Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bill to Ban New Fossil Fuel Plants Deferred Again

• May 1, 3:50 pm HST Update: HB 1464 has been pushed back to late afternoon for consideration by conferees.
The guessing game continues about what Hawaii legislators will do with the bill that would prohibit construction of new fossil fuel generation here. Word from the Capitol this afternoon is that lawmakers have deferred the bill yet again – the third deferral this week. Tomorrow is the deadline on this session's legislation.

Keep reading below for our take on what passage of this legislation could mean. In the meantime, read what The New York Times said this week about ocean thermal energy conversion, one of the baseload technologies that could revolutionize the way Hawaii generates its power in the decades ahead. Shutting off fossil fuels for Hawaii's future plants could only hasten introduction of this and other breakthrough technologies.

Getting Real on Wind and Solar

James Schlesinger and Robert L. Hirsch authored a piece for the Washington Post a week ago that just came to our attention. Under the above headline, they present a tutorial on why intermittent forms of renewable energy can't get America off fossil fuel for electricity generation.

They stopped short and did not introduce the concept of baseload renewable energy in their commentary. We've been hammering away since March 2008 about the potential for ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) to become such a baseload renewable. The New York Times piece on the status of OTEC that's linked above is worthy reading -- and while you're at it, check out our first post on Hawaii Energy Options to get a flavor of why we're so high on OTEC. (We have to chuckle that the headline above that post also used the "get real" angle.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Decision Day: Legislators Could Set New Course by Banning Future Construction of Fossil Fuel Plants

• April 30, 4 pm HST Update: Still waiting on word on the fate of HB 1464, which was taken up again today by a conference committee.
Will they or won’t they? What Hawaii legislators do in conference committee today with HB 1464 could make headlines across the country and around the world starting about an hour after their vote.

Approval of the anti-fossil fuel legislation would be one of those “crossing the Rubicon” moments – no turning back from a course once begun. In this case, the state of Hawaii would declare no turning back from a decision to make it the global focal point in the elimination of fossil fuel from our daily energy diet.

If they’re still on schedule, the conferees will meet today to make that stand or shy away from it. A full-page ad in today’s Honolulu Advertiser sponsored by Blue Planet Foundation lists more than two dozen co-sponsors and carries photos of Governor Linda Lingle and congressional representatives Mazie Hirono and Neil Abercrombie.

One thing seems certain: If shyness prevails over courage today at the Capitol, courage would win out in next year’s session. So why wait?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Renewable Technology Spurt Would Be Likely Result of Law To Ban New Hawaii Fossil Fuel Plants

Blue Planet Foundation head Henk Rogers
addresses rally today at the Hawaii State Capitol.

April 28 Update: According to
a Honolulu Star-Bulletin report, a conference committee will resume negotiations on HB 1464 on Wednesday, April 29. The bill would prohibit the construction of any new electricity generation power plants that burn carbon-based fuel. The bill was debated in a conference committee session that began Monday afternoon.

Proponents of the ban gathered at the State Capitol at a rally sponsored by the Blue Planet Foundation within earshot of legislators’ offices. Speakers included Foundation creator Henk Rogers, Governor Linda Lingle and Senator Gary Hooser. Entertainer Henry Kapolo’s electric guitar was powered by solar energy gathered on PV panels provided by Sunetric.

Baseload Renewables in Urgent Demand

A ban on new carbon-based fuels would concentrate everyone's attention on the critical need regarding Hawaii's ongoing energy crisis. It's appropriate to use that word, because a place that relies on burning oil products to generate nearly fourth-fifths of its electricity is in one. This particular crisis has gone on so long that people tend to become desensitized to the problem. Oil prices near $150 per barrel also tend to concentrate one's attention on this issue.

But no crisis exists in meeting power generation requirements anywhere in the islands. Hawaiian Electric Company's new plant on Oahu is intended to use renewable fuels, so it's not as if Honolulu will face brownouts or rolling blackouts over the next decade. What could happen in that time would be the construction and test of Lockheed Martin's planned ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant.

Hawaii Energy Options began advocating for OTEC in our very first post in March 2008. HB 1464 could be what pushes OTEC to the forefront -- first in test mode, and if successful, as a baseload 24/7 technology that can tap into the inexhaustible supply of stored solar energy in the tropical ocean around Hawaii. (A report today details the military's adoption of green technology, including the Navy's use of OTEC -- a matter of more than passing interest in light of the Navy's presence in the islands.)

A ban on future carbon-based power plants and the development of a clean baseload technology would be the one-two punch that frees Hawaii from oil's grip and sets a course to achieve and even surpass Hawaii's current goals for the development of green energy in the decades ahead.

