Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More ‘Big Wind’ Twists; First Wind Objects to New Plan

(Update on Friends of Lanai PUC petition near end of post.)
We’ve compared the Big Wind energy project to a TV soap opera because of the twists and turns, the new relationships that supplant the old, the spurned suitors who aren’t taking the rejection well – it’s all there in some of our recent posts, starting here. And now there’s more drama.

First Wind, the energy company that has created a name for itself in the islands by building wind farms on Maui and Oahu, was to be part of the 400-megawatt wind project, but it failed to reach an agreement with Molokai Ranch to build 200 MW on that island.

The ranch turned to a new company – Pattern Energy of San Francisco – to develop the farm on its land. Castle & Cooke, which owns nearly all of Lanai, wants to build a 200-MW farm there, but because First Wind fell out of the plan, C&C believes it has the right under the original Big Wind agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company and the state to build all 400 on that island. (Consider us among the skeptics that such a huge development could ever occur there; a 200-MW farm seems problematic enough in light of Lanai residents’ opposition.)

But C&C now says it wants to assign 200 MW back to Molokai, where Pattern Energy would build a farm with Molokai Ranch’s blessing. First Wind is having none of it, as reported in Pacific Business News, which seems to be doing a more diligent job on this story than any other media outlet.

Paul Gaynor, First Wind’s CEO, has written to the Public Utilities Commission to object to the Molokai Ranch/Castle & Cooke/Pattern Energy deal, calling it a direct violation of the original agreement with HECO to connect 400 MW of installed wind energy capacity on the two neighbor islands with Oahu via undersea cable.

Subversion Claimed

Gaynor wrote that the agreement is now “being subverted, if not breached, by these most recent developments in which C&C has unilaterally claimed a right to develop the full 400 MW and further is seeking to ‘assign' 200 MW to an entirely new party its ‘development opportunity’ on another island, Molokai, with respect to which C&C has no relationship, contract or any other legal rights whatsoever.”

See what we mean about the soap-opera comparison? The only thing missing so far is a shotgun wedding, and that might just be in the script, too, if the state and utility energy planners become desperate to connect the wind farms to Oahu’s grid.

Some are supporting options to massive wind development, such as widespread solar energy distributed generation and/or base load sources like geothermal energy and ocean thermal energy conversion, which might be developed over the next decade or two and connected to Oahu. The neighbor island wind farms would be intermittent sources that on average would deliver somewhere between 25 and 38 percent of their installed capacity to Oahu.

Hawaii’s energy planners have integrated Big Wind to such an extent that supporters say failure to build it will threaten the state’s ability to meet the 2030 goals of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. Others simply ask, so what, and is it all that critical to push through Big Wind in light of its attendant controversies and uncertainties?

FOL Files Petition

Meanwhile, the Friends of Lanai group filed a petition with the Public Utilities Commission yesterday to reopen the competitive bidding process for Big Wind. The FOL press release says:

"Pattern Energy is not a party to any PUC Docket, nor party to any agreement with any public agency in Hawaii. Despite claims to the contrary, FOL believes HECO and C&C have no right -- and no authority -- to arbitrarily 'select' a new developer. The entire process has been shrouded in secrecy. There has been no public discussion of costs, no responsible consideration of other means to meet the non-binding goals of the State's renewable portfolio standards, and no clarity on where the proposed undersea cable might surface on Oahu. The process hasn't even determined from which islands the wind resources would be harvested. The rush to Big Wind should stop here and now."

4/29 Update: The Star-Advertiser covers the FOL angle today.

Join the Conversation

If you have thoughts on all of this, Hawaii Energy (the state’s conservation and efficiency program administrator) has a Forum where you can express them. Just go to the Forum and register by clicking on the link in the upper right corner. Look for the Big Wind discussion within the Renewables category for now.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Finding a Way for Solar Power To Reach Its Potential

The Star-Advertiser devoted editorial page space a couple days ago to a problem that’s holding Hawaii back from achieving greater reliance on solar energy.

Blame it on the clouds. When they pass over photovoltaic systems on rooftops, PV power output understandably drops, and that can affect the electric grid’s stability, according to Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO).

