Sunday, March 8, 2009

Red Flags Are Flying over Ocean Energy Project; Does Every ‘Green’ Proposal Merit Implementation?

Honolulu Advertiser graphic shows location of proposed ocean energy project.
We’re written repeatedly here about the three D’s that describe Hawaii’s relationship with imported fossil fuel – a debilitating, dependency that at times seems desperate. But how desperate?

Is Hawaii’s desperation so great that the community will endorse building an 80-square-mile wind and wave energy project in the middle of the state’s most important humpback whale sanctuary?

Other proposed energy projects have stalled over presumably much less potential impact. A proposed wind farm in West Oahu’s Waianae Mountain range died because of community opposition to its presumed visual pollution.

Today’s Honolulu Advertiser describes the proposed Grays Harbor Ocean Energy project in the Penguin Bank region of open ocean southwest of Molokai. In a story of more than 9,000 words, these six about company president Burton Hamner stand out:

“He has yet to contact HECO.”

That seems almost unbelievable and, if true, questions this company’s depth of understanding about how Hawaii works, let alone its appreciation for Hawaii’s enthusiasm for protecting its whale visitors.

Two other D words are pertinent here – distance and disadvantage. With their home base on the mainland, too many entrepreneurs have come to town with a big idea that never had a chance simply because they didn’t understand the islands and how business here works.

A Host of Questions

But those two Ds are essentially about protocol. Other issues are more pertinent, including whether we’re prepared to take chances with the whale sanctuary and whether the amount of the as-yet unknown “green energy premium” we’d presumably have to pay is worth the price. Wind turbines the size envisioned by Grays Harbor aren’t in service anywhere, and wave energy technology also is largely unproven.

Here’s another one we’ve asked before: Will building intermittent energy projects like what Grays Harbor has proposed (wind isn’t a reliable energy source) actually impede progress in developing other renewable projects that could provide baseload generation around the clock?

Details presumably are being worked out for Hawaii’s first small-scale ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant – the first step in the potential development of much larger offshore plants that could provide an unlimited supply of baseload electricity generation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Building many intermittent wind projects now could make regulators reluctant to approve future baseload projects.

And this side note: Backers of the pilot OTEC plant know how the game is played; they've met all the key people here so often they may well already have keys to the executive washroom.

Grays Harbor calls its Penguin Banks plan the Hawaii Ocean Energy Project. Until all the questions are answered, we prefer a different name – the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Energy Project.

It provides essential perspective from the get-go.


Jay's Blog said...

This looks like a bad idea looking for a place to happen, and we need to let them know this isn't the place. Try Texas!

Patrick Kenji Takahashi said...

In my blog today I cited your posting as a reasonable response. I was a bit caustic, yet, mostly supportive, for need to do a lot more soon. I ended with Leighton Chong's PIMBY concept:

"Otherwise, is there a solution to NIMBY? Yes, when oil goes shooting past $150/barrel everyone will suddenly become advocates. But isn't that too late?
The other option is PIMBY, Put In My Back Yard, offered by Leighton Wong in his blog. Click on that link to read about his proposal."