Sunday, December 28, 2008

Island-Wide Blackout Fails To Dim Obama Visit

It was lights out all over Oahu Friday night. (EUGENE TANNER, Honolulu Advertiser)
President-Elect Obama has looked up some old haunts in Honolulu during his trips here in 2008. Something else he may remember from his childhood on Oahu is the relative fragility of the electric grid.

Sorry to say, Oahu’s island-wide power outages have become all too frequent. Just off the top, we can recall upwards of 10 total or near-total island-wide outages since 1980.

The December 26-27 outage is still unexplained, and our sister blog – Citizens Helping Officials Respond to Emergencies (CHORE) – asks a few questions about how a lightning strike (the presumed cause at this date) in a remote location on the island could prompt a complete shutdown of the grid.

The outage made national headlines in light of Obama’s holiday vacation here, but reports indicate his family took the disruption in stride and simply went to bed early Friday night.

As did many of us.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Obama Comes Home; Holiday Visit May Outshine Annual Sojourn of that Other High-Profile Celebrity

Our Christmas Eve cartoon prediction: “Santa Barack” in his red suit, sitting on his throne, Hawaii politicians and renewable energy advocates in line with gift requests, Governor Lingle on his lap. (If we had any sway with Honolulu Weekly, it would be on page 3 next Wednesday.)
• Christmas Eve Update: The Advertiser cartoon today was close:

The Advertiser’s page-one, above-the-fold headline today declares “Obama coming home tomorrow” (take that, Chicago), and the president-elect’s 10-day holiday vacation has his hometown abuzz. The weather forecast for Christmas Day is typical for Hawaii – partly sunny with windward showers, high 77. Obama’s holiday home is on the windward side, so he may enjoy some of those passing “blessings.”

Also in the forecast is a flurry of stories and editorials aimed at PEOTUS, some of them about Hawaii’s oil dependence and renewable energy potential. In the unlikely event that a deputy assistant under press secretary-designate should stumble across this blog, we’ll link our August “Obama Talk Story” and hope some of it sticks.

We wish the entire Obama entourage (and you) a Mele Kalikimaka and send you all a couple YouTube versions of the song -- by Bette Midler (like Obama, a local high school graduate) and someone else -- to put ev erybody in an Island Christmas mood. It doesn't get much better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Obama Transition Team Briefing Should Embrace Diversity in Hawaii’s Renewable Resource Future

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is excited about participating in a “wave energy briefing with President-Elect Obama’s Transition Team” two days from now. (We’re still searching for information on this briefing and welcome your assistance by leaving links in the Comments section, below.)

Thielen is an ardent wave energy supporter and promotes the technology frequently. We wish her well in impressing Transition Team members with Hawaii’s renewable energy potential and hope she doesn’t stop with wave energy. As Jan TenBruggencate of Kauai wrote recently: “It's a dangerous game to insist that any one energy source, whether it's oil/coal, or waves or even OTEC, is all we need to be working on. There is danger in putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Thielen notes in her piece that “the University of Hawaii is one of only two National Marine Renewable Test Centers in the nation, and they will be funded for the next five years to study and implement wave energy systems.”

Thielen stopped short in describing the funding. The complete quote from the Department of Energy press release says the Hawaii Center “…will facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy systems and to assist the private sector in moving ocean thermal energy conversion systems beyond proof-of-concept to pre-commercialization, long-term testing."

In other words, there’s more than wave energy in the Center’s agenda. We hope a variety of renewable energy technologies will be on the table when the Transition Team allots some of its valuable time this week to Hawaii’s renewable energy potential.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Big Island Geothermal Venture Marks 15th Year

Often overlooked as a natural energy resource in Hawaii is the geothermal field on the Big Island. Puna Geothermal Venture’s plant celebrated its 15th anniversary yesterday, an event recorded by a new and promising news-gathering organization, Big Island

The video coverage highlights the participation of native Hawaiians in the ceremony. It’s the usual practice at groundbreakings and blessings in Hawaii for prayers and chants to be offered by representatives of the host culture. Beyond the usual ceremonial practice, it’s worth noting that native Hawaiian support will be required if the resource is ever to grow beyond 30 megawatts, the plant’s current size. (The above photo shows a segment of the cable once proposed to transmit electricity from the Big Island to Oahu.)

Native Hawaiian concerns about the industry’s potential to respect their culture, as well as damage the Wao Kele O Puna rainforest, was instrumental in blocking plans to expand the geothermal field. The Pele Defense Fund, backed by the Rainforest Action Network, was the most visible defender of cultural practices and an environment cherished by Hawaiians, including the rainforest.

Described by the Network as the last large lowland expanse of tropical rainforest in Hawaii, Wao Kele O Puna was eyed in the 1980s as a potential 500-MW geothermal field. The federally funded Hawaii Deep Water Cable Program explored transmission of electricity from the Big Island to Oahu using a seabed cable across the Alenuihaha Channel between Hawaii Island and Maui, then onward to Oahu. (The project is described in detail in the document “Hawaii and Geothermal: What Has Been Happening?”)

A Cultural Miscalculation

In their enthusiasm over geothermal energy’s potential, supporters misunderstood or simply were unaware of native Hawaiian cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding geothermal energy. Many Hawaiians came forward to say exploitation of that potential would be an affront to Pele, goddess of fire and protector of the Big Island’s volcanoes (at right, as envisioned by artist Walfrido Garcia).

That miscalculation included Hawaiian Electric Company’s TV spot in the early ‘80s shot near the rim of Halemaumau Crater (Pele’s home!) that ended with a giant electric plug being jammed into a giant receptacle planted on the ground. A leader in the Pele Defense Fund movement later told us the spot’s symbolic plunging of a dagger into Pele’s breast was the trigger that ramped up opposition to geothermal energy on the island. (Mea culpa time: the spot was created on our watch while at HECO.)

All of which is to suggest that if a new attempt is launched to expand geothermal energy’s contribution to the state’s renewable resource inventory, native Hawaiian sensitivities must be respected. Everyone in the state is negatively affected by Hawaii’s dependence on imported oil, and more energy drawn from the Big Island’s subterranean heat resource would benefit us all.

Getting there certainly will depend on the native Hawaiian community benefitting as well as or more than the rest.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Phoenix Motorcars, MECO To Test Electric Cars; Another Look at HCEI’s Renewable Energy Goal

Phoenix Motorcars CEO Dan Elliott (right) and Maui Electric CEO Ed Reinhardt sign their agreement today as Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Governor Linda Lingle look on.

Phoenix Motorcars announced today it will test up to 30 of its built-in-Korea electric vehicles on Maui starting in the first quarter of 2009 in partnership with Maui Electric Company.