HECO requires a costly study before new PV systems can be installed on neighborhood circuits that already have at least 15 percent of their total generating capacity coming from alternative resources.

Only 4,000 of the state’s 267,000 single-family homes have PV systems, says the editorial, and that number isn’t likely to grow in neighborhoods where the 15-percent barrier has been reached. Nobody has been willing to shell out the $15,000 to $40,000 cost for one of those studies that could lead to an installation.

Eleven out of Oahu’s 465 circuits are thus stymied. The remaining 454 circuits would seem to offer plenty of expansion possibilities, but those 11 are where the money is, as evident by their PV penetration.

Sharing the Load

Finding a path for solar power expansion on circuits where economic power is concentrated and the will to invest already exists is the challenge. There has to be a way, perhaps by adding another of those small surcharges or fees we all pay in our electric bill to fund rebates for energy-efficient appliances.

The beneficiaries of the surcharges are those among us who replace inefficient refrigerators, water heaters and even light bulbs, but the entire population also benefits when we cut our kilowatthour demand and therefore our reliance on oil to generate electricity. The same would be true of a surcharge that funds those PV-connected studies.

Do the laws of physics allow an entire circuit to be PV-powered? Only in the dreams of PV system marketers, no doubt, but that could be a goal for the 21st Century – after lots of experimentation, development of storage capabilities and, yes, more studies.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Kuokoa Promotes Its Plan for Hawaii to Get Off Oil

Kuokoa, the newly formed company (Hawaiian language advocates prefer Ku`oko`a), has a plan to accelerate Hawaii’s move to energy independence.

Eliminating oil from our daily diet not only is desired but a necessity in the short term, not just the long. Oil prices continue to rise driven by worldwide consumption (see oil clock at right) along with seen and unseen forces.

Kuokoa CEO Roald Marth has been giving presentations to groups large and small in recent months. He spoke to the Rotary Club of Honolulu on April 5th. If you have any interest in Hawaii’s energy dilemma, do yourself a favor and watch the video.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Nation’s Highest Gas Prices Reach Historic Territory; Hawaii Drivers Have Never Had To Pay This Much

That's the headline today at our Yes2Rail blog, where we conclude that Honolulu rail's future success is assured -- for cost reasons alone, but certainly also for convenience.

The conclusion here at Hawaii Energy Options is that new record-level prices for gasoline in Honolulu and statewide drive home the importance of reducing the state's demand for oil to generate electricity and power our transportation sector.

Please visit Yes2Rail, especially if you'll be filling up in Hawaii in the next few days.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Feedback – plus Wind Study as Recommended Reading

We did the unusual over the weekend and sent a link to Friday’s post on Big Wind to a few dozen energy-focused people in industry, academia and government. We asked for feedback if our conclusions in that post were off the mark.

And we got feedback. Dr. Luis Vega’s opinion counts for a lot, and he recommended reading the “Oahu Wind Integration Study” by Jay Griffin et al:

Simply by reading the Executive Summary you will be positively surprised at the technical viability of incorporating additional wind and PV into the Oahu grid with “state-of-the-art” modifications ( e.g., up-gradable controls to modify ramp-up speed of existing fossil fueled generators and the latest controls available for WTGs). This report forced me to “upgrade” my technical analysis (cost, political viability etc. is a different discussion) and open my mind to additional wind as well as nascent wave energy and other intermittent resources. I hope that reading the Griffin report will open up your mind to wonderful possibilities. It opened mine.

So we've started to read the report and, like Dr. Vega, recommend it to all Hawaii-based visitors to this post. From this lay person's perspective, it covers generation issues remarkably well. So far the reading suggests the Study evaluates the feasibility of adding 400 megawatts of wind power from neighbor island farms.

We'll continue reading the study to its end, but we’d make the point that feasibility isn’t what is driving our present concerns about Big Wind.  Impacts and costs are top of mind here at Hawaii Energy Options. So, too, is a “favorite” renewable energy option of ours – ocean thermal energy conversion.

