Thursday, August 28, 2008

HECO Commits to Set-Asides for Ocean Power; HVCA Audience Hears Straight Talk from Utility

Like the guy in the 1980s TV commercial who said, “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company,” we liked the Hawaii Venture Capital Association’s (HVCA) meeting so much today we joined the group. Thank goodness no venture capital investment is required. An overflow crowd estimated at 150 filled the Plaza Club’s meeting room in downtown Honolulu for the second meeting in HVCA’s Renewable Energy Series. (The September 25th speaker will be Henk Rogers, founder of the Blue Planet Foundation, whose mission is: “To change our world’s energy culture.")

While scribbling notes, we wondered how we’d choose which of the panelists would lead today’s blog entry. Excellent contributions were made by each of the first three speakers – Warren Bollmeier, president of the Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance; Bill Parks, on loan to the State of Hawaii from the U.S. Department of Energy, and Erik Kvam, CEO of Zero Emissions Leasing, LLC, a renewable energy entrepreneur. But then came Robbie Alm, executive vice president of Hawaiian Electric Company, and the choice was easy.

This blog began on March 14, 2008 to call attention to the most-overlooked renewable energy in our state, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), and we made that point again as recently as one week ago. So to hear Alm make an unambiguous endorsement for ocean power in his remarks today was enough to give us – as we say in the islands – chicken skin.

We won’t put quote marks around Alm’s comments because we didn’t catch every single word, but near the end of his talk, he said something pretty close to this:

We (the utility) have a strong preference for proven technologies in purchase power agreements, but we will create room for set-asides for the ocean people to come to Hawaii. To some degree, we need to give the ocean technologies a special reason to come to Hawaii. If they do, we’ll all benefit.

For a moment, we could imagine what Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) might have felt when President Bush endorsed a massive commitment to ethanol a couple State of the Union speeches ago.

OK, so maybe we shouldn’t expect an announcement about HECO signing a contract with an OTEC developer next week, but that was the most ringing endorsement of OTEC and other ocean-based power systems we’ve ever heard from a HECO spokesperson. And more power to them (pun intended).

Patience Recommended

Alm concluded his prepared remarks by telling the assembled would-be energy producers that he can’t promise them an easy field to play in over the next years. Patience will be required as everyone works through numerous as-yet unresolved issues. His ending:

Hawaii will lead the world in the switch off oil. Hawaii will be the place where it happens. We’re all committed to making that our reality.

Quote or not, those are encouraging words from Hawaii’s dominant utility for supporters of OTEC and other renewable energy options.

We’ll post additional comments by Alm and the other panelists in the days ahead. For now, Hawaii Energy Options will leave it at:

HECO, we like your spirit!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Massive Blind Spot in Energy Planning Persists: Two Teams Needed Who Will Kick Off the OTEC Game

We begin by applauding the sentiments in today’s Honolulu Advertiser’s only editorial, “Let’s keep state focus on renewable energy.” It concludes:

“Now more than ever, Hawaii must take its place on the renewable-energy vanguard. And voters need to see that their leaders keep an eye on this important prize.”

We couldn’t agree more – and yet….there’s always something, isn’t there? We hate to quibble with a newspaper that agrees Hawaii must reduce its dependence on fossil fuel ASAP, but the Advertiser gives the appearance of missing a key point about the whole renewable energy picture.

What About Baseload Energy?

That point, of course, is ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Today’s editorial lists Hawaii’s green energy resources:

“The Islands’ ample potential in solar, wind, wave and geothermal energy make this a worthwhile campaign.” Flash back to the paper’s March 16 editorial, which included the same familiar list:

“Now the state needs to see that the money is used wisely to tap the Islands’ reservoir of power – from the wind, waves, geothermal and, of course, the sun.”

We noted then and again now that OTEC is still missing from the Advertiser’s mix of renewable resources, and the omission is glaring. OTEC will be a baseload energy source, available 24/7. Geothermal is also baseload, of course, but it’s confined to the Big Island. Cultural and environmental considerations blocked further development of geothermal in the 1980s, and they probably remain impediments to further build-out. (Biomass, another potential 24/7 baseload source, also seems off the editorial writers' radar.)

So unlike most of the other resources on the Advertiser's list, OTEC has the potential for widespread development as baseload energy in the islands. Yet here we are, still waiting for a breakthrough in finding customer #1 for this technology, the Catch 22 in the OTEC equation.

