Saturday, July 16, 2011

Editorial Gives OTEC Two Thumbs Up — At Last; Could OTEC Be Rising as ‘Big Wind’ Runs into Turbulence? UPDATE: Ku`oko`a Plan To Buy HEI Scores Big Ink

Sunday Update: Startup Ku`oko`a’s “heavy hitter” board of directors is highlighted in the Sunday Star-Advertiser’s business section. “Big Wind” rates only a minor, almost parenthetical mention in this story. Just maybe our theory (keep reading, below) about declining support for the wind energy project is seeing some proof. Join the conversation on Hawaii energy issues by signing up at the Hawaii Energy Forum (it's free) and tell us what you think about Ku`oko`a, energy efficiency/conservation programs, Big Wind and everything else about Hawaii's energy future.

Is it possible that ocean thermal energy conversion is now flowing along in the mainstream? The week began with OTEC making a splash on the Star-Advertiser’s business page. It ends with an editorial endorsing the technology as a “promising option” to help Hawaii achieve energy independence.

So what’s really going on?

Has OTEC truly gone from overshadowed and unmentioned status (see March 16, 2008 editorial in one-half of the same newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser) to the hottest tech of the moment on its own?

Or does this hot new romance with OTEC hint at something else behind the curtain and below the surface – background radiation from a story bigger than the editorial’s content, which – let's face it – could have been written 30 years ago, and probably was?

OTEC and ‘Big Wind’

We’re thinking it does and that it has everything to do with the growing disenchantment and complications around the 400-megawatt wind energy project targeted for Molokai and Lanai.

Just yesterday the Star-Advertiser reported on a Public Utilities Commission ruling that requires Hawaiian Electric Company to go find a new partner for the Molokai segment of the project. It would appear that the whole Big Wind project is receiving the kind of scrutiny that was missing in 2007-08 when this mega-wind project swept through almost unnoticed by the general public – or so it seems in retrospect. The project prompted dueling commentaries from opponents and defenders in the past week that are linked from the renewable energy discussion Forum at Hawaii Energy’s website. (You’re invited to join the discussion there.)

News also broke in the past week of the intervener status both Maui County and Life of the Land have been granted in the Big Wind docket at the PUC.

Turning on a dime to reject one energy technology while embracing others seems to be the new rage. Both Japan and Germany have resolved to dump nuclear power, and although details are lacking, a friend in France says his country has turned against solar energy.

So that’s what we think is happening here, too. Some of the lever pullers behind the curtains have finally concluded that a $3 billion intermittent energy project isn’t even an intermediary stop on the path toward energy independence in the islands.

The new darling is OTEC, and our guess is that you’ll start seeing more evidence of OTEC’s ascendance the rest of this year. We’ll stick with that theory until something or someone convinces us we're wrong.

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