OTEC is mentioned numerous times in the Study because it assumes the addition of a 25 MW OTEC plant by 2014. Here are two such entries:

“A small amount of baseload energy is provided by HPower (waste to energy), Honua (gasification) and OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion).” And… “One of the significant changes from the present operating year to 2014 is the additional capacity of HPower and contributions from OTEC and Honua.”

As an OTEC advocate, we’d like to believe this ocean technology could conceivably be providing much more than 25 MW to Oahu’s grid by 2030, which is the target year for attaining the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative’s goals.

Does the Study assess how much OTEC generation would be feasible if $3 billion were spent to develop 400 MW of Big Wind power and the undersea cable to transit that electricity to Oahu? Don’t know yet, because we haven’t finished reading it, but early indications are that Big OTEC isn’t analyzed.

But we are reminded of those Nature programs on public television. Some animal species will sacrifice a new hatchling or cub to ensure the viability of others. Could OTEC’s promise of abundant baseload energy be fully realized (once it’s proven in this decade) if Big Wind already is in the nest? How much money can these islands afford to feed its renewable energy projects? Would Big OTEC even be attempted if so much is spent on Big Wind/Cable?

We don’t know the answers and would hope someone as capable as Dr. Vega – who heads up the Nawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center – and/or the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute would look into it.

Now….to finish reading the study. We encourage your feedback by adding a comment, below.

Friday, April 15, 2011

NY Times Nearly Ignores Big Wind Capacity Factor, Which Must Be Major Consideration In Project Decisions

Capacity factor comparison between energy technologies by NRELThe dot is each technology's average capacity factor; the horizontal line shows the range.
The New York Times has published a two-part series on Hawaii’s energy dilemma, yesterday and today, and it’s a pretty good summation of the Big Wind project to build 400 megawatts (MW) of installed wind energy capacity on the neighbor islands to meet energy demand on Oahu.

There are two major problems with this series from where we sit:

1) Developer Castle & Cooke didn’t respond to the Times request to be interviewed for the piece. More on that below.

2) Although the wind farms’ capacity factor is mentioned in passing in today’s story, the impression you get from the piece is that Big Wind will provide 400 MW of power for Oahu’s use. It won’t, and that’s because even a capacity factor of an optimistic 40 percent for the farms means they’d deliver only 160 MW on average to Oahu’s grid. (That doesn’t even factor in line loss when transmitting the power via undersea and overland cables.)

A Hawaiian Electric Company spokesman goes so far as to say Big Wind “could provide as much as 14 percent of Hawaii’s electricity….” Recall if you will that little equation you learned in algebra class that helps in times like this. Using the 40-percent capacity factor (which may be high), the question is: “If 160 megawatts provide 14 percent of Hawaii’s electricity, how many megawatts would 100 percent be?”

Cross-multiply 160 and 10, divide the product by 14 and you get 1,142.857 megawatts as the total Hawaii electricity production in 2030. That clearly won’t be the total 19 years from now; Oahu’s peak demand is more than that today, so how did the spokesperson arrive at 14 percent for Big Wind’s contribution?

If you use 400 MW in this equation – the nameplate maximum generating capacity for Big Wind – you arrive at a much bigger number, 2,857.142 MW in 2030, which is a more realistic estimate of electricity generation two decades from now.

So it appears once again that Big Wind proponents are selling the project based on the wind farms’ installed capacity and not how much power the farms on Molokai and Lanai reasonably could be expected to generate for Oahu's benefit.

The local media consistently use the nameplate figure when writing about Big Wind, which means they’re either ignoring or don’t understand the capacity factor issue. That’s obviously a big failure in their reporting because it oversells the project’s presumed value in comparison to its huge environmental impact.

You can read about capacity factor all over the Internet by entering the phrase in a search window: localize your inquiry by adding "Hawaii" to the search.

Castle & Cooke: ‘No Comment’

From today’s New York Times story on Big Wind: “Officials with Castle & Cooke did not respond to interview requests for this story.”

A reasonable question: Why not? As a key player in this project, how does Castle & Cooke decide to ignore the New York Times, which many believe is the nation’s best and most influential newspaper?

We don’t have an answer to that question and would ask Lanai residents to take a stab at one. They’re used to dealing with the company, which owns 98 percent of the island.