Cheering from the Sidelines

With football season about to start, we OTEC supporters feel like fans sitting in the grandstands, all fired up and eager for OTEC’s kickoff. Only problem is, the two teams have yet to take the field.

One would be an OTEC developer armed with a long-term downfield vision but also prepared with a modest ground game for now. At first, Team OTEC would run Woody Hayes’s game plan – “four yards and a cloud of dust” -- knowing that a small plant could open the game up for worldwide expansion once OTEC is proven in our tropical environment.

The other team is Customer #1 – most likely Hawaiian Electric Company, which has an RFP out for 100 megawatts of renewable energy. It’s an all-comer RFP, so OTEC could supply some of that total with a small starter plant to prove the technology.

Wanted: Captains Courageous

As today’s Advertiser suggests, the grandstands are filled with cheering supporters hurt by their staggering dependence on imported oil more than residents of any other state. With the average electric rate in the state nearly three times the national average, the point is beyond debate.

The teams in this game are still in the locker room. They need to take the field, led by two courageous captains who will meet at the 50 yard line in the glare of publicity, shake hands and prepare for kickoff.

The teams that could play this game to a win-win conclusion are already well known. Hawaii can’t afford to delay the start of its OTEC era. So in the spirit of the moment, we say:

“Let’s go OTEC!”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oil Dips to $111/Barrel; This Is Where We Came In!

Wow! What a relief!! Oil has fallen about $35/barrel since it’s high point a month ago, and everybody's absolutely giddy over our “good fortune.”

Wait a minute. $111/barrel was the price when we started this blog – a level so unbelievably high we were moved to start blogging about Hawaii’s severe energy problem and renewable options, primarily ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

This is what it feels like to be played like a violin – manipulated into feeling $111/barrel oil is “cheap.” It seems obvious now the manipulators simply overplayed their hand and approached $150 too quickly.

We don't do economic forecasting, but we’ll venture a WA-guess this is nothing more than a lull influenced by a modest reduction in miles driven and nervousness among the “maniputraders.”

World demand will escalate, supply will shrink and prices will blow past $150 before long. The imperative to replace fossil fuel as Hawaii’s energy source with solar photovoltaics, OTEC, wind, biofuels and the rest is as strong as ever. Enjoy the “cheap oil” while it lasts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hawaii Description as ‘Foreign and Exotic’ Place Shows What State Could Face in an Energy Crisis

Senator Barack Obama vacations in his home state and it’s treated like a campaign gaffe, seeing as how the state is so “foreign and exotic,” according to ABC’s Cokie Roberts. Hawaii’s in a snit, of course, and our junior Senator distributed a press release with the “BREAKING” news that America became a 50-state nation 49 years ago.

Moving beyond this flapdoodle, Roberts’ comment suggests where Hawaii might rank in the scheme of things when the next energy crisis hits the fan. This “foreign and exotic” outpost could well be lost in the shuffle to satisfy the petroleum fix of good solid Americans – folks like Roberts’ fellow Loosianans.

All the more reason to make the most of “5 minutes with Obama” (see below).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Obama Connection: Hawaii Welcomes its Favorite Son as Trade Winds Make a Point

(For an idealized view of what the Obama Administration might mean for Hawaii's renewable energy industry, click here.)
Search engines, do your stuff: Obama, Hawaii, solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), oil dependence, vulnerable. That should do it.

Senator Barack Obama (aka Barry to some folks here) is in town during a week of strong trade winds, and Hawaii Energy Options may never have a better chance to snare some attention for Hawaii’s bid to be a renewable energy model.

The Honolulu Advertiser does its part today for the Senator’s Sunday morning reading by summarizing the state’s renewable alternatives as it highlights wind energy development around the state. Wind is said to already supply 9 percent of Maui’s electricity, with more on the way. The hills behind Kahuku on Oahu’s north shore are targeted for two farms that would put a slight dent in the island’s oil dependency. But every little bit helps, right?

Which gives us yet another opportunity to tout OTEC as the energy game-changer for the islands. The tropical ocean around Hawaii has all the stored energy the island chain needs to replace fossil fuel generation for electric power. (If you’re new to island energy issues and know nothing about OTEC, thanks for visiting and please study up. Google’s a big asset, and we’ve posted a good deal here about OTEC, since it's why we started the blog in the first place.)

