Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lanai’s Energy Plans Featured on HOT SEAT; We Manage To Prompt Short Q&A Dialogue on OTEC

Castle & Cooke’s Harry Saunders was on the Advertiser’s HOT SEAT a few days ago, the focus being the company’s plans to build a 400 megawatt wind farm on the island of Lanai at a cost of $1 billion, according to today's redacted transcript of the session.

Curiously, there’s no mention in the summary of the one thing necessary to make such a large investment pay off -- an undersea electrical cable to transmit the energy to Oahu and the other islands in the chain. Even the complete Q&A exchange in the original HOT SEAT post fails to mention the cable issue except for one fleeting reference in the editor’s introduction to the session.

That’s a hole big enough for an oil tanker’s passage. We sought to plug another one (from our perspective) about Lanai’s energy planning by asking Saunders why C&C’s leadership has shown little interest in ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to help the island eliminate fossil fuels from its energy mix –- something we’ve proposed several times at this blog, including here and here:

Comma`aina: Harry, I'm surprised Mr. Murdock hasn't shown any interest in being an ocean thermal energy conversion pioneer and blazing new (water) trails with OTEC. The technology could provide vast amounts of potable water for Lanai and, sitting a few miles off the island, would have no on-land impacts. Recent comments by Hawaiian Electric officials seem to encourage ocean energy providers to come to Hawaii. Lanai could be a perfect fit and a fossil-fuel-free island using OTEC-supplied energy for electricity and to replace gasoline for vehicles. And Mr. Murdock's legacy would be remarkably good.

Saunders: In April of this year, Castle & Cooke, MECO and the U.S. Department of Energy joined forces to develop alternative energy options for the island of Lanai. The ultimate goal, established in a memorandum of understanding, is to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity and transportation on the island. In the near term, the parties will be working to generate 70 percent of Lana'i's electricity from renewable energy sources, which could include OTEC. At this time, we are waiting for U.S. Department of Energy analysis of best resources to use to get to 100 percent renewable energy generation.

The caution here is that the U.S. DOE has shown little interest in OTEC for more than a decade and seems stuck in the old paradigm when low-cost oil made OTEC an unrealistic option. It also doesn’t sound like David Murdock’s usual SOP to rely on a government agency for guidance on what to do next.

To be fossil-fuel-free, Lanai will need a baseload source of power such as OTEC or a way to store energy (not yet economic) from intermittent power sources – the solar farm now under construction and the wind farm C&C wants to build.

We suggest Castle & Cooke take note of Hawaiian Electric’s recent encouraging words about ocean energy technology and do more than wait for a DOE analysis on how to make its little island in the Pacific a renewable energy model and magnet for energy industry and eco-visitors who would fill Mr. Murdock’s two money-losing resorts there.

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