Sunday, June 19, 2011

“Hey, Gang! Let’s Put On a Show and Call it ‘Big Wind’”

6/20 Update: PBN story says "HEI's credit rating could complicate Big Wind."
It’s whacky, but when we read the editorial in the Star-Advertiser this morning on the Big Wind energy project, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland popped into mind.

The connection with the young actors of the late ‘30s and early ‘40s was the over-the-top enthusiasm for Big Wind in some circles – the same kind of boundless enthusiasm oozed by Rooney and Garland on the silver screen in their “backyard musicals.” Maybe you’ve seen them on TV.

The lasting impression from those musicals was the brainstorm the actors would have about what they could do with all their singing and dancing talent. “Let’s put on a show!” one of them would shout, and then they would. It was cute, and audiences loved it for a while.

In the end, audiences cooled to the cuteness, and we’re wondering if that will be the ultimate outcome of Big Wind, the plan to build 400 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity on Molokai and Lanai and transmit it to Oahu with seafloor cables.

There’s plenty of enthusiasm for the project – from Hawaiian Electric Company, the State Energy Office, the Public Utilities Commission, wind energy producers and landowners Castle & Cooke and Molokai Ranch.

But the ranks of the skeptical and unenthusiastic are growing. Neighbor islanders appear united in near-unanimous opposition to forever turning over thousands of acres of their islands’ open space to the farms. Environmental organizations and even the County of Maui are complaining about the lack of transparency.

And then there’s the presumed inadequacy (from where we sit, at least) of putting Oahu’s energy eggs into one neighbor island basket and relying so heavily on the intermittency of wind power. Oahu needs base-load power, but even an optimistic assessment of Big Wind’s potential suggests that only about 160 MW would be available on average for Oahu’s grid. OTEC, anyone?

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney never had to worry about whether their on-screen musicals would succeed. MGM had it written into the script.

Big Wind’s script is only a broad outline, however, and there’s still doubt about who some of the major players will be. Then there’s the potential for strange plot twists, such as possible State condemnation of Molokai land to bypass local opposition. And you thought Spider Man has had trouble on Broadway….

Big Wind will be part of a panel discussion on Thursday sponsored by the Hawaii Venture Capital Association and ThinkTech under the broad title, “What makes Big Projects so hard in Hawaii?The public is invited to register for the paid event.

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