Friday, July 1, 2011

Pattern Energy ‘Won’t Go Forward’ if People Say No; HECO says Opposition Not Enough Reason To Stop

This sign greets visitors at Molokai's airport.
We should have learned by now to check in frequently with the neighbor island newspapers for their coverage of the proposed Big Wind energy project -- The Molokai Dispatch, for example.

It wasn’t until this morning’s report on Hawaii Public Radio by a Dispatch reporter that we heard one of the most important utterances to date about Big Wind, which would install 200 megawatts of wind generating capacity on Molokai and another 200 on Lanai. Their output would be transmitted to Oahu via undersea cables.

A June 26th story at the Dispatch’s website quoted Christian Hackett, senior developer for Pattern Energy, which wants to build the Molokai project:

“We have no doubt that if the community does not support the project after we’ve gone through the process and provided the information and answered questions thoughtfully, this project won’t go forward,” he said. “Molokai residents have a history of successfully stopping projects that they don’t believe in, and that’s gonna happen here – if we don’t get community support for the project, the project won’t go forward.”

Mr. Hackett undoubtedly is an optimist out of necessity and still has hopes of attracting the community support he needs. According to the Dispatch, however, public opinion surveys have found opposition to Big Wind above 90 percent on Molokai.

We don’t know the surveys’ questions, protocols and margins of error, so we have no way of evaluating their quality, but it wouldn’t be surprising if scientific surveys using accepted best practices in opinion polling found similar results. No survey suggesting anything but overwhelming opposition to Big Wind has been publicized to our knowledge.

Count us among the skeptics that Big Wind will ever be built – not with the widespread opposition as described in the surveys and newspaper stories.

“We Can’t Do That”

The bigger reason to question the project, though, is the intermittent nature of the energy source. As a long-time believer in ocean thermal energy conversion and its eventual role in supplying base-load abundant power to the islands, we can’t join the enthusiasm for Big Wind as expressed by some of Hawaii’s major energy players.

That includes Hawaiian Electric Company, which apparently is positioned to endorse major energy projects like Big Wind regardless of public opinion. HECO’s Robbie Alm told the Dispatch last week: “…if they’re asking Hawaiian Electric (not to) say yes to anything because some people don’t like it, we can’t do that.”

“Some people” in this case would seem to be virtually the entire population of Molokai. That’s a questionable position for any company to take – especially a public utility.

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