Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Visitor Examines Hawaii’s, Military’s Energy Issues

It’s always good to read a visitor’s views on how the most oil-dependent state in the country is planning for a clean-energy future. That perspective comes today from Kevin Bullis, energy editor of MIT’s Technology Review who is on a fellowship from Honolulu’s East-West Center.

Bullis focuses much of today’s post (first in a series) on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a subject for which we never tire here at Hawaii Energy Options.

Bullis makes two especially noteworthy points: First, by investing in potential base-load energy sources (including OTEC), “the military may be performing a very useful service for clean energy,” and two, “electricity consumers won’t pay much more (than they’re already paying), if any, for clean energy.”

We’ve always assumed OTEC won’t take off without significant investment by the military based on the nation's strategic importance of getting off oil and onto an accessible, affordable source of renewable energy. OTEC’s our favorite candidate.

And Bullis reminds us that whatever schemes government and industry work up to expand Hawaii’s renewable energy sector, those projects can’t be ridiculously expensive. The plan to link windfarms planned for Molokai and Lanai with Oahu via an undersea cable comes to mind when we start talking about hugely expensive energy initiatives.

Lining Up the Projects

Such a project seems technically achievable, since undersea cable and wind turbine technologies are maturing, but we’ve always wondered whether sinking more than a billion dollars into a three-island electric grid might actually preclude OTEC from achieving its potential here.

We consumers ultimately will pay for these projects in our electricity rates. It might just be a good idea to give the military, Lockheed Martin and their partners a chance to see what they can do in the next few years in making OTEC more than a drawing board pipedream.

Go too fast with the neighbor island wind and cable projects and OTEC might be roadblocked simply because it would be last in line. As Bullis points out, we consumers can stand only so much rate shock.

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