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.

1 comment:

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