Thursday, July 21, 2011

No Need To ‘See, Touch and Feel’ OTEC Generation

Lt. Governor Brian Schatz visited Molokai recently and met with The Molokai Dispatch on a number of issues, including the proposed Big Wind energy project. After acknowledging that disagreements can arise over efforts to reduce the state’s dependence on imported fuel, he said this:

“When you think about it, we’re at 90 percent fossil fuel, and in order to move from 90 percent imported fossil fuel to clean energy we’re going to actually have to see, touch and feel the generation of energy. There’s no magic wand we can wave where we get clean energy without seeing, touching or feeling it, or paying for it….”

True, there’s no magic wand, but there is indeed one renewable energy technology just waiting to be developed in the islands that residents wouldn’t see, wouldn’t touch and wouldn’t feel – ocean thermal energy conversion.
OTEC plants would be stationed miles from shore, and depending on their hardware configuration, their profiles might be no more visible than a passing Young Brothers barge on the horizon, and possibly less so. Power would be sent to the islands via undersea cable, and so could abundant amounts of fresh water – again depending on which OTEC process is employed. (Makai Ocean Engineering’s OTEC website, source of this graphic, is the best we’ve yet seen for its explanation of the technology.)

The thrust of the lieutenant governor’s remarks was that fairness must be a part of renewable energy projects. When asked about community opposition that in the end might fight Big Wind on Molokai regardless of what’s fair, the lieutenant governor seemed to suggest a definition of “community” that’s larger than the island’s residents:

“I think it depends on how you define community. It’s very early in the process, and I’m confident that we can find ways to make renewable energy work and still have respect for and appreciation for the places where the energy gets generated… And so if you do these things in a way that’s fair, then you can get maybe not everyone unanimously in favor of something, but you can get some degree of consensus. And I think as long as you’re respectful and fair, that’s the right way to do things.”

We’ll have to see whether Molokai will continue its tradition of resisting projects with much less impact on the aina than Big Wind’s turbine farm presumably would impose.

This blog's hope is that Lt. Governor Schatz will become an outspoken proponent of OTEC from within the highest level of our state's government because of OTEC's vast potential to be the base-load energy resource Hawaii so desperately needs – one that virtually no one would notice, let along touch and feel.

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