Saturday, October 1, 2011

PUC Draws a Line, Says Biofuel Plan Is Too Expensive

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission’s ruling this week that a proposed biofuel supply contract was too expensive could be a tip-off on how the commission will rule on other high-impact renewable energy projects.

It’s worth considering as the Big Wind project attempts to overcome the obstacles that are certain to confound it in the months and years ahead.

Molokai and Lanai residents say they’re determined to fight the planned 200-MW wind farms on each island because of impacts on the aina. There’s little point in denying 400-foot-plus wind turbines will have significant impacts; proponents don’t even try and instead work to offset them with localized benefits.

The PUC has signaled a “too much is too much” attitude. Ratepayers would have paid a premium for the Aina Koa Pono-supplied biofuel of at least $100,000,000 over the course of the proposed 20-year contract. Price details are still confidential, and the PUC refers only to a “nine-figure” premium – which under those guidelines could push the premium to the billion-dollar mark.

Tail Wagging?

It’s also worth asking whether the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative tail is wagging the dog. Just because targets call for significant slashes in the use of fossil fuels in the islands by 2030 is no reason to throw caution to the wind when renewable projects are up for consideration.

The PUC seems to be following a cautious approach to meeting those goals, and we’ll have to see if it applies to the Big Wind project.

Proven base-load geothermal technology is being heavily promoted by those who believe it's a better option than intermittent wind power. And as always, we're promoting the still-nascent ocean thermal energy conversion technology for its potential to play a major role in achieving energy security for the islands.

Geothermal and OTEC development will be expensive – no doubt about it – but some premiums may be worth it.

BY THE WAY: Don't let those charts in the right-hand column column fool you about the direction energy costs are headed in Hawaii. The price of gasoline has been rising here since June even as it declines across the country. We pay the highest electricity rates in the nation (32 cents/kwh on Oahu, much more on the neighbor islands), and the same's true for gasoline. And Subway's "$5 Foot-long" special during October? Forget it: "Prices higher in Alaska and Hawaii." Welcome to Paradise.

1 comment:

Susan said...

We have a solar for our home and a net metering agreemment with Hawaiian Electric. Do you know why we can only sell the energy we generate to HECO. I would like to get as far away from HECO as is possible. How can I do that?