Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hawaii’s ‘Tsunami of Isolation’ Dictates Innovation

A long holiday weekend with plenty of writing time helps break the silence here at Hawaii Energy Options. Frankly, we’ve been giving the Big Wind Soap Opera a rest until the producers have settled on a permanent cast and the characters are either married off or poisoned out of the script. New plot developments might test our resolve, however.

No such writing drought has affected Pat Takahasi, the innovative thinker and chief advocate of the Blue Revolution. Pat is a staunch supporter of breakthrough energy solutions, with ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) at the top of the list.

One of Pat’s contributions to Huffington Post earlier this year noted that the earth’s surface is two and one-times more water than land, yet “almost never is the ocean recognized as part of the (energy) solution.”

Pat recently wrote about Japan’s energy crisis that became apparent thanks to the March tsunami and crippling of the country’s nuclear energy industry – not just one plant but the whole concept in that nation.

“Suddenly, the Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster has thrust the Blue Revolution as the optimal solution for Japan’s future,” he wrote a week ago today at his Blue Revolution Hawaii blog.

Hawaii’s Energy ‘Tsunami’

Unlike hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis that cannot be ignored, Hawaii’s energy crisis has been a decades-long slice of life for island residents. Our state’s isolation requires energy lifelines thousands of miles long to meet our needs. This dependence is like a nagging discomfort in the body that one day becomes a catastrophic illness; we’re vaguely aware of the problem and maybe take an aspirin to relieve the minor pain, but we go about our business without doing much of anything to address the real problem.

The public-private push behind Big Wind strikes us as a misstep that's likely to delay real progress in addressing our energy tsunami – a head-long rush to develop an intermittent power source that can’t possibly provide the long-term energy security Hawaii requires. A comparable effort behind OTEC would make ocean energy a reality.

The Blue Revolution concept includes plans for a Pacific International Ocean Station (PIOC), an ocean version of the International Space Station. The PIOC would pioneer OTEC and other ocean-based energy and clean water applications.

Innovative thinking, like the Environmental Island concept offered by the Shimizu Corporation (at left), is all around us, yet “official” Hawaii seems oblivious to these concepts. Big Wind advocates have invested their energies in a project that would have tremendous impacts on two of our neighbor islands and do nothing to ensure base-load power delivery to our populations for generations to come.

Pat Takahashi is one of Hawaii’s authentic visionaries and deserves a place at the table in discussions of permanent energy solutions to meet Hawaii’s needs a century from now. Unfortunately, the focus now is on meeting a paper goal to achieve a percentage of renewable energy use by 2030.

Our best suggestion on Memorial Day weekend: Bookmark Pat Takahashi’s various websites and visit them often!

Friday, May 13, 2011

PUC Rejects FOL’s Petition to Intervene in ‘Big Wind’

It was more than predictable. Legal technicalities tend to outweigh the down-home emotions of individual citizens as revealed in the petition filed by the Friends of Lanai with the Public Utilities Commission seeking to intervene in the Big Wind project docket.

Rather than repeat all the “who shot JR?” twists, we’ll direct you downward in this column to previous posts on Big Wind. We’ve called it a soap opera due to all the romancing, spurning and dissing among the players.

The PUC rejected FOL’s petition (which is what Hawaiian Electric Company urged it to do) and noted that FOL isn’t a party to the docket and therefore couldn’t petition for intervention.

Where this harried project goes next is anybody’s guess. Will the Governor condemn 10,000 acres of Molokai land for Big Wind? Will First Wind find a parcel somewhere in the county to build 200 megawatts of wind power? Will all 400 MW end up on Lanai, as apparently is still possible? Will Pattern Energy and Molokai consummate their budding relationship? What next for the Friends of Lanai? Does a $3-billion investment in an intermittent wind resource make sense?

We asked Robin Kaye of the FOL group exactly that – what’s your next step? Here’s his emailed response today:

“Good questions. We're doing the necessary legal research and questioning right now. The PUC has been operating like this (opaque, no-explanations-necessary) for quite a long time. HECO and the PUC appear to move in lock-step. It's really bad government. They write the rules, they interpret the rules, and they then appear to adjudicate the rules. There doesn't seem to be much precedent for challenging the PUC re regulations; lots regarding rate cases, but very little around the issues we're raising. And it's doubtful they consider "residents' interests" at all. One would have assumed that the Consumer Advocate (we think this is an oxymoron) would take that role, but they appear to be in step with HECO and the PUC on this.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Columnist: ‘Big Wind’ a Must No Matter What, Including Condemnation, ‘Bribes’ to Residents, Huge Investment

We believe energy and technology columnist Jay Fidell is on target on most subjects he covers, but his ThinkTech column in the Star-Advertiser today is not one of them.