Here are scenes from Monday's rally:

The Governor said passage of HB 1464
would be a message to the world.
The message was clear enough.
Petition by T-shirt.
The proposed ban on future fossil fuel power plants
would concentrate efforts to develop baseload
renewable energy technologies, advocates say.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rally Supports Bill To Bar New Fossil Fuel Plants; Recalling the Frog that Couldn’t Until He Had To

The Blue Planet Foundation is sponsoring a rally at the Hawaii State Capitol at noon tomorrow to support HB 1464, which would prohibit construction of new power plants in Hawaii that burn coal or oil.

Making it impossible to build new fossil fuel plants here will hasten the state’s development of renewable resources, supporters say, and they may be right. But they have a big task ahead of them in the short time remaining in this legislative session.

Media reports suggest lawmakers are backing away from the proposed ban, reasoning that even the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative’s 2030 goal includes conventional non-renewable electricity generation for 30 percent of the state’s needs.

This issue reminds us of the corny story our dad, Paul J. Carlson, was always telling decades ago back in Iowa. Seems there was this little frog that had gotten himself trapped in a deep highway chuckhole. No matter how hard he tried, the little guy absolutely, positively, unquestionably could not get out of that hole…..not until “a truck came along and he had to.”

The story always brought groans all around, but the moral is clearer today than it ever was. Years later, Hawaii is stuck in one big energy hole, having barely survived last year’s Mack truck attack – $147 per barrel oil.

Some say we absolutely, positively, unquestionably must retain the option of building more coal and oil power plants – that we simply can’t get along without them. 

What would they do if HB 1464 were to become law? They’d probably find a way to climb out of this hole we’re in.

Lanai Wind Plan Takes Bloomberg News Hit -- Twice

The folks over at Castle & Cooke knew their plans to build a 300-MW wind farm on Lanai would produce some negative ink over concerns for the island’s relatively quiet and unspoiled environment. There’s been a local story here and there about residents’ fears that the wind farm would change their island, which just two decades ago was the world’s largest pineapple farm.

But those localized stirrings were nothing compared to the widespread publicity David Murdock’s wind plans have received thanks to the Bloomberg News Service. The story appeared in Friday’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin and landed a punch right from the top:

“LANAI CITY – First, he ripped out the pineapples. Then he put up Four Seasons hotels and luxury homes. Next, he envisions 200 windmills towering next to the beach.”

The Bloomberg piece continues in that aggressive vein, but unlike earlier stories that focused on long-time local residents, it mixes in comments from residents wealthy enough to own a luxury home: “I am not going to live on an island that’s the biggest wind farm in the Pacific,” said a founding partner of a Woodside, CA venture fund.

The Bloomberg piece has quotes from a company representative and the state’s energy administrator on the importance of growing Hawaii’s renewable energy industry, but the story had a negative slant. And if that wasn’t a bad enough start to the weekend for Castle & Cooke, the exact same story appears today in the Honolulu Advertiser (along with the Bloomberg photo of a Lanai beach, above).

Every project that could significantly reduce the state’s dependence on imported oil deserves strong consideration. The Lanai wind farm proposal is one of them, but whether it can overcome the environmental and financial challenges is yet unknown. Not every proposal can, as we saw last week.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Obama’s Iowa Speech Could Well Have Been about Hawaii’s Unparalleled Requirement to Get Off Oil

We especially like story lines that link Iowa and Hawaii – one the state of our youth and the other our adopted home for 36 years. We were practically delirious with joy when the University of Iowa traveled to the Aloha State for two football games in the 1980s. Iowans transplanted to Hawaii had a dilemma, however: Do we cheer for our alma mater in this one game or for the team we support all season long? Our family of “Hawaiowans” eventually cheered for both, and each team claimed a victory.

Hawaii-born President Obama yesterday visited Iowa, where his presidential campaign sprang to life early last year, and his remarks had particular relevance to his home state’s energy plight.

The President selected Newtown as the location for his speech on renewable energy. Newton’s economy has crashed since Maytag left town, but wind turbine towers are now built in the old Maytag plant, and turbine blades are manufactured elsewhere in town. (The photo shows him inspecting a wind turbine tower.)

Bringing It Home

The President’s remarks about the importance of reducing the nation’s dependence on oil played well in Hawaii. The state’s congressional delegation, the governor and other state officials, numerous other politicians, business people, environmentalists, editorial writers, citizens and bloggers have all been communicating the same goal for the state.

“The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy,” the President said. “The choice we face is between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy.”