Obama Talk Story

Here’s what we’d discuss with the born-and-raised-here presidential candidate if we had a few moments of his time:

• Federal energy programs and top-down pressure to eliminate oil as a fuel to generate electricity in the United States by the end of your second term in 2016 would be a spectacular achievement for your Administration – both for oil dependency and climate change issues.
• It’s an achievable goal, the accomplishment of which would position one of the states – your home state – as a model for aggressive renewable energy development for the planet.
• Hawaii is the nation’s most oil-dependent state and generates 78 percent of its electricity by burning the high-priced import, according to the Advertiser story. (This blog previously pegged it at 77.2 percent.)
• Hawaii can’t wait until 2030 to achieve 70-percent reliance on renewables for its energy needs. That’s the target set by Republican administrations in Washington and Honolulu in the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. The goal is too conservative, Senator, and the imperative to get off oil here is too great to be satisfied with it.
• America needs an exportable technological expertise to offset her diminishing stature in the field. OTEC can be the bridge to a hydrogen economy, as well as a source of electricity and fresh water for the planet’s most isolated society, your beloved Hawaii, and populations elsewhere in desperate need of energy and water.

We could go on, but we’d have only enough time to get out that much. We wish the Senator an enjoyable vacation here, with some energy education thrown in.

Energy for Lanai

A column in the Advertiser today written by Lanai residents asks the “what’s in it for me” question regarding David Murdock’s ambitious plan to build a 300-megawatt Windfarm on their island and ship the power via undersea cable to Oahu.

It’s worth reading – and so, we suggeest, are the Lanai-related early posts to this blog when we suggested OTEC could be the key to Lanai becoming a truly green, fossil-fuel-free island within a few short years.

Among the residents’ concerns is the potential loss of a large chunk of their island to the Murdock project. A floating OTEC plant with underwater transmission cables to Lanai would have no land impact as it supplied electricity for all the island’s needs (think plug-in vehicles), as well as vast quantities of fresh water each day that would be piped ashore.

First Lanai, then Hawaii, then the nation, and then…… Welcome home to the possibilities, Senator.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Suddenly, Nuke Power Talk Is Everywhere -- from the Presidential Campaign to Downtown Honolulu

The suitcases are back in the closet, and we have to be content with our memories of cool breezes and fog along the California Coast. On average, it’s about 20 degrees hotter on any given day in Honolulu than Monterey, and if it weren’t for the strong trades this week, our homecoming would have been exceptionally uncomfortable. 

We heard the early edition of NPR’s “All Things Considered” yesterday on the way to a meeting in downtown Honolulu and listened somewhat dismissively to a report on Senator McCain’s strong support of nuclear energy. It sounded like campaign rhetoric, delivered as it was at a Michigan nuclear power plant, with little relevance to Hawaii.

But not 10 minutes later, right there on Alakea Street, we ran into a Hawaii state senator (not of McCain’s party) whose first words practically were to enthusiastically tout nuke power for Hawaii! We couldn’t believe it and decided then and there to make this issue the subject of our first post-vacation post to Hawaii Energy Options.

The Most Expensive Option

We only had time to read Freedom from Mideast Oil while flying to and from California, and the chapter we just finished before arriving home was titled “Nuclear Power: A Mistake in Search of a Mission.” Citing numerous detailed reasons, the authors conclude: “The upside to nuclear power is minimal; the downside is potentially disastrous.” (page 189)  Another bomb:

“After decades of subsidies, nuclear power still remains the most expensive and non-competitive way of generating electricity…. The real challenge facing nuclear power becomes clear when ‘life cycle’ production costs are compared, including construction, operations, maintenance, fuel, decommissioning, and waste storage.” (page 170)

We immediately mentioned this book to the senator, and he claimed to have read it and to have met at least one of its authors – which leads us to wonder what possible application he sees for nuclear power in Hawaii. Politically, it’s a non-starter, but beyond the near impossibility that it could be introduced here, nuclear energy makes no sense in these islands.

So while we tend to be apolitical here at Hawaii Energy Options, it's pretty obvious all this rhetoric about off-shore drilling and nuclear power is simply pandering during election season.  Voters would do well to remind our would-be leaders that both technologies are fraught with too many negatives to number.  Tell them this nation needs a massive development project for renewable energy technologies, not more of the same polluting and destructive options that will dump a host of problems on our grandchildren's doorsteps.