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.