The California company and MECO signed the agreement in Governor Linda Lingle’s office, where Better Place and Hawaiian Electric inked their own pact one week ago aimed at building a statewide network to service electric cars.

CEO Dan Elliott said its alliance with MECO is the company’s first partnership with a utility. When asked by an Associated Press reporter “what’s to test?” since electric cars have been around for years, Elliott and others said Maui already is studying how the mix of renewable energy resources can best be integrated on the island’s electric grid. Adding electric vehicles to the mix will result in valuable information for future vehicle rollouts, they said.

HCEI's '70 Percent' Goal

A comment made by the Governor today about the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative makes us wonder whether we and virtually all media have missed something about the HCEI goal. Just about every media piece we’ve seen since January has said HCEI's goal is to achieve 70 percent reliance on renewable energy in Hawaii by 2030.

The Governor today said the 70 percent figure is reached by combining 40 percent renewable resource reliance with 30 percent in improved efficiency. “That’s how we get to 70 percent,” she said.

Yet that’s not how HCEI’s goal has been described by the media. Google it yourself, but here are just a few typical citations:
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 29, 2008
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Hawaiian Electric Company
Renewable Energy

That said, here’s a quote from the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism’s website on HCEI:

The goal is to decrease energy demand and accelerate use of renewable, indigenous energy resources in Hawaii in residential, building, industrial, utility, and transportation end-use sectors, so that efficiency and renewable energy resources will be sufficient to meet 70% of Hawaii’s energy demand by 2030."

So maybe what this boils down to is that the media essentially have given too little credit to the efficiency side of the equation and have inaccurately tied the 70-percent figure to renewable energy alone. If that’s the case, today’s press conference served a valuable purpose beyond the electric car test announcement by shedding more light on HCEI's goal.

It remains to be seen whether Hawaii and federal officials will consistently emphasize 40 percent renewable energy reliance instead of 70 percent when they discuss HCEI, as the Governor did today. Some observers already have said Hawaii's oil vulnerability makes even the higher number too conservative.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama, Biden & Gore To Meet on Climate, Energy

Let’s turn the search engines loose again and see if we can attract some attention to Hawaii’s energy issues and unique problems by linking them to tomorrow’s meeting between President-Elect (and Hawaii’s Own) Barack Obama, Nobel laureat and former Vice President Al Gore and Veep-Elect Joe Biden:

Obama Hawaii Energy Biden Hawaii Renewable Gore Hawaii Oil Dependency OTEC

That might do it. We tried the same tactic a few months ago with some success, according to our visitor tracker. While we’re at it, we hope some of you visitors review the “Obama Talk Story” script we proposed when he vacationed here in August.

And since Hawaii's Favorite Son will be vacationing here again this month, there's always a chance someone will try it out on him.

12/9 Update:  MSNBC previews the Chicago meeting.  So does CNN.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Same Time, Same Place – Governor’s Office Sets Another ‘Major Clean Energy Announcement’

Renewable energy advocates here on Oahu are learning to keep their Tuesday calendars free at 1:30. That’s becoming the designated announcement hour by the Governor’s office – for two weeks running, at least.

This week’s “major clean energy announcement” involves Phoenix Motorcars, which is taking reservations at its website for motorists who want “to be among the first to buy a real-world electric vehicle….” (The company's SUV is shown above.)

Last Tuesday at 1:30, the office hosted Better Place’s announcement for a statewide billion-dollar network of electric charging stations. It will be interesting to learn about Hawaiian Electric Company’s involvement with Phoenix, if any.

We’re optimistically blocking out the 1:30 hour on Tuesdays for the foreseeable future. Now, if the people who run the State Capitol would only block out more stalls for the public...(what a concept!)... citizens might actually be able to park their new electric cars there.

Friday, December 5, 2008

32,000 Miles on No Gallons of Gas; Swiss Teacher Completes World Tour in Solar Energy-Powered Car

Louis Palmer (right) gives a lift to Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the climate change conference being held in Poznan, Poland. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Electric cars are the current rage, what with Better Place’s globetrotting marketing, most recently in Hawaii, and other developments all over the place. “Swiss adventurer” Louis Palmer rolled into Poznan, Poland yesterday after a 17-month, 32,000-mile journey through 38 countries in an electric car.

Palmer timed his arrival for the start of a United Nations climate conference that’s working on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The plan is to ratify the new treaty at an international conference next December in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Better Place will build another of its electric car networks.

Hawaii is getting a fair amount of media attention thanks to Better Place’s initiative here; the Salt Lake Tribune even added a blurb about the proposed electric car network in Hawaii when it rewrote the Associated Press story out of Poznan.

Just like the electric panels on a trailer hitched to Palmer’s car, Hawaii doesn’t mind hitching itself to renewable energy initiatives launched elsewhere -- the more the merrier.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Better Place Vision of EV Heaven Comes to Hawaii; Backers Predict Nation’s First Statewide Network

Better Place CEO Shai Agassi meets the media today with Gov. Linda Lingle and Ted Liu, Director of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism.
(See 12/4 Update at end of this post.)
If you’re going to skip a meeting with President-Elect Obama and 41 of your fellow governors to craft an economic recovery plan for the nation, you’d better have a news-making plan of your own on the same day. Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle didn’t disappoint.

For the second time in less than two months and the 10th time this year (see notably the "HECO Plan” and the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative), the Governor’s office was host to an energy-related announcement, and this one appears to have the potential to transform transportation in the Aloha State.

Shai Agassi, Founder and CEO of Better Place, was today’s featured speaker at the Governor’s press conference as he outlined a plan to make Hawaii the test kitchen and proving ground for widespread introduction of electric vehicle (EVs).

Noting the state’s abundant renewable energy resource potential and the historically high price of oil, Agassi said Hawaii’s case for electric vehicles has become even more compelling. According to a Better Place handout:

“At the same time, technological developments, particularly those related to batter technology, mean that electric cars are becoming more advanced. Hawaii is ready for the large-scale adoption of EVs and is poised to become a leader in environmentally friendly technologies over the next few years.”

Better Place’s Plan

Agassi’s company is into building electric car networks that will make internal combustion engine vehicles so last century. His website has two press releases dated today. The one on Hawaii says the state is the second to commit to oil independence by joining “the Better Place network.” (If you have to be Number 2 to anybody, it’s pretty cool if California is Number 1.)

Follow the above links to websites for more information, and for those of you who can’t get enough news about Better Place and EVs, we’ll add to this list as the media coverage becomes available.
The Washington Post
12/4 Update: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin's editorial today mentions the "chicken and egg problem" in developing an electric car and plug-in network that others have identified, including National Public Radio earlier this week.

