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.

1 comment:

Steve Brownell said...

Agreed – she did miss the fact that OTEC is actually quite a bit closer than the middle of this decade. In fact, OTE Corp is close to making commercially viable OTEC plants a reality. It seems a no-brainer to not take advantage of the ocean resource that the Islands hold, vs. placing a bunch of turbines along the hills and valley entrances, which are an eyesore. Check this out for more details: http://www.theonproject.org/