Thursday, August 25, 2011

PUC Rejects HECO on ‘Big Wind,’ Directs New RFP

The “Big Wind” soap opera continues here in Hawaii even as Vermont residents add to the drama surrounding proposed utility-scale wind energy projects.

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has rejected a Hawaiian Electric Company request to allow it it to assign half of the 400-MW neighbor island wind energy project to a new developer on Molokai. No dice, said the PUC, which ordered the utility to submit a new request for proposals for that amount of power.

Civil Beat is following the Big Wind story closely and summarizes the most recent action at its website, along with earlier developments; the PUC’s order is also linked there. We note the following from CB’s story today:

“The Molokai wind farm is still a possibility. But Hawaiian Electric must put out a RFP for 200 mw of renewable energy, which can now be sited on any island that can reasonably reach Oahu via a cable, or on Oahu itself. The RFP also must be open to any technology, not just wind. The 200 mw Lanai portion of the project is permitted to proceed, but must gain final PUC approval.”

Ocean thermal energy conversion could be an “any technology” – another glimmer of a possibility that OTEC has a direct and applicable future in the islands. An OTEC plant parked 2 or 3 miles off the Kahe power plant on Oahu would require no extensive cabling to deliver its power to the power grid here. And with a capacity factor near 100 perceent compared to Big Wind’s anticipated CF of 40 percent or less, OTEC would be the better option.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Molokai & Lanai Residents, You’re Not Alone; Vermont Citizens are Fighting To Keep Giant Windmills Out, Too

Vermonters rally against utility-scale wind projects.
 August 25 Update: New England protest nets TV coverage.
Citizens from New England to Hawaii are thinking and speaking along this same line: Just because a renewable energy project is technologically feasible doesn’t mean it’s worth doing.

Vermonters are rallying in Montpelier today against utility-scale wind developments, and their concerns sound almost exactly like what Molokai and Lanai residents have been saying about the proposed “Big Wind” project on their islands.

“We are tired of the State allowing developers to force their inappropriate renewable developments onto the back of our communities and ridgelines,” said Mike Nelson of Albany, VT.

Organizers say they want to draw attention to other alternatives that would advance the state’s energy portfolio without scaring the land. “This isn’t about saying ‘No, no, no!’” said Pat O’Neill of the Lowell Mountains Group. “It is about saying ‘let’s do something that is good for our communities and that we can all get behind.’ The cost of solar is dropping rapidly, and it doesn’t have the impacts on our natural resources that utility-scale wind does. We can do renewable energy here in Vermont without harming our most natural assets.”

Sounds like a commitment to protect exactly what neighbor islanders want to protect – the aina. And Vermonters’ support for solar energy is certainly paralleled by solar support in Hawaii, where the solar energy resource is available directly from the sun and from the biggest solar storage battery on the plant – our tropical ocean.


Solar PVs and ocean thermal energy conversion represent Hawaii's one-two punch to provide long-term renewable energy security for the state. Some want to bridge to OTEC using geothermal revenues. Maybe Ku`oko`a is right in holding that vision, but there’s a big puka in that concept – no geothermal resource on Oahu and Kauai.

Bringing geothermal-produced energy to these islands would require either undersea cables – hugely expensive – or fuel in another form extracted from the geothermal process (such as hydrogen), or both. All islands in the chain are surrounded by that great solar energy collector of an ocean; OTEC plants moored just a few miles offshore would feed their energy to the host island using relatively inexpensive cable technology.

Like Vermont, Hawaii is still early in the process of developing utility-sized wind projects such as Big Wind, and like Vermonters, Hawaii residents are speaking up and protesting the NIMBY label that some seem too eager to pin on them.

Vermont rally organizer Steve Write of Craftsbury said ralliers are not NIMBYs or anti-wind. “For us, this is about protecting our state’s highest quality waters and keeping our habitats connected,” he said. “Today we hope officials see us as a growing movement that wants to change Vermont’s energy future for the better.”