NY Times & Hawaii's Renewable Energy ‘Moon Shot'

Even The New York Times blogs. “The Board” is written by members of the Times’ editorial board and includes “…a variety of posts that give background to the day’s editorials, cover other major topics of the day, or provide a first-person take on an aspect of politics or society that we might not address in the editorial line-up.”

Hawaii’s quest for renewable energy independence is one such topic today. Henk Rogers’ Blue Planet Foundation and executive director Jeff Mikulina get a ton of exposure in a blog entry that equates the state’s drive to develop renewables with America’s race to the moon four decades ago:

"The project is Hawaii’s own moon mission, led by the Blue Planet Foundation and not by the state’s political establishment, which tends to prefer the slow and tortured way to change (a long battle over a new commuter rail system was bogged down by a ferocious debate over whether it should have steel or rubber wheels)."

Insert wince here – but remember, this is an opinion piece by a Times editorial board member, not necessarily the views of the aforementioned individuals and foundation. Still, it’s true that Rogers tells audiences we may be too conservative in aiming for 70 percent clean energy in Hawaii by 2030, the goal of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

Somebody has to be at the point of the spear, and whether they claim that position for themselves or not, that’s where one Times writer has put Rogers and Mikulina.

Remember the old advice: As long as the papers spell your name right, it’s good publicity.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More News on OTEC Deal Strangely Still Missing

We offered a champagne toast when the news broke on a collaboration to build a 10-megawatt ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant in Hawaii. Yet 11 days later, there’s still no follow-up from the parties to what Governor Lingle’s office released on November 18th.

We don’t doubt the truth of the announcement made in Taiwan during a State trade mission. Still, it’s puzzling that the only news about the OTEC plant has come from the Governor’s office. Far as we can tell, neither Lockheed Martin nor the Industrial Technology Research Institute of Taiwan has issued a release.

If this is as big a deal as ocean energy enthusiasts hope it is, surely the parties want to put their own spin on their plans. But they haven’t, and that makes you wonder.

Lockheed representatives will be in Hawaii next week, and maybe that’s when we’ll learn more about what could be a breakthrough in renewable energy development here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More Reasons To Be Thankful than We Can Count

Pardon us for indulging in some personal thanks before we get on with the usual business of this website. As parents of three adults who are contributing to their world in unique ways, and as grandparents of two great kids who live about three minutes away, we have much to be thankful for.

Hawaii’s renewable energy scene has had an up year, too, starting with the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative that was announced early this year by the Governor and the federal Department of Energy.

The Hawaii news media, which seemed burdened with blinders that restricted their vision to the obvious renewable energy technologies (windmills do mesmerize), are now broadening their horizons. Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) is finding a place in their editorials and stories, and since we began this blog specifically to build OTEC awareness, that’s a good thing. And thanks to private industry, OTEC has a brighter future than we could have imagined earlier this year.  (An Advertiser columnist makes our point on both counts in a day-before-Thanksgiving Day piece.)

Thankful for a Progressive Utility

What a refreshing change it is to have an electric utility taking a leadership position in advancing the state’s renewable energy interests. We have to admit to a soft spot for Hawaiian Electric; being there gave this inveterate communicator more on-air time than we could have imagined thanks to numerous island-wide power outages during the years we handled communications for the company. HECO brought wind farms and a geothermal plant online during that decade, but its recent leadership in partnering with the State deserves special recognition.

In that regard, the State government deserves thanks for its own initiatives, beginning with the aforementioned Clean Energy Initiative. More recently, the Governor announced a major agreement involving the State, HECO and the Consumer Advocate that, if the hype is to be believed, promises to transform the regulatory environment here and create a new business model that rewards the utilities for renewable energy innovation rather than for kilowatthour sales.

Non-Profits Stand Tall

The non-profit community deserves accolades, too. Entrepreneur Henk Rogers launched his Blue Planet Foundation with a spectacular Summit in April that brought Dr. Stephen Schneider (of the Nobel Prize-winning Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change), James Woolsey, Denis Hayes and Robert Kennedy, Jr. to Oahu to share their views and stimulate discussion on the clear and present danger of the planet’s continued fossil fuel dependence. Rogers, by the way, has one big matzah ball of a mission statement hanging out there – to end fossil fuel use on the planet, beginning in Hawaii. What’s not to like about that!?

Not to be forgotten, the Hawaii Venture Capital Association sponsored a series of monthly meetings on renewable energy development late this summer, attracting standing-room-only luncheon crowds.

Thankful for Being Taken Seriously

Finally, we’re really thankful for the interest of visitors to this website from around the world – literally around the world. Our SiteMeter service keeps track of visitors in dozens of countries who check in with us regularly. Relax – we don’t know exactly who you are, just your ISPs.

Thanks for reading these posts since our launch on March 14th. And thank you for supporting renewable energy development – especially if that support helps Hawaii prove what a small but determined society can do to rid itself of fossil fuel dependence.

Oh, yeah. We almost forgot: Thanks for Hawaii-born Barack Obama. Forget it, Chicago. He’s ours!

Friday, November 21, 2008

News about Pilot OTEC Plant Caught in Doldrums, But the OTEC Buzz Is Picking Up Around the World

NewScientist's illustration of an OTEC cycle.

We have another bottle of champagne ready to pop when more news is released about the pilot ocean thermal energy (OTEC) pilot plant slated for development here (see earlier post for the first pour).

Either coincidentally or providentially, the OTEC buzz seems to be picking up around the nation and world. The current issue of NewScientist, which went to press before Tuesday’s OTEC announcement, carries a long story on the technology’s promise and potential hurdles. A standout quote from the piece:

“This has the potential to become the biggest source of renewable energy in the world.” – Robert Cohen

We’ll leave the world to Mr. Cohen, but it parallels what we’ve been saying about OTEC’s potential in Hawaii. The tropical ocean traps prodigious amounts of solar energy each day; the quote we’ve heard is that the daily absorption is the equivalent of 250 billion barrels of oil.

OTEC also gets a look from Softpedia’s “Sci Pri” column and the Science Blog. All well and good, but we’re eagerly awaiting additional news about the Hawaii pilot plant. 

Surely Lockheed Martin and its Taiwanese partner, the Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute, will have something to say about this project, and soon (one would hope).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Still Waiting for Details re Hawaii’s Pilot OTEC Plant

It’s been a little more than 24 hours since we learned of the ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) pilot plant project planned for Hawaii, and the “when” and “where” details – not included in the press release -- have yet to be distributed in a followup release.