Right there is Hawaii’s mantra. No other state is as dependent as Hawaii on imported oil (there are no natural oil deposits in the state). Oil provides more than 90 percent of the state’s energy; electricity generation alone accounts for 78 percent – far and away the highest percentage in the country (Florida is #2 at about 10 percent).

An Imperative To Change

Tourism is the state’s economic engine and is wholly dependent on air travel for virtually every tourist’s visit. The overwhelming majority of goods consumed in the state arrive by oil-burning ships. And when the oil price shoots above $100 per barrel as it did last year, Hawaii’s economy goes into free-fall faster than just about anywhere, with the possible exception of Michigan.

Renewable energy development that eventually produces alternatives to jet fuel and bunker oil is absolutely essential for Hawaii’s long-term survival. But even before those breakthroughs are achieved, the state is an ideal location for aggressive development of vehicles powered with electricity generated by green energy technologies, including baseload ocean thermal energy conversion that eventually will tap the sea’s stored solar energy.

The Hawaii-Iowa connection was perfectly evident during the President’s visit yesterday, and his speech did more than set a tone for the nation’s goal to achieve energy independence. In Hawaii, it amounted to a validation of the course we’re already on by necessity and more inspiration to lead the nation in the effort to get off oil.

• There are political reasons to loosen oil's grip on our economy, too, including this one.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It’s ‘Game Over’ for Penguin Bank Wind Project

Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Company has pulled the plug on its proposed 80-square-mile wind and wave power project in the middle of Hawaii’s most important whale sanctuary.

Wind and wave technology obviously can help Hawaii reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, but as we asked when this proposal first surfaced, “does every ‘green’ proposal merit implementation?”

Beyond the regulatory challenges the company faced, you have to conclude Grays Harbor failed to appreciate the extent to which humpback whales are revered in Hawaii. Anything that appears to threaten these winter visitors is headed for trouble.

Feedback from residents might have saved the company from all the unfavorable publicity it created for itself. As the leader of a local environmental group observed:

“We hope that any future proposal will involve the community early on in the process and be mindful of Hawaii’s fragile environment.” 

That’s good advice for any company with plans for Hawaii, including renewable energy developers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

‘Honolulu Weekly’ Preps for Earth Day in Hawaii

On this weekend before Earth Day, we’re moved to publicly note our admiration for the quality journalism displayed week in and week out in Honolulu Weekly. We’d like to think it has nothing to do with son Ragnar Carlson being the editor, but most independent observers would agree. (Yes, for those who’ve wondered: I'm proud to say he's my relative, not publisher Laurie Carlson’s!)

Honolulu Weekly is an essential resource here – an alternative print media voice that’s free to readers but priceless for the stands it takes and criticism it levies at deserving targets, including legislators unable to rise above self interest on some major issues this year.

This week’s issue highlights sustainability in the islands and includes a guide packed with events leading up to and during Earth Day, as well as year-round volunteerism opportunities.

Here’s hoping advertisers continue to recognize this paper's value and are plentiful enough to sustain the Weekly itself during our temporary economic downturn.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Letter to Editor Merits Attention for Energy Action

The daily media provide more than their share of inspiration for Hawaii Energy Options. A letter in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin is such a case.

Here’s the submission by Alex Woodbury of Kamuela, HI. In the spirit of former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, Alex deserves a “Good Guy” award for recognizing the problem, then doing something about it:

Carbon cap can bring big benefits

Here in Hawaii nearly 90 percent of our electricity is generated from burning fossil fuels. All of the goods shipped to Hawaii are done so by sea or by air with fossil fuels. We are an economy hinged on the availability of fossil fuels. We are an island economy with a huge carbon footprint. It is time for a change.

I decided to do something about it. I installed PV net metering systems on my residence and my office, and I run my company vehicles on biodiesel locally remanufactured from used cooking oil. To date my home and office PV systems have offset more than 25,000 pounds of carbon dioxide and my fuel-efficient biodiesel powered vehicles have reduced my fossil fuel consumption by 10,000 gallons.

A cap on carbon pollution will create tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs that can't be shipped overseas.

Consumers and businesses will benefit from stable energy prices, and with greater energy efficiency, we can get more from the energy we have, which will mean lower electricity bills. My family and my business have benefited thus far; however, in order for our economy to truly benefit, our leaders need to step in and force change.

Alex Woodbury
Kamuela, Hawaii

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hawaii Would Be 1st in USA To Enact Feed-In Tariff

Germany’s great success in developing renewable energy projects is attributed to its “feed-in tariff” (FIT) in a Star-Bulletin commentary today by the executive director of Blue Planet Foundation.

