Monday, February 22, 2010


HECO shortcircuits Hawaii’s alternative energy plans

by Larry Geller

Readers of this blog know that an independently owned and operated power grid, as can be found in some other parts of the country, facilitates independent power generation. We don’t have that in Hawaii. So I was not surprised by this article in today’s paper, which would seem to short-circuit Hawaii’s alternative energy plans indefinitely:

Hawaiian Electric Co. is asking that homeowners and businesses that buy electricity from its utilities on Maui, the Big Island, Lāna'i and Moloka'i be barred from installing new photovoltaic, or solar power, systems until more is known about their effects on the electric grids.
Hawaiian Electric told the state Public Utilities Commission earlier this month that it wants to suspend adding new photovoltaic systems to the grid because the growing number of renewable-energy systems poses a threat to the reliability and stability of its transmission system. [Honolulu Advertiser, Moratorium sought on solar installation, 2/22/2010]

After the last big island-wide power failure, I wrote:

We, the people, are the customers of utility services. We have a right to the best service our money can buy, period. Now there is talk about smart grids and a big clean energy plan. It’s a lot to read (see earlier post), but note that they expect ratepayers to foot the bill.

I say let’s have an independent analysis. Ratepayers might foot the bill in the end, but we need to know that this is not an exercise in “disaster capitalism” that is designed to enrich HECO shareholders while we modernize their system. What about modernizing our own grid, in the same way the state upgrades bridges and roads? Our own grid. Not any utility’s grid. Let HECO take care of the dinosaur generators. [Old power grids are like old taxicabs, 1/14/2009]

What are the alternatives? There are probably many options. Now may be the time to review them and make alternative plans for our alternative energy.

Here’s a vision that we might aspire to. Click on the image to see a video.

Click to start The Modern Grid Strategy Video

If there is to be an independent power grid, somehow it will have to be separated from the local utilities currently operating it. If federal money is available, buying ourselves a grid might not be totally impossible:

I’ve written recently about the advantages of an independent power grid for Hawaii so that we can move toward oil independence by connecting various sources of alternative energy. The problem is that our grid is owned by the utilities that burn fossil fuels, in the old-fashioned model. Other parts of the country (for different reasons) have modernized the administration of their power distribution infrastructure.

Now might actually be the best time to buy ourselves a power grid. HEI stock (the holding company which includes HECO) has plummeted to record lows, and may now be affordable, particularly if stimulus money is available for that purpose. [Now might be the best time for Hawaii to purchase a power grid, 3/24/2009]

The other part of the equation is a proper feed-in tariff so that the grid has to buy alternative power. It can be a boon to individual investors, also. See, for example: Australian feed-in tariff poised to bring big bucks to Australians who feed the grid with rooftop solar (1/17/2010).

Curious about feed-in tariffs? No? Well, at least read why Hawaii should have one (4/18/2009).

It’s not just Australia.  Gainesville, Florida has a feed-in tariff:

This winter, as Congress was scrambling to pass the stimulus package, the bottom fell out of the renewable energy sector -- the very industry that lawmakers have held out as our best hope of salvaging the economy. Trade groups like the American Wind Energy Association, which as recently as December was forecasting "another record-shattering year of growth," began predicting that new installations would plunge by 30 to 50 percent. Solar panel manufacturers that had been blazing a trail of growth announced a wave of layoffs. Some have since cut their workforces in half, as stock prices tumble and plans for new green energy projects stall.

But there is one place where capital is still flowing: Gainesville, Florida. Even as solar panels are stacking up in warehouses around the country, this city of 120,000 is gearing up for a solar power boom, fueled by homegrown businesses and scrappy investors who have descended on the community and are hiring local contractors to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops around town.

Why is the renewable energy market in Gainesville booming while it’s collapsing elsewhere in the country? The answer boils down to policy. In early February, the city became the first in the nation to adopt a "feed-in tariff" -- a clunky and un-descriptive name for a bold incentive to foster renewable energy. Under this system, the local power company is required to buy renewable energy from independent producers, no matter how small, at rates slightly higher than the average cost of production. This means anyone with a cluster of solar cells on their roof can sell the power they produce at a profit. [AlterNet, A Solar Revolution May Be Coming to Your Town, 4/11/2009]

Hawaii deserves no less. First, we need to realize that we can take our alternative energy future into our own hands.


Interesting article as much for what it does not say as for what it does say. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. First of all it might be interesting to find out who has vested interests in the companies that supply petroleum to HECO. Second it is actually true that because our Island grid is also an islanded grid (meaning that it is separated from any larger grid), that there is only so much renewable energy generated without being stored that can be accommodated. That is why I support non-grid-tied independent energy generated at the household and village level. This is called distributed generation. I have been utilizing this form of energy for 20 of the past 28 years and during that time have never had a power outage. NEVER!!

See how I have personally accomplished this at

Let HECO/HELCO be the backup generator!! - Only drawn upon in times of dark clouds and poor wind conditions. This does away with the need for expensive new transmission lines because we would be gradually reducing our reliance on centralized energy generation.

Of course the people with vested interests in keeping the present archaic system going will do whatever it takes to stop this from happening. And its not simply because of their vested interests in plant and equipment, but because of their vested interest in having purchased politicians, policy and regulations that have given them a license to profit at everyone's expense.

Hawaii should really promote solar energy. It's climate is perfect for that. The government should issue feed in tariff incentives to encourage renewable energy usage just like what other countries have already done.

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