An important “who” also wasn’t spelled out, but we have to believe Hawaiian Electric Company or one of its subsidiaries will be involved. We’ve called the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) to fill in those blanks and will update this post when the information is received.

6 p.m. UPDATE: A DBEDT representative called to say the multi-party agreement announced by the Governor last month has these details, including the mention of HECO as the utility and HECO's Kahe power plant on Oahu's leeward coast as the site. So we're beginning to see yesterday's OTEC pilot plant announcement in a new light -- as a continuation of the earlier agreement. The truly "new" news is the pairing of Lockheed Martin and the Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute to construct and demonstrate the plant.

Here's our suggestion to DBEDT and the Governor's office: Interested parties around the world are waiting for more news about who, when and where, and it would be preferable to put this information in one updated press release or statement, rather than require everyone to search them out in other documents. Just a thought....

We’ve gently urged our daily papers to jump on this story and give it the coverage it deserves, but so far the announcement has merited only relatively brief mention in the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin. We invite our visitors to keep returning to this blog for updates, as we’re following developments as much or more than anyone else.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OTEC Shoe Finally Falls; Lockheed To Team with Taiwanese To Build Demonstration Plant in Hawaii

Pardon our enthusiasm, but we think this news deserves a toast --
appropriately backed by an ocean with limitless power generation potential.

We’ve been predicting it for months – and as recently as two days ago. Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology is going to be built in Hawaii!

We have to say it’s about time. First theorized in the 1880s and shown to be feasible, at least in a small way, in the 1970s off the Kona Coast in Hawaiian waters, OTEC is potentially the major baseload generation source that will free Hawaii from its addiction to imported oil.

The announcement came today from Governor Linda Lingle’s office, which issued a press release that begs for more details – such as when and where. We’ll probably hear from Lockheed Martin in a day or a few more. (Pacific Business News carried the first media story to our knowledge.)

According to the release, Lockheed will team with the Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute to build a 10-megawatt plant. More details to come……

(See this blog's first post for some background on OTEC.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bring On the Energy Options, but Should Hawaii Embrace Them All Just Because They’re Possible?

Like many others, we’ve been in a post-election state of mind, imagining changes in energy policy that the Obama Administration and a more progressive Congress might deliver. Then the Sunday Advertiser arrived with three energy-related commentaries that nudged us out of our hiatus.

Hawaiian Electric Company executive vice president Robbie Alm has the lead commentary in the paper’s Focus section. Alm discusses the Clean Energy Agreement announced last month in the Governor’s office with considerable fanfare. The piece repeats much of what we already know about HECO’s transformation to a new business model.

That agreement is Jay Fidell’s subject in his “Think Tech” column in the Business section, but with a different slant. Under a headline that predicts billions of dollars in renewable investment costs, Fideil says those costs will be paid by consumers. He’s also concerned that the Legislature may be left on the sidelines if only the Public Utilities Commission and a State department have power over its implementation. He asks, “Should we react in awe, or in concern?”

The third commentary is by Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a member of the dwindling Republic minority in the Legislature, who advocates a major investment in wave energy conversion technology for Hawaii. Her vision: “Wave energy in Hawaii could meet 100 percent of the power needs of our Neighbor Islands, and 80 percent here on Oahu.”

Time for a Pause

Two of the three commentaries today are evidence of widespread enthusiasm for renewable energy technologies to help Hawaii get off oil. While enthusiasm and the goal both are desirable, Fidell’s column is a worthy read because of the caution he suggests is needed in our rush to embrace renewables.

The danger, as we see it, is that waves of enthusiasm from different quarters will pile up on one another, like a tsunami at the shoreline, washing away everything in its path. As Fidell notes, the undersea cable to connect Lanai and Molokai with Oahu to transmit wind energy alone could cost up to $800 million, and we consumers are going to pay that bill.

So it’s useful to ask repeatedly as we head down this path, is each and every renewable energy technology that’s promoted worth developing? For example, what are we to make of the assertion that wave energy derived from sea surges could meet 100 percent of the Neighbor Islands’ power requirements, and 80 percent on Oahu?

Can that truly be the case, or might there be a shortfall on days like today? From where we sit, the ocean looks like a mirror this morning, and one wonders how much electricity would be finding its way to shore on days like this. And if wave energy likely can’t be considered baseload power, capable of generating electricity 24/7 year-round, do we assume a breakthrough in energy storage capability that will get us through the calms?

If not, the utilities would have to have other generation sources – baseload sources – at the ready if wave power falters. What would fire those backup generators, and what about the environmental implications of wave power and the “wiring” of our shorelines? These and more questions need answers before we can return the enthusiasm for wave power.

And Then There’s Wind

The biggest wind energy project being touted in Hawaii is the Castle & Cooke proposal to build hundreds of turbines on Lanai and send the power via undersea cable to Oahu and perhaps the other islands in Maui County. Wind energy generates enthusiasm just about everywhere its proposed with some exceptions. The Waianae Coast community on Oahu rejected HECO’s proposal because of the project’s perceived visual “blight,” and some Lanai residents also are concerned about what the project would do to their island.

Nevertheless, David Murdock’s Lanai plan – like the Pickens Plan for a wind energy mega-project in the Great Plains – is building support in the islands. In these early evaluation stages, the project looks like a winner all around: Castle & Cooke could turn money-losing Lanai into a revenue generator, and the state would replace polluting oil-fired generation with clean wind power.

But then there’s that pesky Jay Fidell and his observation that the cost of building the cable, as well as the wind farm construction costs, essentially would be paid by consumers in their electric rates. As we’ve come to appreciate over the years, alternate energy isn’t free energy, and just because the wind blows free doesn’t mean our rates will go down. The infrastructure’s capital investment is huge.

Come One, Come All?

So we finally come to the point suggested in the headline over today’s post: Should Hawaii embrace all renewable energy technologies just because it’s possible to do so? Should we take them all on like mountain climbers – just because they’re there?

We think the answer is no. There’s little enthusiasm today for the early biofuel energy proposals that would have resulted in deforestation to make room for palm oil plantations. In that vein, each of the proposals being trotted out before consumers deserves scrutiny.

For us, the key issue is baseload generation. If a renewable energy project doesn’t have the capability to deliver power around the clock, questions must be asked about the backup requirement for each project. If the goal is to prevent new fossil fuel generation and replace current fossil fuel generation, clean baseload generation sources of energy must be introduced.

The Ocean Around Us

We started this blog on March 14th to generate discussion about ocean thermal energy conversion, a technology in search of a customer. To avoid becoming a Johnny One Note on this subject, we’ve often written about the other clean technologies that can contribute to Hawaii’s quest to Get Off Oil.