Fidell thinks the so-called Big Wind neighbor island wind farm and inter-island cable project is so absolutely critical to Hawaii’s energy future that it simply must happen, no matter the cost and no matter how objectionable the project might be to Molokai and Lanai residents and those who agree with them.

Calling Big Wind the “keystone of our Clean Energy Initiative,” Fidell argues that Hawaii must “get over” the reluctance to initiate eminent domain proceedings.

“The governor needs to get the Big Wind parties in a room and jawbone them into a deal,” Fidell writes. “Failing that, he should do exactly what he threatened – yes, condemnation. Take heart, governor. Be impatient about clean energy – you have the power. Make eminent domain imminent. Many people will support you in this, and a condemnation will assure progress on wind and other projects. Do it once and things will be easier going forward.”

In other words, run roughshod over the legitimate concerns of neighbor islanders whose public statements on Big Wind are virtually unanimous in opposition. Is this the state of affairs we want in the Aloha State?

Benefits or Bribes?

The ThinkTech columnist says “there’s a kind of benefits package inflation going on” to – let’s face it – bribe/entice those residents into supporting Big Wind and forever changing the look, feel and nature of their islands. As Fidell notes, a 200-megawatt wind farm requires “something over 10,000 acres” as a footprint.

The benefits on the table include a 50-percent cut in electricity rates; improved water utilities, roads and fire stations; scholarships and educational programs, and preservation of native lands.

That last one is of course ironic – land preservation programs as 10,000 acres are turned over for generations to wind turbine towers taller than the First Hawaiian Bank building in downtown Honolulu.

But think about the education lessons that might flow from these enticements. What lessons would neighbor island children learn about government’s relationship with its citizens if eminent domain is exercised? What lessons would be learned about how one gets what one wants?

The best lesson for all of us from this frenzy over Big Wind would be a recognition that a solid plan has yet to be developed to deliver firm power to the citizens. These overly-involved and intricate plans to make Big Wind happen remind us of the parable of the camel and the eye of a needle. Does a good plan require this much intrigue? Wouldn’t a preferred and superior energy future for the state require far less gyrations and be obvious in its relative simplicity?

The Big Wind Basket

The most dangerous aspect of “Big Wind or Bust” is that this project could soak up $3 billion that might otherwise be invested to ensure a strong energy future for Hawaii. Wind is an intermittent power source, and the neighbor island farms would fall far short of delivering their 400 MW of installed capacity to Oahu.

The farms’ capacity factor is estimated to be between 20 and 38 percent, meaning Oahu would receive on average between 80 and about 150 MW of power -- not the aggregate 400 MW on the turbines’ nameplates.

An average output of 150 MW and less can’t possibly justify a $3 billion investment. That amount, invested in ocean thermal energy conversion, which this blog has been touting since its first post, would surely move OTEC from its current promising-but-risky phase into large-scale energy production – with NO on-land impacts.

OTEC plants floating miles off each island could provide the secure energy future for Hawaii that Big Wind can’t. So could geothermal energy from an expanded resource on the Big Island and possibly on Maui, as well. Like OTEC, geothermal would be a base load energy source.

This blog isn’t the only advocate for these energy technologies; see Kuokoa’s website for background and advocacy regarding geothermal energy. And we certainly are not the only ones who believe Big Wind’s on-land impact would be too severe to tolerate; see the Friends of Lanai website.

Betting the Future

We do have to thank Jay Fidell for painting this issue in the starkest and most alarming terms – the seizure of private land to enable the big dreams of a relatively small group of energy planners who are satisfied with betting our future on how strong the wind will blow years from now.

Are we blind to the bizarre weather shifts Hawaii has experienced this year alone? Don’t our planners believe climate change is happening, and if they do, are they so certain Hawaii’s trade winds will always be there?

Of two things we are certain: The sun will continue to shine and warm our tropical ocean, the world’s largest solar energy “battery” and OTEC engine. And Pele's geothermal power will always be with us, too.

OTEC and geothermal energy are Hawaii’s energy future. That’s where electricity customers should willing to have their dollars invested – if not for this generation's benefit, then for the benefit of all that follow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Public TV Show Reviews Hawaii’s Energy Future

Afternoon Update: HECO urges PUC to reject Friends of Lanai petition on Big Wind bidding.
There never can be too much conversation about getting off oil in the Aloha State, so the topic on public television’s “PBS Hawaii Insights” show last week was more of what we needed.

