Tuesday, July 26, 2011


DBEDT spins Big Wind

By Henry Curtis

The Environmental Caucus of the Hawai`i Democratic Party held its Big Wind panel discussion last night as part of its “ Series of Round Table Discussions on Energy Options for Hawaii.”

Panelists were Gerald Sumida (Chair HCEI), Maria Tome and Allen Kam (DBEDT), Robin Kaye (Friends of Lanai), Kanohowailuku Helm (I Aloha Molokai) and former Representative Lyla Berg.

Kanoho told a chicken-skin story about outsiders seeking to exploit Moloka`i (Kanoho's ten minute video segment starts almost 1 hour into the video: 53:27-1:02:50).

Robin Kaye gave a powerful talk on Big Wind politics (37:50-52:54).

Unlike many conferences, nearly half of the two hours were devoted to questions from the audience. They, as well as Robin, Kanoho, Lyla and emcee Gary Hooser, asked questions about distributed generation.

DBEDT’s Allen Kam stated that they recognized that the original scoping meetings were flawed. Allen stated: “We are planning to come back out to the public, and introduce our you know, our modifications to the scope, and so, we will, be coming back out to the public and introducing that and talking about our, the additional technologies in our EIS, as far as the Governor's discussion on broadband this EIS does contemplate, well, how should I say, this EIS contemplates only renewable energy. Now I realize that their is that vision, for the Governor to have the islands connected with broadband, but right now I don't know of any concrete planning efforts that are really underway with regard to that. There may be but I'm not aware of them. The scope of this EIS is only for renewable energy.”

Kat Brady: “I'm a justice advocate. Question for DBEDT. Allen you talked about DBEDT being a facilitator. Wondering why have never had this discussion on all the islands. The basic question is, should every island be energy independent, or should we all be connected by a cable? It seems to me that is a really fundamental question. And that's something we have never even discussed. And this is really something that the people really need to decide. Thank you.”

Gary Hooser: “The scope of the EIS is being expanded to include other technologies, geothermal, solar as well as wind and my question is, my understanding is that these are utility scaled technologies.”

Allen Kam: “Correct.”

Maria Tome added: “So there are a lot of moving pieces and the decentralized generation piece is an extremely important part of it all.”

The discussion was live-streamed over the internet. A question came from Lanai: “If each island actually does  look to itself for energy, what are Oahu's options realistically?”

Maria Tome: “That's on the efficiency side, if you can find ways to meet your lighting needs with natural light, if you can keep your buildings cooler through good design, I mean that's where  you know you do all this stuff and maybe you can reduce it [O`ahu’s demand] to 30% of more, and then the question is what do you have on renewables on O`ahu and if you did everything I think you could get maybe to get to 32% and then of course your also working on your wave and OTEC which are not, the next five years.”

Allen Kam: “We are looking at not just wind any more but also other renewables and so from our perspective the programmatic EIS was not picking a project  and now its not even picking a technology, its looking at the question of interconnecting Maui County and O`ahu. ...When we first went out we were looking at just wind and we definitely, yes their was a predisposition that wind would be, would be the selected technology ... but that now that we've  modified our scope and included other technologies that's not so much the case anymore.

I asked: “The answer to my question is a one word answer yes or no. The question is you're going to look at wind, you're going to look at geothermal,  you're going to look at solar. Is one of your full blown alternatives decentralized generation, yes or no?”

Allen: “Sorry you don't get a one word answer. Essentially the heart of the EIS and the plan is the cable, and the cable in itself is you know calls for a more centralized type of distribution, of generation.”

After the meeting Allen told me they were going to try to do the scoping meetings by the end of the year. The Draft EIS will come out next summer and the Final EIS will come out in late 2012 or early 2013. I asked both Allen and Estrella Seese about funding. The EIS is funded through stimulus funds which must be spent by April 30, 2012. They both told me that DBEDT is seeking federal funds to continue the EIS process but that no money has be located yet and there are no assurances that it will be forthcoming.

Various members of the public have raised two options that are currently not on DBEDT’s radar. The public could raise these options at the new scoping meetings and force DBEDT to include them in the Draft EIS.

The Decentralized Power Option would focus on each island becoming energy self-sufficient. As Maria Tome pointed out, O`ahu can get 30% of its energy needs from energy efficiency and 32% from renewable energy excluding wave and OTEC. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is a national trade organization representing utilities which produce 90% of the electricity sold in the U.S. In 2004-06 EPRI studies found that wave energy (ocean swells) could produce 100% of O`ahu’s energy needs. UH scientists have found that Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) could provide more than 100% of O`ahu’s energy needs.

The Big Cable Option would bring geothermal and wind energy from Hawai`i Island to O`ahu. Either wind from Kohala and Waipio or geothermal from Puna and Hualalai are rich enough resources to provide all of the power needed statewide. Geothermal can be developed at prices far lower than the current price of petroleum. HELCO has asked the Public Utilities Commission to approve an expansion of Puna Geothermal Ventures where the new generation produced would be substantially below HELCO’s cost of generating electricity.

The real issue is whether the EIS focuses on how to implement the Maui-O`ahu cable or how to reduce Hawai`i’s dependence on fossil fuel.

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Henry Curtis


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