That said, OTEC stands out as the best long-term solution to Hawaii’s energy predicament. OTEC is baseload generation, unlike wind, wave and solar technology in the absence of massive storage capabilities.

OTEC demonstration projects in Hawaii are almost certain to be announced soon; HECO has recently had good things to say about ocean energy (in August and as recently as nine days ago). If the developers’ predictions are proven in these trials, OTEC could be on the long path to provide 100 percent of the state’s electrical energy requirements.

Would an $800 million consumer-backed investment in an undersea cable from Lanai impede acceptance of large-scale OTEC development? We’re not qualified to venture an answer, but the State Consumer Advocate surely would know or should be prepared to find out. And if the answer is yes, would clean energy baseload generation be delayed due to early investment in intermittent wind power on a grand scale?

As Fidell suggests, intense scrutiny is required for all these proposals, including HECO’s new business model, to ensure decisions made in the years immediately ahead will be in the public interest and result in a clean and affordable future for our grandchildren decades from now.
* * *
Have a different view or something to contribute to the discussion? Please do so with the Comments link, below.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gore Says Obama Should Announce a National Goal: Achieve 100% Renewable Energy Use in a Decade

It’s been a week since Barack Obama won the presidency, and already he’s being urged to announce a national goal to achieve 100 percent renewable energy dependence within a decade. Al Gore doesn’t aim low.

The former Vice President and Nobel Laureate announced this goal at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last week, striking while the iron was hot, and he outlined his five-point plan days later in a commentary for the New York Times’ wider audience.

Mr. Gore minces no words, and he’s nothing if not consistent. On July 17, we highlighted his warning that “The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk.” He writes in his Times piece:

“To those of you who are still tempted to dismiss the increasingly urgent alarms from scientists around the world…, please wake up. Our children and grandchildren need you to hear and recognize the truth of our situation, before it is too late.”

Gore’s 5-Part Plan

1. Large-scale investment incentives for massive solar, wind and geothermal power plants.
2. Construct a smart grid for the country, including high-voltage, low-loss underground lines.
3. Help America’s automobile industry convert to electric plug-in hybrids to run on renewable energy.
4. Retrofit buildings to make them efficient.
5. Put a price on carbon emissions in the United States and lead the way at next November’s Copenhagen conference (a Kyoto successor) to establish tough emission caps.

Gore’s Plan…the Pickens Plan…they all would move us closer to a stronger, more secure America and cleaner world, but the only plan that really matters will be the Obama Plan, which the President-Elect presumably will unveil in a matter of weeks.

His home state of Hawaii is gearing up for the energy transformation to come and will be an all-in participant out of necessity. Our overwhelming dependence on imported oil demands it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

HECO, Blue Planet Hit the Road Again Promoting a Hawaii Powered Exclusively by Renewable Energy

The headline may overstate it a bit as far as Hawaiian Electric’s Robbie Alm is concerned, but that’s what entrepreneur Henk Rogers is fighting for. The two have become a “traveling truth team” about Hawaii’s extraordinary dependence on fossil fuel and the imperative to develop renewable energy alternatives here as quickly as possible.

Alm and Rogers made an impression the first time they spoke to a Nature Conservancy of Hawaii gathering a few weeks ago and were invited back for a repeat performance at breakfast yesterday. Entrepreneur Rogers (of Tetris fame) created the Blue Planet Foundation last year with a super aggressive mission to end fossil fuel use on the planet, beginning with Hawaii.

What’s extraordinary about their road show is that Alm – executive vice president of Hawaii’s largest electric utility, which in years past would have made him “Mr. Conservative” – is nearly as provocative as Rogers in advocating massive changes for his company. Here’s a summary of their remarks:

Rogers: No Rest in Paradise

The digital game pioneer led off by coaxing applause from his audience about Barack Obama’s election to the highest office in the land. (For more on the hometown pride theme, see Lee Cataluna’s “Kama`aina President” column in today’s Honolulu Advertiser.)

Rogers predicted Hawaii will be in the spotlight as the nation and world try to figure out what it is about this place that could produce someone so remarkable. And when they drop in for a look, maybe they’ll learn how Hawaii’s geographical isolation has made it overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuel for nearly all its energy.

Utilities burned oil to generate 78 percent of the state’s electricity in 2006; coal produced another 13 percent. Renewable energy contributed only a little more than 6 percent, so it’s easy to appreciate, he said, why $147/barrel oil has truly damaged the state’s economy.

With Obama’s election, Rogers said the call for new energy sources no longer can be “Drill, Baby, Drill” but something with a “green” hue. “Change we must,” he said, and that change can and should be at its most aggressive in Hawaii, out of necessity.

(11/9 UPDATE: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin's editorial today -- "Obama's energy push a natural for Hawaii" -- sees great opportunity for Hawaii to be a laboratory for renewable energy development during the Obama Administration.  11/10 UPDATE: Al Gore has urged Obama to go 100 percent renewable energy in a decade; he made the call at the Web 2.0 Summit last week.)

Rogers said individuals and businesses also can contribute to reducing fossil fuel demand by grabbing the “low-hanging fruit.” While Hawaii leads the nation in home solar water-heating units, another 75 percent of the homes here have yet to install them.

Replacing incandescent light bulbs with efficient alternatives should be encouraged, and hybrid cars have become an affordable way for families to transition to a renewable economy. (Rogers rides a plug-in electric bicycle to his in-town appointments; his wife drives their only car, a Prius.)

Rogers praised HECO and the State Administration for their recent agreement to spur renewable energy development by creating a new business model for the state’s largest utility. He encouraged his audience to support legislative and regulatory changes that will be necessary to achieve the transformation. And he invited individuals to join with Blue Planet Foundation to help end fossil fuel dependence in the Islands:

“HECO and the State have made an historic leap in the right direction, and I thank them. Blue Planet Foundation will not rest until the last oil and gas tankers and the last coal transports have left the shores of this paradise. And when I say paradise, I’m not just talking about the great State of Hawaii and not just the United States of America. I mean Mother Earth – the one and only true Blue Planet.”

Alm: Renewables to the Max

HECO’s Alm contrasted Hawaii’s energy mix with the mainland’s and noted that the Big 4 of mainland energy sources – coal, nuclear, natural gas and large-scale hydro – simply won’t work in Hawaii. The four produce 96 percent of the mainland’s energy, while renewables contribute only 2 percent. Hawaii already gets 9 percent from renewables and has the potential to dramatically drive that percentage much higher.

