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.


Henry Curtis said...

Aloha Doug,

Two great articles. Fantastic writing.


Doug Carlson said...

Thanks, Henry. I could count on you to be all over this Big Wind issue.