Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pick An Island—Any Island—& Energy Concerns Are Nearly the Same: We All Need To Get Off Oil ASAP

As I write this, oil prices have slipped somewhat from the recent highs. Nonetheless, now more than ever, we in the Pacific need to focus on development of renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency….

There clearly is potential—think of the wave and OTEC energy that could be derived from our vast ocean resources, but that remains virtually untouched.

The key energy problem we face in the region is a consequence of putting all our eggs in just one basket: that of expensive and polluting fossil fuel.

Clearly, we need to look at alternatives but it’s important that we don’t view renewable energy as just a “quick fix” for high prices but rather as the foundation of our future energy policies. We all know that a fossil fuel energy path is not sustainable. Regardless of where prices go from now in the current crisis, we need to invest in renewables now to better deal with the many crises in petroleum markets that invariably will come.

Those paragraphs might have been written by any renewable energy advocate here in Hawaii, but they’re by Asterio Takesy, director at Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Samoa. Mr. Takesy’s comments, which appeared in a recent online edition of “Islands Business” that is published by Fiji-based Islands Business International, remind us that the Pacific islands, although thousands of miles apart in the largest ocean on Earth, have a common concern bordering on a crisis mentality -- our overwhelming dependence on external sources of energy.

The common denominator among Pacific islanders is our isolation, and with isolation come high energy costs due to extremely long transportation links and the islands' poor purchasing leverage. This year’s high energy prices even moved the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to declare a “State of Economic Emergency” due to what it calls food and energy crises.

OTEC’s Potential

One gets a sense in reading publications from the South and West Pacific that governments are desperate for solutions and eager to tap into the stored energy in the tropical ocean around them. From the RMI’s Update Report on its declared emergency:

OTEC potential being watched by RMI. The RMI is actively exploring and discussing the potential use of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology as an energy source in the RMI over the medium to long-term (as the technology continues to expand and develop). Discussions with key OTEC firms and the US are ongoing.”

Hawaii has its share of hopeful OTEC watchers, too, as suggested by the big spike in hits to this blog after HECO’s “set-aside” comments regarding ocean energy technologies two weeks ago (and subsequently expanded in another post a few days later).

In solidarity with our Marshall Island neighbors and with appreciation for their concerns, we reprint here the RMI's invitation for assistance in addressing the islands' food and energy crises:

Development partners who are interested in supporting the RMI with any of these projects (or who have other ideas for cooperation) are more than welcomed. The official contact person is the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Kino Kabua. Email, telephone (692) 625-3181/3012, fax (692) 625-4979.

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