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is now pondering the nation’s first FIT, and enactment would let Hawaii “stake a claim as a global leader in developing strategies to integrate renewable energy into power grids,” writes Jeff Mikulina.

The commentary details advantages Hawaii’s FIT could deliver while addressing the so-called “green premium” ratepayers might have to pay:

"Germany established more aggressive FITs in 2000, with some of the tariffs paying clean energy providers four times or more than the going rate of electricity. What did this cost German ratepayers? Not much, it turns out. Analysis shows the average ratepayer paid an extra penny per kilowatt-hour — or about 3 percent of their household electricity costs. That's not bad, considering the 5- to 10-cent increase per kilowatt-hour in Hawaii during last summer's oil price spike."

That oil price spike reached $147/barrel. Hawaii simply can't handle prices anywhere near that level, let alone above it.  Oil's cost is passed on to consumers in virtually every product we buy and deliver, including air fares for incoming tourists. FITs and other well-conceived policies are essential for this isolated community to transition to a non-fossil fuel economy and in the process show others how it’s done.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ends of the Energy Spectrum - Efficiency and OTEC

Forget our earlier suggestion. “Waikoblowa” has been calm for two straight days, so tearing down the hotels here to build wind farms maybe isn’t such a good idea after all. We just wish the weather gods would give us back our sunshine; the satellite image suggests several more days of grayness.

So let’s get serious about two opposites on the energy spectrum – relatively low-cost efficiency and admittedly high-cost ocean thermal energy conversion. Science Applications International Corp. has been awarded a multi-year State of Hawaii contract to manage ratepayer funded energy efficiency and conservation programs.

Hawaiian Electric Company previously ran the program, which looked to some like a conflict of interest – an electron-selling company overseeing a conservation effort. SAIC’s contract will run for nearly five years and is subject to renewal.

East of Africa in the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island is studying OTEC for its potential to help meet the island’s energy needs. Reunion, a French overseas department, joins French Polynesia in showing an interest in OTEC.

As noted here last October, Xenesys Inc. of Japan and the Pacific Petroleum Company group of Tahiti are studying OTEC’s application in French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Vanuatu. We’ve heard nothing more from that venture since the Fall and hope no news is good news.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Waikoloa – a Terrible Waste of Wind Farm Space

Maybe our relaxed mode these past few days has eroded the seriousness with which we normally address energy issues in Hawaii, but here’s a thought:

Why don’t they just tear down the hotels, restaurants and timeshare condos at Waikoloa on the Big Island’s kona coast and convert the space to wind farms? The resource must be enough to power all of this island and one or two more!

Seriously, folks…..the wind here is relentless. We love it here and enjoy our timeshare once a year to kick back and relax in this beautiful location, but the wind!  It’s truly nothing to write home about if you’re affiliated with the local chamber of commerce.

But back to the serious issues and something to sober us up:

According to a recent survey of Arctic sea ice, it’s getting thinner and less likely to survive the summer season. Scientists are now predicting that “the entire Arctic could become nearly ice-free in less than 30 years.”

And that can’t be good. Read the upsetting details in this online report in the San Francisco Chronicle. And forget about actually reading a real newspaper outdoors in Waikoloa. The wind…………!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Land-Poor Hawaii Must Build ‘Solar Farms’ at Sea

For the second time this week, National Public Radio provides the subject matter for a post here at Hawaii Energy Options. Morning Edition today carried a story on what will be one of the world’s largest solar thermal plants.

They’re planning 38,000 “sun catchers,” described as looking like “enormous satellite dishes with mirrors” that will be spread over 10 square miles of southeast California desert.

That’s what they do on the mainland – find open space not suitable for just about anything else and build on it. It sounds relatively simple compared to what we have to do out here in land-scarce Hawaii to capture the sun’s energy.

Hawaii’s “sun catchers” likely will take the form of ocean thermal energy plants once a 10-megawatt pilot plant proves the OTEC concept. The tropical ocean captures enough solar energy each day to easily meet the entire state’s current electrical energy demand and its future electric vehicle requirement, to boot.

The NPR story ends by noting the 25-percent unemployment rate in Imperial County where the energy projects are taking shape: “The challenge now is to train this potential work force for jobs in this industry and build the controversial transmission corridors it will take to carry this clean energy to the coastal cities that want it.”

Hawaii has its own unemployment issues as tourism continues its slide and faces an uncertain future when oil prices rise to last year’s levels, as most observes think they certainly will. A clean energy industry would shape our future positively and provide employment to the next generation of young people – a worthy goal if there ever was one.