Friday, February 18, 2011

All 400 MW of ‘Big Wind’ Could Be Built on Lanai?

That’s what a story in today’s edition of Pacific Business News says in its 7th paragraph:

“All 400 mw could come from Lanai, 400 mw from Molokai or 400 mw could come from Maui,” according an official in the State Energy Office.

The reporter repeats the thought in the 10th graf:

“If Molokai falls through, all 400 mw of energy could be generated on Lanai, as opposed to the original plan to generate 200 mw of wind energy on Lanai and 200 mw on Molokai.”

Was this made known at the “scoping hearing” two weeks ago on Lanai, Molokai, Maui and Oahu? If it was, we missed it in the reporting.

Today’s story focuses on Maui as a potential site for some of the Big Wind project. A representative of First Wind is quoted: “…if we are not able to do the project on Molokai, we would want the state to seriously consider Maui.” So Big Wind’s final location is anything but firm.

That Pesky Capacity Factor–Again

While the Big Wind project is planned for 400 mw of installed capacity, we’re amazed at how loose the reporting is on the actual amount of power that would be delivered by the wind farms.

For example, another PBN story today reports on funding options for an undersea cable to deliver Big Wind electricity to Oahu: “The cable is a critical part of the wind project that would bring 400 megawatts of wind energy from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu.”

No, it wouldn’t. It would deliver the amount of power the wind farms actually would be able to produce due to wind variability, unquestionably less than their installed capacity.

It’s called the “capacity factor,” a subject we covered in late January. Oil-fired power plants have capacity factors close to 100 percent because they’re base-load plants that operate 24/7. Intermittent sources of power like wind and solar farms have much lower capacity factors.

Big Wind’s capacity factor is estimated to be 20 to 25 percent – which means on average, the wind farms would actually be exporting 80 -100 mw of electrical energy between them, or 40 - 50 mw from each island at a cost of $1 billion for each farm to contribute 50 mw or less to Oahu's grid. That's an incredibly steep price.

Why Does this Matter?

To fully understand what we’re getting into with the proposed $3 billion Big Wind project (a billion for each wind farm and another for the cable), we need to accurately assess its anticipated contribution to helping Hawaii get off oil.

When someone writes that Big Wind “could account for up to 25 percent of Oahu’s electricity needs,” we need to appreciate that simply is not true for anything but middle-of-the-night demand -- and it may not even be true then if winds over Molokai and Lanai were light.

Oahu’s peak demand is around 1200 mw, according to a recent column at Renewable Energy by Hawaiian Electric Company CEO Richard M. Rosenblum. To provide 25 percent of the peak demand, Big Wind would itself would have to have 1200 mw of installed capacity!

That would be triple the size and at a presumably much higher cost of the current Big Wind proposal. That surely is not what was discussed at the scoping hearings.

So as Big Wind goes through the required scoping, impact assessing and community relating, let’s all work hard to truly understand the project and what $3 billion (plus?) would get us.

We’ll all be paying for this project in our electric bills. We all need to ask whether that kind of money should be spent on Big Wind or whether a like amount would produce more available renewable power with fewer impacts.

Naturally, we have some thoughts on that subject and have expressed them repeatedly here on this blog. Despite the absence of a test of a commercial-sized plant due to funding impediments, ocean thermal energy conversion is a candidate for base load renewable energy on a scale even larger than Big Wind at the $3 billion investment level.

In light of the strong opposition to Big Wind on Lanai and Molokai, planners might well move some of their fragile energy eggs out of Big Wind’s basket and into the ocean, where they can be hard-boiled.

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