“We’ll be trying to push wind and solar energy to their maximum contributions with long-term contracts,” he said, and he spoke encouragingly about the anticipated investment in ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) here by Lockheed Martin, which has been working on OTEC for decades. Alm said Lockheed’s multi-million-dollar investment in this baseload generation technology will help cut into the state’s oil imports. (Alm spoke earlier this year about HECO's intent to establish "set-asides" for ocean energy technology.)

But Alm noted that intermittent power sources such as wind farms require backup from the utility to ensure a consistent supply during lulls. “From an operating standpoint, running our power plants will get harder, not easier,” he said, a message he said he tells power plant operators. Introducing large numbers of electric cars to the islands could produce the surprising benefit of greater system reliability; in a nighttime generation crisis, Alm said, thousands of plugged-in cars could feed their stored energy back into HECO’s grid.

Alm said Hawaiian Electric has to suppress the fear of operating under a different business model, no longer exercising a monopoly over electricity generation. “We’ll get there, because the last few months have been so difficult working with our customers” as the price of oil reached unprecedented levels. “We don’t want to do that again,” he said, and suggested customers put one of their electric bills from last summer on their refrigerator to remind them what oil dependency looks like.

Alm said we’ll certainly see a return to those high oil prices again as the citizens of China and India strive to emulate the consumer society America has created. “We need to convince others not to follow our energy-consumption model,” he said. (China's Premier has some ideas about developed countries' "unsustainable way of life.")

In conclusion, Alm said Hawaii has a history of cutting back and retrenching during tough economic times as her population tries to survive. “What we don’t do is pick some issue and stick to it, even in a recession, with the intent to come flying out of the downturn,” he said. The quest for renewable energy can break that pattern, he suggested, and although there will be up-front costs to facilitate renewables and transmission systems, such as underwater cables to move wind energy from Lanai and Molokai to Oahu, the long-term benefits will be immense.

Both Alm and Rogers said politicians and regulators deserve support when they undertake initiatives to usher in Hawaii’s green revolution. The Henk and Robbie Show may be bringing that message to a venue near you in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Would Obama Be Too Much of a ‘Homer' if He Made Hawaii THE World Model for Renewable Energy?

(11/9 Update: The Honolulu Star-Bulletin doesn't think so; see today's editorial.)
“President-Elect Obama” has a beautiful ring to it – especially here in his home state. Environmentalists and renewable energy advocates have reason to be happy about the election results, too.

Wind, solar and ocean energy initiatives should thrive in the Obama Administration, and we’re likely to hear precious little talk about “Drill, Baby, Drill” – and even less enthusiasm for nuclear power.

So let’s resurrect our apocryphal conversation with the President-Elect about making Hawaii a model for renewable energy development. Hawaii – the most oil-dependent of the American states, the most isolated society in the entire world, an example of ethnic harmony despite our faults and an island chain rich in renewable energy development potential that can be a model for others to follow.

If a son of Hawaii can become President of the United States, nothing is impossible. Let Hawaii's age of renewable energy leadership begin.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Energy Island Plan Includes OTEC, Wind, Currents

Posting here has dropped off this week thanks to a pre-election holiday in Maui’s Kaanapali, where the trade winds have been strong and undoubtedly are turning the nearby wind turbines impressively. We’ve restricted ourselves to the occasional renewable energy item to come through on a weak wireless connection.

Here’s one on “sustainable modular islands” that includes a video presentation showing how ocean current power, wind power and ocean thermal energy conversion technologies might be integrated in floating energy islands. The concept will be presented at an energy conference in Shanghai in a couple weeks.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Papers Take Note of Consequences in Oil Price Fall

The steep drop in oil’s price produced contrasting stories today in the Honolulu Advertiser and the San Francisco Chronicle. The local paper focuses on the relief Hawaii consumers are feeling now that electricity charges, shipping costs and gas prices have fallen along with the price of crude.

The sidebar chart that's displayed next to the story (at right) shows Hawaiian Electric Company’s monthly cost of electricity this year, and although those prices look way high compared to the mainland, consider that the price of electrons on the neighbor islands is much higher – e.g., more than 50 cents/kwh on Lanai. Residents can look forward to additional cuts in their bills as long as oil’s price continues to slide.

The Chronicle’s take is through the lens of what the decline has done to renewable energy projects’ prospects, something we speculated about earlier this month. Oil’s spike to more than $145/barrel produced remarkable opportunities for green energy developers, but as the Chronicle notes, there’s less excitement now. "When oil comes down, there's still interest, but it's not as passionate. That's a potential risk,” says one observer.

No one knows how long this slide in oil’s price will last, but nearly everyone expects it to climb with a vengeance again someday. The market eventually is sure to reward those with enough vision and temerity to invest in renewables. We’re breathing easier now, but breathlessness is something we can anticipate again one day.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

HECO To Hire Renewable Energy PP Negotiator

Hawaiian Electric has openings listed in today’s Classified Ads in the Advertiser, including Director, Renewable Energy Power Purchase Negotiation:

Manages the activities of the Renewable Energy Power Purchase Negotiation Division. Manages the negotiation of all renewable power purchase agreements for the Company and its’ (sic) subsidiaries. Makes recommendations on sophisticated technical issues which require the integration of knowledge and expertise in power system planning, design and operations.

Energy providers undoubtedly hope for a speedy filling of that position. (And since we’re duty-bound to protect and defend our beloved English language's grammar rules – and give our former employer a friendly tweak now and then – we’ll assume those future contracts won’t require a “sic” in them.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Briefing Outlines Background of New Agreement To Hasten Renewable Energy Development in Hawaii

Ted Liu briefs Hawaii Energy Policy Forum today.

Monday’s press conference by Governor Lingle on agreements between the State, Hawaiian Electric and the consumer advocate covered the highlights on the proposed regulatory changes intended to create a new business model for the utility and integrate more clean energy onto the islands’ grids. Today, the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum meeting in the State Capitol was briefed on what led up to the agreement, which has been described as “historic” and “transformational.”

Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism, spent the better part of an hour describing a dialogue that began last year. Here are the highlights:

There was a gradual recognition that business as usual wasn’t acceptable, wasn’t tolerable and put our economy and quality of life for all of us at risk. The question became what do we do about it? What are the major drivers? There was a recognition that we needed to take a close look at our regulatory system – one, not just in Hawaii but elsewhere that was erected based on a series of assumptions that are no longer valid, cheap abundant never-ending fossil fuels, central power generation stations and electrons that flowed one way. 

But as much as we kept talking about changing, we needed to make sure that we put in place the regulatory environment that allowed, incentivized, rewarded that type of change, so there was a big focus on looking at what we could do in terms of the regulatory environment, and looking at it collaboratively and cooperatively with the other players.

