Thursday, September 22, 2011

OTE Corporation Signs Memo of Understanding, Will Build and Operate 2 OTEC plants in The Bahamas

 Graphic from today's edition of The Nassau Guardian.
This one does seem to be the “real deal,” and maybe ocean thermal energy conversion technology finally is about to see its first commercial-grade power plants.

OTE Corporation has signed a memo of understanding with the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) to build, operate and maintain two OTEC plants somewhere in the islands – location to be determined.

The company, with headquarters in Pennsylvania and an office in Honolulu, says it will build the plants using its own financial resources and will require no financing by BEC or The Bahamian government.

Stories in The Tribune, caribbean360 and The Nassau Guardian have details on the deal. The latter leaves out the essence of how OTEC works – glancing over the process by saying cold and warm ocean waters “are combined to produce great amounts of stream (sic), which subsequently drives turbine generators."

But we’re in no mood to quibble with the reports coming from The Bahamas (beyond our usual copyeditor tendencies). This would seem to be a significant advance of the OTEC technology, and one can hope it will be pursued quicker here in Hawaii because of what’s will happen there in The Bahamas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Is Hawaii the State that Says ‘No’ to Green Energy, or Does It Say ‘Yes’ When the Project Is the Right One?

With the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo convened today, this is a good time to question the notion that resistance to renewable energy projects boils down to NIMBYism.

That’s the criticism in Jay Fidell’s ThinkTech column in the Star-Advertiser today (subscription) that’s headlined “Shortsightedness must stop if clean energy is to flourish.” A different headline writer might have composed “All clean energy projects must be developed no matter what” to summarize the column’s thrust.

Just where does majority opinion lie in Hawaii on this fundamental issue about getting off oil – at all costs, or with reason? Here’s an excerpt from a letter in today’s Maui News submitted by Susan Osako of Lanai City, displayed under this headline: “OTEC and geothermal should be considered first”:

“The mission to create a 100 percent clean energy Hawaii is our goal. We need and want ocean thermal energy conversion and geothermal. Both are firm/constant sources of clean energy in Hawaii. They can provide 100 percent of our electrical needs even more consistently than oil.”

The writer and Mr. Fidell agree that Hawaii must get off oil; where they diverge is their reaction to the impacts the Big Wind energy project would impose on Lanai and Molokai – with scores of wind turbines 400 feet and taller on the islands. Where Mr. Fidell sees a lack of courage in a state more willing to say “no” to green energy projects, Ms. Osako sees it differently from her perspective on the ground:

“The outsiders have descended on Hawaii and are pushing industrial wind turbines, hoping to cover every mile of open land. Recreation, vistas, weather, culture and heritage are invaluable assets to a small island. If you take away all of these things, what good is electricity from any source?” Maybe Mr. Fidell will find himself in a forum where he’ll be asked to answer Ms. Osako’s question.

Saying 'No' to Some
As we see it, projects can‘t be justified when their impacts would be massive on the land, the community and the people. Big Wind is such a project, and technology advocates like Mr. Fidell might want to re-examine the assumptions that have caused them to believe projects like Big Wind are inevitable.

Assumptions like “OTEC is still decades away” and “geothermal is still a cultural issue….” Those beliefs themselves are out-dated; companies working on OTEC plan to build Hawaii's first plant by the middle of this decade, and native Hawaiians are among those backing geothermal energy’s expansion in Hawaii.

The sooner projects like Big Wind are recognized as unacceptable and/or unfeasible, the sooner the entire state can rally behind base-load projects like OTEC and geothermal and truly achieve Hawaii’s goal of energy independence.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Asia Pacific Energy Summit Convenes This Week as Resistance To Big Wind Builds Steam on Molokai

The third annual Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo kicks off tomorrow, and it takes a couple minutes for the website to cycle through the photographs of more than 200 speakers. They include a governor and ex-governor, utility representatives, legislators, military officials, advocates for solar, wind, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion technology, landfill experts, private equity investors, lawyers and many others. There’s at least one misidentification – the current chair of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission is still listed as a state representative – but getting everything right would be a stretch.

Word comes from Molokai as the Summit gets underway that opposition to the Big Wind energy project is growing, and one wonders whether that community-based effort will be noticed by the guests.

According to the Molokai Dispatch, the “I Heart Molokai” group is growing even as wind energy developers pledge their intent to work with the community.

We suspect the opposition will be explained away by Big Wind backers as NIMBYism, but we continue to believe it represents the fork in the road for energy policy makers here.

Go down one fork and you sink billions of dollars into an intermittent wind energy project with huge localized impacts and that can’t possibly pencil out in the short or long term. Go down the other and you sink billions into a baseload technology that holds the promise of releasing Hawaii from oil’s stranglehold.

We’re talking OTEC, of course, and we’ll be watching the Summit for evidence that something other than more endless praise for OTEC comes out of this conference.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

‘I Aloha Molokai’ Group Speaks Up & Out on Big Wind

A scene from an I Aloha Molokai video.
Let’s dispense right off with the notion that Molokai residents who oppose the Big Wind energy project are a bunch of NIMBYs with no appreciation of the issues.

NIMBYism doesn’t even enter the equation when the size of Big Wind's impacts are considered.

The “I Aloha Molokai” group has launched a campaign against Big Wind that goes to the heart of the matter – Molokai residents’ insistence that energy projects respect their values. Projects that threaten those values are not acceptable, as they are making clear in their campaign.

I Heart Molokai has sponsored series of high-quality videos created with plenty of professional expertise. Here are a couple quotes from one of them, accessible at the group’s website:

"Molokai says 'no' to a lot of things, but we do this to perpetuate our land, our culture and our lifestyle."

"These developers don't care about Molokai. They just want to make their profits and move on to the next money-making location."

Check out the material at the site and see if you can find flaws in the group’s arguments. High-cost Big Wind isn’t wanted on the Friendly Isle, and many of us on Oahu don’t see how the economics make sense – $3 billion to deliver an average of 160 MW of power – let alone the unacceptable impacts on Molokai, and Lanai, too.