If anything, Castle & Cooke should be bending over backwards to be responsive on a project that evokes so much skepticism, criticism and anger. As the Times piece and other media report, nearly everyone who’s spoken up at the programmatic environmental impact statement hearings on the two neighbor islands has strongly opposed Big Wind.

This is no time for bunker mentality. If Big Wind proponents can’t stand the heat of a simple media interview, it’s hard to imagine them being forthcoming when the going gets really tough.

Big Wind certainly is in for some tough going, and skeptics have reason to worry now whether the State has too many of its energy eggs in this basket. Maybe the best news in this Times story is that the State says it will take a longer look at renewable energy alternatives to Big Wind.

Geothermal, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) and distributed solar generation presumably will be high on that list. Note geothermal's capacity factor in the above chart; it's among the highest of all the technologies since it is base load and not intermittent like wind power. OTEC isn't on the chart because it hasn't been built yet due to financing challenges, but Hawaii remains a key location for several companies working on it. Once built, base-load OTEC presumably would have a high capacity factor rivaling geothermal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Yet Another ‘Big Wind’ Plan Switcheroo: C&C ‘Allocates’ 200 Phantom Lanai Megawatts to Molokai for Farm

One really does get the feeling the proverbial powers that be are hell-bent on getting Big Wind built, no matter what and no matter how many hoops they have to jump through to get there.

Today’s news is that Castle & Cooke, which once upon a time had been granted the opportunity in a paper deal with Hawaiian Electric Company to develop 400 megawatts of wind energy on Lanai, has “allocated” 200 of them to Molokai.

That seems like a stretch, since there was never any certainty 400 or 200 megawatts of wind energy would ever be built on Lanai. The opposition of local residents and the considerable impact a huge wind farm would have on the island (it would cover a quarter of the land) make the outcome of any such plans problematic at this point.

But since everything’s on paper so far, allocating 200 MW of Lanai wind energy to Molokai seems easy enough, even if keeping the players straight takes some doing.

Castle & Cooke’s Molokai megawatts are now apparently intended for Pattern Energy of California, which stepped in after developer First Wind was unable to secure an agreement with Molokai Ranch to build a 200-MW farm there.

First Wind missed a deadline to seal up the land and has asked the Public Utilities Commission for an extension. In the meantime, the ranch said it would work with Pattern Energy to fulfill Molokai’s portion of the Big Wind plan.

And then it was revealed on Friday that Governor Abercrombie was threatening to seize 10,000 acres of Molokai Ranch land through eminent domain if the ranch didn’t play nice in the Big Wind project.

All this frenetic maneuvering makes you wonder why the Big Wind players are prepared to do just about anything to be sure the plan actually is realized – seize thousands of acres of ranch land, “allocate” megawatts from one island to another, whatever.

Is it because it’s Big Wind or nothing – that all the State’s energy eggs are in the Big Wind basket? And where Molokai and Lanai residents fit in all of this is still anybody’s guess. Will it matter that they’re overwhelmingly opposed?

Come back tomorrow for a new twist, because at this pace, there’s sure to be one.

Friday, April 8, 2011

‘Big Wind’ Soap Takes a ‘Who Shot JR?’ Plot Twist; Governor Talks Land Grab if Molokai Ranch Balks

Yesterday’s post likened the Big Wind energy project to a soap opera and urged readers to stay tuned as the plot thickened. It’s the most confusing energy plan going, and the latest twist hints at desperation by the State to make Big Wind happen, no matter what.

According to Pacific Business News, Governor Neil Abercrombie is threatening to overcome Molokai Ranch’s refusal to work with developer First Wind by seizing land for a 200 MW wind farm through eminent domain proceedings.

Calling this affair a “soap opera” was whimsical yesterday, but not today, now that the Governor’s trying to force a shotgun wedding between the ranch and First Wind.

No deal has been consummated except on paper or in officials' imaginations, and nobody’s pregnant, so what’s with the State’s urgency to force through this plan?

Clearly, State officials have stacked virtually all their big energy eggs in the Big Wind basket, and it’s prepared to break new legal ground, according to PBN’s story, rather than scramble those eggs.

