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.

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