And so the idea actually came up, I would say -- as a matter of fact, in my recollection it preceded the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). There were a couple discussions at the end of last year about what could we do on a voluntary basis, what could we do together? There was a situation there – you all know this – in which people were publicly talking about each other, some in tougher terms than others, but was that really what was going to drive change? I think that helped drive change, but we really needed to focus on the specifics of what needed to get done.

A Seminal Event

So over the course of the last six or seven months, helped by the HCEI process, helped by the regulatory discussions that we had with the DOE’s regulatory assistance project and helped by some pretty intense interactions, the framework of this agreement started to emerge. It really took off toward summer. To my mind, a seminal event was this big group that we took to NREL. The National Renewable Energy Lab had never hosted a state delegation like this before, and what was striking to them was in the room we had all three PUC commissioners, Mina was there (Rep. Hermina Morita, chair of the House Energy & Environmental Protection Committee), Senator (Ron) Menor (chair of the Energy & Environment Committee) was there, the consumer advocate and her staff were there, the senior staff of the PUC was there, the Governor was there and the CEOs of every major utility – we only have two – were there with their senior staff. And NREL never had seen that type of gathering representing one state in one room wondering what the options were, reaching out for technical assistance. But the fact that we were there also meant we were interacting and that was extremely positive. 

So events like that helped spur the process along, and we started getting serious the last couple of months. Every one of us had to negotiate our own processes. There’s been some grumbling about this being sort of not inclusive. Well, this was a relatively sensitive negotiation for a publicly traded utility whose premature release of information could have had negative consequences, not only on them but also on our process. There was no assurance that any one of these things would ever reach conclusion. It’s not the type of thing we could talk about what we hoped to do. We could only talk about it after it had been essentially agreed to. So we all had to work with our own processes. I had to work with mine, believe me, because there’s a lot here that we all needed to understand. My staff understood it, but I needed to convince various people within the Administration from a policy perspective that they were the right policies to try to pursue. I give a lot of credit to Cat Awakuni, the consumer advocate who was very much involved in this. She has stated, and we’ve all stated, that this moves us all a little bit outside the zone of comfort. This is clearly not how we have always done things, and we need to have to adapt to this new environment that we’re in.

Is it as broad as it could be? I’m sure we probably could have included many things that others in different circumstances would have included or included things that many think are not as important, but it was in our best judgment all the factors that we needed to look at from a more comprehensive integrated perspective. It does change a lot of things. There are some things the utility can do voluntarily, moving out on some of these renewable energy commitments. I’m looking forward to being one of the first to complement my PV on my roof with an advanced meter on my home. 

In the PUC’s Court

Things that they can do voluntarily, but a lot also is going to be in the court of the PUC. In our discussion with the PUC – who were not involved in the process because they can’t be – to the extent that strong signals were given that they recognize it and hopefully will be – and I can’t speak for the PUC – processes that they will adopt that will get us to our objectives in a more efficient, timely manner.

I won’t get into the details because you all know this better than I do. You all can see what’s in it, and we’d be happy to answer any questions and engage you in conversations. This won’t be the last time I’m sure that we’ll have a chance to talk about it. And it’s going to be a living document. I will tell you that, even now, we’re already talking to the utility about improvements. Even now we’re talking about further agreements, so it’s going to be a living document. Not only will there be opportunities for input and conference about it but we can improve it and make it better. 

Liu’s presentation followed one by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Ed Chu, a Hawaii native now living in the Washington, D.C. area.  Chu’s presentation – “Closing the Loop on Climate Change” – included some fascinating facts we’ll include in future posts; for now, here are a couple concerning sustainability:

• 426,000 cell phones are retired each day, totaling (in 2005) 50,000 tons of discarded material in those phones.
• 2 million plastic bottles are used/consumed every 5 minutes in the United States.

That last one made us push the bottle under the chair a little further out of sight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Long View: New Hawaii Energy Pact Could Mean Our Grandchildren Will Be Fossil Fuel Free

Governor Linda Lingle, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye and HECO's Robbie Alm await start of yesterday's signing ceremony.

As Marshall McLuhan observed nearly five decades ago, the medium is the message. Yesterday’s message-medium was a standing-room-only press conference with remarks by a governor, a U.S. senator, utility executives, a state consumer advocate, a business development director and a U.S. DOE representative, with several other notables mentioned and thanked by name.

The message was unmistakable: “This is important stuff we’re announcing today, and we don’t want you media types to miss it.” The Lingle Administration’s legacy is all about energy; also unveiled this year was the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.

Judging from the coverage, the media got the message. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin’s main story highlighted in the third paragraph what we also found significant and noted in yesterday’s post – the ban on adding net fossil-fuel-based capacity to the Hawaiian Electric companies’ grids.

That amounts to a cap on fossil fuels – but not carbon fuels – for electrical generation. If existing power plants are converted to biofuels or biofuel plants are built, a like amount of capacity powered by fossil fuels will have to be retired, according to yesterday’s announcement. And the prohibition of new coal-fired generation in the state means the existing AES generation station on Oahu won’t get any bigger and new coal facilities won’t be built.

Big Changes at HECO, HEI

Long-time employees of Hawaiian Electric Company might well be shell shocked by the rapid metamorphosis of their employer. HECO finds itself in a “change or die” syndrome, and it has chosen to change. The new agreement decouples HECO from a kilowatthour sales model. The company’s press release states:

“This decoupling of revenues from sales will remove barriers for the utilities to pursue aggressive demand-response, load management and customer-owned or third-party owned renewable energy systems while giving the utilities an opportunity to achieve fair rates of return.”

Connie Lau, CEO of parent Hawaiian Electric Industries, said HECO will evolve into an “energy services” company. She left for New York last night to speak with HEI investors and will be joined later in the week by HECO executive vice president Robbie Alm to explain the companies’ new direction.

At the urging of this “online journalist" for Alm to amplify on his comments two months ago about encouraging ocean energy developers to prove their technologies in Hawaii, he essentially repeated those sentiments. The mainstream media have yet to carry those comments, so we hope they heard enough to tweak some curiosity. HECO’s press release (not yet posted on its website) lists “renewable energy commitments” and potential projects, including Sea Solar ocean thermal energy conversion (25 to 100 MW) and Lockheed Martin OTEC (10 MW), both tied in with the Kahe power plant.

With Grandchildren in Mind

Those potential OTEC projects – if successful in proving the technology’s viability – probably have more potential to get Hawaii off oil because of their baseload configuration. But “Big Wind,” Governor Lingle’s name for the future wind projects on Lanai and Molokai, dominated the media coverage (Honolulu Advertiser’s page 1 story, KITV, KHNL, KGMB; KHON has no post).