Watch it and you can pick and choose the parts you like, the parts you don’t like and the parts that support your particular technology preference and/or your major concerns. We’ve noted here our concern about the Big Wind project, which at times has resembled a “soap opera” with its big swings in plot and players.

Our biggest concern is that a great deal of effort and faith has been invested in Big Wind by many key players, including some on this TV show, even though the entire project is highly problematic at this time. The anticipated impacts to be visited on Molokai and Lanai may be so great in the end that Big Wind simply won’t happen, and you can be sure opponents on those islands will be heard.

That’s why we wonder whether $3 billion invested in the two neighbor island wind farms and an undersea cable to connect them to Oahu would soak up so much money from Hawaii as a whole – businesses, residents, government – that there would be nrothing left for other technologies that conceivably could come online later. In that regard, we’ve picked the following quotes.

Hermina Morita, chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission:

“One of the key objectives of Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative is to demonstrate with the US Department of Energy that there’s no one solution, that it will take multiple technologies, diversity and the integration of these various technologies to come to a solution, and what better place to do it than Hawaii….? There’s no one technology that’s gonna solve our problem, and we really have to approach this from a systems (basis)….”

Mike Hamnett, chair of the Hawaii Energy Policy Forum:

“There are a number of (technologies) that are right over the horizon. So in the whole biofuels area, a lot of people are looking forward to the role that algae will play…. The people who are in the algae business they’re saying it’s three years, five years away, but having the diversity of resources allows us to not put all our eggs in one basket, so if we get a new technology….even ocean thermal energy conversion has got a lot of potential….but if we take a diversified approach to the whole thing, and as these new technologies come on line we can swap them out for the things we’ve already developed and get the best of all worlds, rather than putting all of our eggs in any single technology basket.”

There’s that energy basket again, and without actually connecting his remarks to Big Wind, the HEPF chair mirrored the same concern that we have – that the Big Wind project is becoming the technology that’s far more desirable than all the others, notwithstanding the breadth of discussion about other technologies on the program.

Please watch the video, then chime in with your opinions at the Hawaii Energy Forum, which is linked at the top of the page. Click on any of the major issues listed there, such as Energy Policy to comment on the TV show, register in the upper right-hand corner (if you haven’t already) and weigh in on one of the most important conversations happening in Hawaii.

Monday, May 2, 2011

First Wind, Rejected at Every Turn, Keeps Trying

(Evening Update: Please visit our sister blog, Citizens Helping Officials Respond to Emergencies (CHORE), for our instant analysis of what was missing in communications to Oahu residents during the hours-long blackout late today.)

First Wind, the Boston-based energy company, must be wondering if it has lost its touch. After being hailed for its wind projects on Maui and a new one on Oahu’s North Shore, First Wind is getting nowhere with its bid to be a player in the Big Wind inter-island energy project.

The Public Utilities Commission has rejected First Wind’s request for an extension to secure land for a 200-megawatt wind farm either on Molokai or Maui. The company’s efforts to cut a deal with Molokai Ranch were spurned, and the ranch has turned to Pattern Energy of San Francisco for that island’s share of the project.

The PUC said First Wind didn’t have proper standing to file an extension request so it could find the land it needs. Only parties to the Commission’s docket may do so, the PUC’s denial letter said, and Hawaiian Electric Company, which is a party, refused First Wind’s request to file the extension on its behalf.

That makes three rejections for First Wind – by Molokai Ranch, the HECO and now the PUC. Unknow now is whether the PUC will add another by rejecting the company’s protest of Castle & Cooke’s assignment of 200 MW of allotted wind energy potential from Lanai to Molokai and Pattern Energy.

Soap Opera-ishness

We had to make up that word to capture the craziness that the Big Wind project has become. Also protesting the C&C “assignment” is the Friends of Lanai group, which noted last week that 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.”

One possible outcome of all this would be the PUC’s agreement with First Wind and FOL that C&C can’t just up and “assign” 200 phantom MWs to Pattern, which showed up late in the game at Molokai Ranch’s invitation.

Another possible outcome would be for all of Big Wind’s 400 MWs to be built on Lanai, an option that surely would trigger the mother of all protests by the FOL group and others.

It’s not for nothing that we’ve called this whole affair a soap opera.