Thursday, March 31, 2011

All 400 MW of ‘Big Wind’ Project Headed to Lanai?

That’s the prospect – some Lanai residents might call it a nightmare – that may be in store for the Big Wind energy project now that First Wind hasn’t secured the land it needed to build half the project on Molokai.  (See Update below.)

Pacific Business News today speculates/postulates that the only option to move Big Wind forward is to build all 400 megawatts of the project on Lanai.

Hawaiian Electric Co. officials have told PBN in the past that if Molokai's part of the project fell through then all 400 mw could be developed on Lanai, where Castle & Cooke is the developer for that proposed wind farm.”

It’s hard to imagine that happening no matter how generous the community benefit package that's offered to Lanai residents. If one-fifth of the island would be needed for a 200-MW wind farm, would 40 percent be reserved for a farm twice as big?

Castle and Cooke may own 98 percent of the island, but would residents accept that much of an impact?  Our guess is no.

So here we go – flying right into a headwind that’s buffeting the Big Wind project, which in many respects has been the Big Egg Basket for utility and state energy planners. Whether those eggs are headed for a scrambling remains – as they say in the editorials – to be seen.

APRIL FIRST UPDATE: The other half of Big Wind may be going to Maui -- and it's apparently no joke.

With Big Wind's location -- the most important detail of all -- still undecided, you have to hope energy managers are not locked in so tight on the project that they're giving no attention to ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and geothermal technologies. 

The latter is proven in Hawaii and could be expanded to both increase its contribution to the Big Island's electricity grid and create alternative energy byproducts -- hydrogen and ammonia, which could be exported for use in transportation and agriculture.  

OTEC would tap into the world's largest solar storage "battery," the tropical ocean that surrounds Hawaii.  As the most promising long-term base load renewable energy resource for the islands, OTEC is ripe for implementation.  

It's time to move the technology beyond promising and start the doing. Locally and elsewhere, companies are working on it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oahu Greets First New Wind Farm in a Generation

Looking at the recent progress in wind energy development in the Hawaiian Islands, it seems odd that the most “recent” wind farm dedication on Oahu was 25 years ago this month.

The occasion was the official start-up of Hawaiian Electric Industries’ 15-turbine farm in the hills above Kahuku. The farm's construction began in 1985, and the 15 Westinghouse turbines were plainly visible from Kamehameha Highway and the Turtle Bay Resort.

So was their failure. The turbines deteriorated rapidly in the North Shore’s caustic elements. Blades were thrown, gears failed and it wasn’t long before some of the towers were missing their nacelle. Eventually, they all came down, including the world’s largest wind turbine that was later erected nearby.

But that was then. The welcome mat is out for a new generation of wind turbines (above) that will be dedicated today above Kahuku to power about 7,500 homes.

First Wind is extending its industry savvy in Hawaii conditions gained on Maui. The farm has 30 megawatts of capacity as well as a 10-megawatt battery storage system.

The expectation is that this farm will be much more resilient than the original Westinghouse installation and that we may see another farm on Oahu within 25 months, not 25 years. It’s going to take that kind of progress from wind and other forms of renewable energy if Hawaii has any hope of slashing its debilitating dependence on oil.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hawaii Energy Doubles Rebate for Solar Water Heating

Hawaii’s solar water heating installations are up around 80,000, giving the Aloha State the highest per-capita rate in the country. But it could and maybe should be a lot higher. The sun’s out here nearly all the time! That includes that cold dark stretch called Winter on the mainland.

Hawaii Energy, the administrator of the state’s conservation and efficiency program, is trying to improve the numb the pers upping the rebate for new solar water installations between March 21 and May 31. It will double to $1,500 during that period.

The company maintains a Forum and invites anyone with questions, suggestions or insights to join the discussion. n

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Big Island Puts On a Show for Geothermal Energy

Hawaii's visitor industry is chugging along just fine compared to one and two years ago, and the new eruption phase of Kilauea Volcano on the island of Hawaii can only add to the numbers. According to local and national media, visitors are flocking to view the latest phase of the world’s longest volcanic eruption.

Beautiful, awe-inspiring, amazing – call it what you will, and those who are determined to expand Hawaii’s renewable energy resources call it a great teaching moment, too.

You wouldn’t want to build a geothermal energy plant anywhere near the rift zone where the lava fountains recently appeared, but supporters say there’s plenty of heat beneath the surface in the Puna district where the existing power plant has been producing power for nearly two decades.

Enjoy the eruption photos and videos at the above links, and when you do, imagine what capturing just a tiny fraction of that sub-surface heat and turning it into other forms of energy would mean to the most oil-dependent state in the country. Geothermal energy will help end that distinction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Politics & Energy: States Start Backing Away

The more other states go weak in the knees about renewable energy development for political or other reasons, the more steadfast Hawaii looks by comparison. has done a short survey of the energy landscape across the mainland now that different people are sitting in their governor’s office. The report documents more negatives than positives.

It’s not just energy, of course. Governors are tripping over themselves and each other on their way to network interviews as they turn down billions in federal funding for rail projects.

As we said after alleged baseball fans rejected the sport following 1994’s MLB strike, that means “more beer for the rest of us.” This time around, maybe that means more money for energy and rail projects in Hawaii.

We can hope, because as the charts show, oil prices are uncomfortably above $100/barrel and heading north.

More Geothermal Power

Word from the Big Island that Hawaii Electric Light Company and Puna Geothermal Venture have reached a deal for an additional 8 megawatts of geothermal energy that will be dispatchable -- i.e., available on demand by system operators. As noted on Ku`oko`a chairman Richard Ha's website, this new contract has other attributes, such as a lower fixed price per kilowatthour of geothermal energy.

Pitching OTEC

Elsewhere, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory sent three "story tips" to the media today, including one on ocean thermal energy conversion. We OTEC supporters will gladly accept support from each and every quarter, including Tennessee. Tennessee?