It’s far from a sure thing. Despite optimism about the cable and wind projects, numerous issues remain to be carefully assessed. Local opposition to truly massive wind energy projects could be significant on Lanai, which has become a get-away-from-it-all destination for wealthy mainlanders. A venture fund founder with a home on Lanai was quoted last year as saying, “I am not going to live on an island that’s the biggest wind farm in the Pacific.” Long-time local residents are no less resistant.
Molokai residents are known for their determined opposition to anything that would transform the nature of their island. They’ve successfully blocked port calls by cruise ships and high-end home development projects, placing environmental and cultural protection ahead of potential economic benefits.
Too Cheap for Meters?
The impacts study itself will cost $2.9 million in federal stimulus funds, and the cable’s cost is estimated today at $1 billion, which will be covered over time by Oahu’s electric customers. Big Wind is seen as a key element in Hawaii’s effort to replace fossil fuel for electrical generation (currently around 78%) with renewable energy, and there’s considerable enthusiasm for Big Wind.
Who’s on First?
We also wonder about what the impact will be on other potential renewable resources after 400 MW of wind power are locked in and plugged into Oahu's grid with a billion-dollar cable. NOAA is gearing up to regulate and promulgate rules for the first ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration projects (see Honolulu meeting notice), and it’s looking more certain than ever that Hawaii will see a pilot plant this decade. We even heard last week at the State-sponsored Clean Energy Day that the next US Navy budget will have $250 million in it for OTEC R & D.
Ocean energy is another decade or more away from making significant contributions here, but it’s worth asking now what the dynamic would be if a baseload energy source like OTEC were ready for development after an intermittent source like Big Wind already is online.
Both OTEC and Big Wind have a long arduous path before they’re in place, so let’s just leave it like this: We’d be more comfortable with the cable/Big Wind project if there were an equal commitment and push behind building Hawaii’s first ocean thermal conversion plant. In light of the significant issues Big Wind faces, let’s be sure OTEC gets its due in the years ahead. Hawaii will need a lot of energy eggs in its basket to get off oil.