Tuesday, December 28, 2010

‘Will 2011 Be the Year OTEC Makes it Big?’ Also, Hawaii's PUC Gives OK for 20-MW Solar Energy Plant

The headline’s question comes from a Renewable Energy World.com piece on ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and the potential for OTEC to finally take off next year.

Yeah, we know – the same thing has been asked at the end of just about every year in the past decade, or more. But it’s still a good question to ask now.

As the Todd Griset piece notes, the U.S. Navy has been parsing out grants to Lockheed Martin Corp. to design and commercialize a 10-MW plant here off the coast of Oahu. Lockheed in turn is working with other firms, including Makai Ocean Engineering of Honolulu, to work out the design of the massive pipes an OTEC plant would use.

We’ll join Mr. Griset in predicting big things for OTEC next year, and with some predicting a rise in the price of oil to $150/barrel by next summer, OTEC is sure to attract more attention than ever as a way to meet our long-term energy requirements.

20 Megs for Mililani

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has given a green light to developer Castle & Cooke’s plans for as 20-MW solar plant in central Oahu.

That’s an unusual move, since it involves a waiver from the usual requirement that competitive bids be entertained for projects exceeding 5 megawatts. The PUC’s approval stipulates that the solar farm be developed by competing and totally independent corporate entities.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looks Like This One Goes into the ‘Trust Us’ File: Consumers Can’t Know Details of New Oil Contract

Trusting others is what we’ll have to do, since a new Tesoro-Hawaiian Electric contract awaiting approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission isn’t available for public inspection.

The case involves Tesoro’s contract to sell low-sulfur fuel oil to Hawaiian Electric Company. According to this morning’s Star-Advertiser, Tesoro is losing money on that contract and wants the PUC to approve a contract revision. From the newspaper:

“Under the current contract, Tesoro is locked into selling fuel oil to HECO at a loss, causing a financial hardship for the company, a Tesoro spokesman said. Both HECO and the state consumer advocate have agreed to the proposed "price structure revision," the details of which were not made public for competitive reasons. The Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a final ruling on the proposal this month.”

What’s In It for Us?

The State Consumer Advocate presumably is protecting consumers’ interests, but we can’t know that for sure because of “competitive reasons.” That’s asking a lot of consumers – to trust everyone working behind closed doors to act in our best interests.

Since most reasonable questions must remain unanswered, we’re left to speculate about the unknown. Here’s one:

How much will electric rates be increased to help out Tesoro?

The state is attempting to transform itself into a green energy economy by increasing our reliance of renewable resources. Getting off oil is Hawaii priority number one, but as HECO burns less oil to satisfy Oahu’s power requirements, Tesoro will sell less to the utility.

Fewer sales translate to a weaker financial picture in most businesses, so can we expect more contract revisions to charge more for the reduced amount of fuel oil Tesoro unloads on HECO down the road?

The utility passes along fuel costs in the electric bill’s fuel adjustment clause, so any increased fuel oil costs will be paid by consumers – the only ones in this scenario who don’t know what’s going on.

That is indeed a lot to ask of consumers for the sake of Tesoro’s profits – to be happy with higher electric bills while being kept in the dark about one of their biggest monthly expenses.

Friday, December 17, 2010

OTEC Progress Measured at a (Steady) Snail’s Pace

Night falls on Energy Island's vision of an OTEC plant. Check out an animation of a day/night cycle at this futuristic facility.
Once again we plead guilty for spending almost all our online blog time at Yes2Rail, where the latest news is the acceptance of the Honolulu rail project’s final environmental impact statement by the state’s chief executive.

An EIS for Hawaii’s first commercial-scale ocean thermal energy conversion plant is, alas, nowhere to be seen, but as they say, sometimes it’s smart to save the best for last.

OTEC made news in Hawaii today with a Hawaii Public Radio piece on where OTEC research stands in the islands. Reporter Ben Markus has several sound bites from companies and individuals involved in the Navy-sponsored OTEC research here.

For a much more exhaustive discussion on OTEC and its potential to meet the planet’s energy needs AND reverse warming of the oceans due to climate change, read the long piece by “Paul from Potomac” at OpEd News. It begins:

“Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is by far the most balanced means to face the challenge of global warming. It is also the one that requires the greatest investment to meet its potential. It is a most intriguing answer that can save us from Armageddon.”

How’s that for a lead-in? It warms the cockles of this OTEC lover’s heart as we approach the Winter Solstice.

Monday, December 6, 2010

‘This Close’ To Being on NPR’s Science Friday Program

Getting on a national call-in show is problematic, since the audience could be in the millions. But we had our chance during last Friday's Science Friday program produced by National Public Radio.

One of the guests was Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (at right). Host Ira Flatow’s website said the show would “talk about efforts to increase efficiency and move to greener energy sources within the armed forces.”

What an opportunity to talk ocean thermal energy conversion – and with the SecNav no less! The Navy has invested in OTEC development, and if nothing else, we could thank the Secretary and urge even more Navy support for this game-changing energy technology.

So we called the show’s number and were surprised to hear not a busy signal but a ring, and even more surprised when the call was answered. The person on the other end asked for name, location and what we wanted to discuss. “Turn off your radio and wait until you hear Ira say, 'Doug in Honolulu,’ and you’ll be on the air.”

This really was going to happen! And so began our wait to talk OTEC with a policy maker at the top level of the Navy's chain of command. We’d open with a brief description of Hawaii as the state more vulnerable than any other to oil supply disruptions and price increases. We would tell the audience that Hawaii's average price of retail electricity is about three times the national average, a condition that affects the Navy and all military branches.

Then we’d get into OTEC and thank the Secretary for the Navy’s support of Lockheed Martin’s efforts and engage him and host Flatow in a discussion on OTEC’s vast potential.

So we waited…and waited…and waited some more, and after nearly 25 minutes, we could tell Flatow was starting to wrap up the show. Sure enough, he uttered the dreaded words, “We’ve run out of time” without taking a single call. Oh, man….

You hardly ever come this close to talking with someone this senior about anything, let alone something as important to Hawaii, nation and world as OTEC.

But those are the breaks. We’ll have to have a more compelling description of what we want to talk about for the telephone answerer the next time we get “this close.”