Thursday, December 10, 2009


Does interisland power cable make economic sense for cash-strapped Hawaii?

by Larry Geller

Does the proposed inter-island power cable make economic sense for Hawaii? (see: Pacific Business News, 9 undersea routes mapped for power grid, 12/9/2009)

CNN reported today that General Electric just signed a contract to build what will be the world’s largest wind farm in California.

The wind farm will consist of 338 2.5-megawatt turbines. California has a lot of space. Perhaps that many turbines can be hidden away someplace.

Hawaii does not. Residents will object to large scale destruction of their neighborhoods by sprawling wind farms. There are places where it might work, but not, for example, many places on Oahu. Developers are bent on building houses most everywhere, and that nixes wide-area wind farms. If it could be done with turbines on Oahu, why lay a cable?

Please also read Henry Curtis’ article on problems with the EIS, Interisland cable report proposes illegal segmented EIS. I wonder if the state learned anything from its Superferry experience about conducting a proper environmental impact analysis.

Aside from issues around the EIS, I have my own questions concerning the economics of the proposed cable. Can we really afford to do it? I wonder if bringing a mere 200 MW of power to Oahu from intermittent sources at huge expense makes sense.

Oahu must use around 1700 MW or so, primarily derived from petroleum-fed generators. So the 200 MW is a drop in the bucket. But it approximates Maui County's power usage (around 300 MW)more closely. So wouldn't it make sense to skip the undersea cable for now and wire the windmills into their local grids?

Wind turbines are limited at present to no more than about five megawatts max. The turbines selected for California are 2.5 megawatts each, so that to produce 200MW would require 80 of them. When we look at Oahu's needs, it would take hundreds of wind turbines to substitute for petroleum generated capacity.

Neighbor Island communities may object to that many turbines, especially if they derive no benefit from them. That is, who wants an eyesore in the backyard in Maui so that Oahu can run its railroad?

Oahu won’t be decommissioning its fossil fuel generators anyway because of the intermittent nature of wind power (unless we would be content to settle for candlelight when the wind doesn’t blow).

Of course, Lanai is privately held and Molokai is kind of empty, but still, the cost of a cable to carry power to Oahu seems excessive, especially in these bad economic times. The PBN article mentions $1 billion, you can bet there will be cost overruns.

DBEDT said it is exploring alternatives for financing the project, but it will ultimately be paid for by utility customers and taxpayers.

Hey—they didn’t ask me about this. If they do, I say no.

It seems logical to let each island install alternative energy according to its own needs and the tolerance of its own residents for the disfigurement of their environment. Putting in these cables so Oahu can suck energy from Neighbor Islands seems wrongheaded at first glance.


Well it may not make sense, given the cost compared to distributed generation, but Hawaii isn't paying for it, the feds are with money fresh of the printing presses.

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