The renewable technologies are projected to receive a big boost thanks to this agreement, which we hope will play out with cost estimates in the months ahead. Cost was a key point missing in yesterday’s announcement that the media picked up on immediately. Hawaii’s goal to eliminate fossil fuel for much of its energy needs seems within reach in the next two decades, but achieving complete fossil fuel freedom is something our grandchildren will enjoy.

The Clean Energy Initiative picked 2030 as a comprehendible target date – just two decades away and a year most of us are likely to experience. But our own grandchildren won’t have reached their 30th birthdays by then. Their generation will look to this century’s midpoint as a target for complete independence from fossil fuels for electrical generation and all transportation, including air travel.

Our generation’s legacy can be their generation’s green bonanza if we manage the transition to renewable energy wisely in these early years of the 21st Century. The new agreement seems like a good start.

Monday, October 20, 2008

‘Sweeping Agreement’ in Regulatory Changes Announced Between State, Utility, Others; Goal Is To Develop Renewable Energy, Get Hawaii Off Oil

L-to-R: Bill Parks, U.S. Department of Energy; Robbie Alm, Hawaiian Electric Co.; Catherine Awakuni, State Consumer Advocate; Connie Lau, Hawaiian Electric Indusries; Governor Linda Lingle; Maurice Kaya, former State Chief Technology Officer; Ted Liu, Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism.

Despite our intention to beat the mainstream media with details of today’s press conference attended by Governor Linda Lingle, numerous State energy officials, Hawaiian Electric Company executives, the U.S. DOE, the State Consumer Advocate, renewable energy developers and even U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, the length of the conference pushed us right up against the start of a granddaughter’s birthday party. (The Phillies and the Rays might well play half a World Series game this week in the time it took to conduct this one.) We "online journalists" can bust a deadline if we want to.

For now, we’ll simply direct you to the Governor’s website for most of the details. However, the statement that jumped out to us was the agreement among the parties to prevent the growth of fossil fuel generation on the five islands served by Hawaiian Electric -- Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Molokai and the Big Island. (Negotiations are underway with independently owned Kauai Electric to bring that utility into general agreement.)

There will be no future net gain in megawatts generated by burning fossil fuel, according to the Governor and HECO representatives. That alone seems like a major advancement in the effort to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuel. If for whatever reason a new fossil fuel plant must be built, a like amount of carbon-based generation in an old plant will have to be taken down. That's how it sounded, at any rate; we'll have to review the video to get the exact quote. In addition, the overall agreement includes a prohibition on the construction of new coal plants in the state.

But there’s plenty more:

• A commitment to integrate as much as 1100 megawatts of additional renewable energy on the HECO companies’ grids, with 700 MW to be implemented within five years.
• Construction of an undersea cable connecting Maui, Molokai and Lanai into one electrical grid to allow integration of 400 MW of wind power generated in Maui County for transmission to Oahu.
• Changes in how HECO is compensated by moving away from a business model that places reliance on increased electric rates.

And the list goes on, but we'll have to leave it there until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Energy Shoe Seems Ready To Fall, but What Is It?

Oct. 20 Update:  Governor Lingle's website has this blurb about the intent of today's press conference:

"Today, Governor Lingle and officials from Hawaiian Electric Company will announce another milestone in the state's collaborative efforts to increase Hawaii's energy independence by having 70 percent of Hawaii's energy come from clean, renewable sources by 2030."

You'll be able to watch the conference "live" at the Governor's website at 2 p.m. HST (8 p.m. EDT, 12 Midnight UTC/GMT).

Weekends generally are news-less around here, but this weekend is full of anticipation about an energy-related announcement that’s rumored ready for delivery Monday in the Hawaii State Capitol.

We’ve been predicting major renewable energy developments here based on key individuals’ travel schedules and comments, such as this one, in recent months, but we don’t know what Monday’s announcement will be – just that it’s significant.

We’ll attend Monday afternoon's event and post to this site as quickly as possible – presumably before 4 p.m. HST. Come back to see what the fuss is all about.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crude Dips Below $70/Barrel; Could it Be ‘Big Oil’ Hears Renewable Energy’s Following Footsteps?

We’re so whipsawed by wild swings in the markets and predictions of economic doom we don’t know what to believe anymore. What IS the truth about oil price’s fall to less than half the July price? Tell us; we really want to know!

"Supply & demand" is the accepted explanation, as proclaimed in a page one headline (10/17) in the Wall Street Journal: Oil's Slide Deepens as Downturn Triggers Sharp Drop in Demand.

Maybe that's it, or maybe not. Every dollar increase in oil’s price made the renewable energy alternatives more attractive to energy buyers, especially when the price soared above $145/barrel in July. “This isn’t good," we can imagine Big Oil saying. “We’ll be out on our ear inside a generation if this keeps up. Let’s put the brakes on and take the longer view. We can get it up to $200 soon enough.”

Some might think out-on-our-ear is as plausible as supply-and-demand. Whatever the true and complete explanation, alternative energy technologies don't look as attractive as they did three months ago only if we let the last three months predict the future. That wouldn't be smart.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

2nd International Conference on Ocean Energy Meets In France; OTEC in Technology Review

Many leading marine renewable energy experts have gathered this week for three days of presentations and discussion on just about all the potential energy sources from the sea. The ocean energy conference opened today in Brest, France.

The ICOE has attracted “the ocean energy stakeholders: producers, engineers and scientists, sea users, energy politicians and planners….” Among them is Dr. Gerard Nihous of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaii, and we hope he’ll share his reactions to the conference with the media and possibly a University presentation of some kind. Also attending is Ted Johnson of Lockheed Martin. He’s a frequent visitor to Hawaii as he pursues his company’s ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) interests here.

Since we’re writing an OTEC-centric blog, we were drawn to the conference sessions on that technology – “Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC): Principle, Problems and Prospects”; “Impacts Study of OTEC Seawater Effluent Discharge”, and “Are there enough skilled personnel within ocean energy?”

That last topic touches a nerve in a positive way. Hawaii for decades struggled to find an economic engine beyond tourism. OTEC and the other renewable energy technologies could well be that new industry, offering not just jobs but careers for Hawaii’s young people.

What an exciting vocation that would be -- participating in cutting-edge work to harness energy from Hawaii’s natural resources. As we’ve written at our sister blog, Honolulu’s grade separated transit system one day will run on ocean power, solar power, sea power and all the other renewables.

If you’re a young person in search of a tech-oriented career, that’s a pretty good vision to keep in front of you.