Check out this commentary by Vermonters for a Clean Environment, and stay tuned to what happens to wind energy development in the Green Mountain State. It could be instructive here at home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

OTEC Firm Gets ‘First Approval in Principle’ for its Plant; Action Potentially Clears Way for Insurance & Financing, Improves Chances Oahu Will See Facility Built Here Soon

We don’t want to over-promote this, but three lines in the headline do seem appropriate in this case: The latest news about ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) seems to suggest a major milestone that could speed OTEC development here in the islands.

ABS (short for American Bureau of Shipping) has given “first approval in principle” to a floating OTEC production facility that’s proposed by OTEC International (OTI) of Baltimore, MD.

ABS describes itself as the world’s leading classification society in verifying “that marine vessels and offshore structures comply with Rules that the society has established for design, construction and periodic survey.”

The approval amounts to a “seal of approval” of OTI’s design and overall concept for a “moored spar” to generate electricity using temperature differences between the tropical ocean’s warm surface and deep, cool waters from 3,000 feet below.

There’s nothing new about the OTEC concept, which was first theorized in the 19th century and was first proven off the Big Island’s Kona coast in the 1970s. But this may be the first time an international rating agency has found favor with a specific design to commercialize it.

An industry insider we rely on for insights tells us that if any other OTEC proponent has achieved a similar endorsement, it hasn’t been announced.

Significantly, he says ABS’s action means the United States Coast Guard will allow the platform’s use, insurance companies will underwrite it and investors can jump in with a strong sense of assurance, although the latter may not be a concern for OSI, which already has foundation backing. It also means a shipyard can actually build one of OTI's designs; we're assured by a reliable source that if OSI builds in Hawaii, it will be a 100-MW commercial version.

“It is not a sexy milestone but a critical one nonetheless,” our friend says, “because without it, no offshore OTEC facility will get built.”

Ian Simpson, ABS Director of Offshore Technology and Business Development, Americas Division, was quoted in a company press release:

“This concept combines proven offshore principles with off-the-shelf power, technology and proprietary innovations, all assembled in a unique way. The design application illustrates how ABS is able to use its novel concept approach and guidance to provide review of a concept within the framework of established safety standards.”

The “moored spar” concept is being tested by StatoilHydro offshore of Norway in the North Sea to support a wind turbine. Like an iceberg with 90 percent of its mass below the sea’s surface, OTI’s spar concept puts the mechanical components – pumps, heat exchangers, generators, etc. – below the surface in a cylindrical spar and not on a ship or platform on the surface. The slide show at OTI's website makes this concept clearer than we can in this paragraph.

What this leads to depends on a laundry list of variables, but we hope more will be forthcoming soon from OTI about the company’s plans to build OTEC here in Hawaii. A power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company could be in the works.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Environmentalists Stepping Up to Fight ‘Green’ Projects

Photo Credit: BrightSorce Energy 
We’ve taken a break from the energy blog and let the most recent ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC)-related post hang in there while we blogged on Honolulu rail and even the infamous Hawaii blackout of the World Champions. But it’s time to get back into an issue that’s hot in Hawaii and around the country.

The Big Wind energy project is becoming more problematic as the months roll by, what with Lanai and Molokai residents objecting to 400-foot-tall wind turbines and others doubting that the economics can ever work out. Spending $3 billion on a project that would deliver an average of about 160 megawatts of wind-generated power to Oahu doesn’t look like much of a deal. We say, better to launch a serious OTEC effort.

A Clean Technica article posted today has a disapproving reaction to environmental challenges to solar energy projects. It ends with this:

“The U.S. government and environmental groups need to take a hard look at the economic and energy future of this country and realize that their actions are making it harder not only to create jobs but the infrastructure this country needs to grow in a sustainable manner.”

The piece touches on several lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club and others and reaches the conclusion we’ve just quoted. The assertion is that litigation delays the inevitable transition to clean renewable energy development around the nation including in Hawaii, which is mentioned.

As we see it, there’s no such thing as a renewable energy project without limits. At some point, the costs and impacts of projects that are technically feasible impose those limits, no matter how well-intentioned the backers or presumably beneficial the project.

That’s why Big Wind seems objectionable from what we know so far. The impacts are huge, and so are its costs for the intended benefit.

Whether you agree or disagree, you’re invited to visit the Hawaii Energy Forum, where you can sign up and exchange views on this and many other energy-related issues. It’s free.