needed to include a cable connection to Lana’i yet their first draft required any cable bid to also include a cable connection to Lana’i to serve the proposed Lana’i wind power plant. Even as they withdrew that part (after scathing public and official comments, including one from the PUC-appointed Independent Observer), they added a requirement that a successful bidder would be required to explain why they had not chosen to cable to Lana’i!
On Monday, March 19, the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Commerce heard SB2785 SD2 HD1, and despite how much opposition was raised, it was passed out to Finance. There’s likely to be little resistance there, since the mantra this year is “it doesn’t cost the state or its taxpayers.” Unfortunately, that ignores the fact that it will cost all of us through a huge increase in our electric rates, along with proposed rate surcharges and rate adjustments.
Keep in mind that this proposed undersea cable will lie directly in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, yet to date, not a single environmental study has been completed, yet alone officially started. Not one single permit has been applied for. Last year’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) was so flawed that the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) had to trash it and start all over – and that revised document has still not been published.
So Friends of Lana’i and I Aloha Moloka’i remain vigilant. We would like to believe that our legislators recognize the absurdity of Big Wind – “Extension Cords” – on Lana’i and Moloka’i but until we actually read in the statutes that the undersea cable will go to Maui (as they have requested) and not our islands, then we will continue to challenge this legislation on the grounds that it is poorly thought-out, environmentally questionable, enormously expensive, illogically premature and irreparably destructive to Lana’i and Moloka’i.
About the author: Robin Kaye is a spokesperson for Friends of Lāna‛i.
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