By threatening eminent domain, Abercrombie is also telling Molokai residents to take a hike. And it’s not just Molokai residents who appear overwhelmingly opposed to Big Wind; the Friends of Lanai group is engaged in a strong anti-Big Wind campaign to prevent at least a quarter of their island from being ceded to a farm.

So we have 400 MW of wind energy in a nice plan but no certainty that those wind farms will be built or where they’ll be built and no certainty that the undersea cable plan to bring that power to Oahu will ever be executed either.

What’s missing here is Plan B, but the threat to seize Molokai Ranch suggests there is no Plan B – just Big Wind.

What about expanded geothermal? What about distributed generation via thousands of solar panels on roofs all over the state? What about finally launching a serious ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) effort? Both geothermal and OTEC are base load, not intermittent like wind; both would have much higher capacity factors* compared to wind, and OTEC would have the additional advantage of not upsetting the neighbors. OTEC plants would be floated miles off shore.

The plot line for this soap is way too shaky, and there could be bodies all over the place before it’s over – wind developers, land owners, residents, State and local politicians, electricity customers….you name it.

If you’re confused about where it’s going, just wait until Big Wind winds up in a protracted court case that puts everything on hold as oil prices go through the roof and consumers pay through the nose.

Better to scramble the plan now and create a new energy omelet with better ingredients.
* A facility's capacity factor is the percentage of its installed generation capability that's actually  delivered in electrical power, on average, to the grid. With a CP around 25%, Big Wind's farms would deliver only about 100 MW or less to Oahu.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

‘Big Wind’ Soap Opera: Search for Tomorrow's Energy

The Actors: Hawaiian Electric Company, Molokai Ranch, First Wind, Pattern Energy, Castle and Cooke, Lanai Residents, Molokai Residents, Legislators, State Energy Office, Public Utilities Commission, the Media and others yet to be identified.

The Supporting Cast: The Inter-Island Cable Project, electricity customers.

The Locations: Molokai and/or Lanai and/or Maui and maybe the sea floor between these islands and Oahu.

The Plot: The State believes the wind resource on neighbor islands Molokai and Lanai can provide 400 megawatts of power to Oahu – 200 MW each – by tying the knot with the state’s population center using an inter-island cable. Landowner Molokai Ranch balked at the proposal for a long-term engagement with First Wind, which consequently missed a deadline to secure a site for its wind farm on the suddenly-not-so-Friendly Isle. The ranch said First Wind hadn’t been good at courting Molokai residents, who are famously shy regarding plans for the island. First Wind asked the Public Utilities Commission to extend the deadline to find land for its farm, but Hawaiian Electric Company refused to hold its peace and objected to any such extension. First Wind’s unsettled situation prompted HECO and others to suggest that maybe all 400 MW could be sited on Lanai, where residents are as shy as their Molokai cousins about a wind farm that might cover as much as a quarter of their island. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the landowner found a new suitor for a wind farm – Pattern Energy of San Francisco, CA, but legislators are wondering whether the impacts the wind farms would have on the two host islands would be enough to call the whole thing off.

Remaining To Be Resolved: Will the Public Utilities Commission extend First Wind’s search for a land-owning partner, or will the PUC favor Pattern Energy as a bonafide suitor? Will Molokai residents show a friendlier side to any of the players, and what about the Friends of Lanai, who want nothing to do with Castle and Cooke’s 200-MW Big Wind plan, let alone 400? Will Maui become an alternative to these budding relationships? How much power can actually be delivered to Oahu from intermittent-source wind farms on neighbor islands with a capacity factor in the neighborhood of 25 percent? Will the media ever understand capacity factor – the percentage of a generating facility’s installed capacity that on average can actually be delivered to the electricity grid? What will the undersea cable linkage between Maui County and Oahu actually cost, who will develop it and what would be the impacts of its installation? And what will electric customers say about opening their wallets when it finally dawns on them that they’re expected to pay for all this investment?

The plot can only thicken, so stay tuned to Big Wind as The Players maneuver behind the scenes and act out their parts in what’s already become the state's most confusing energy plan.