Thursday, June 14, 2012


Wayfinding: Navigating Hawai`i's Energy Future

By Henry Curtis

We are now in the middle of a technology revolution, featuring smart phones, electronic books, videocameras, the internet and blogs.

Major changes are about to happen in the electric utility sector.

Energy policy is too important to be left to those with vested interests in short-term profit margins. We must all be engaged in energy policy at the local level where we can shape policy to suit local needs.

The Hawai`i Electric Industries (HEI) Annual Report (2012) noted: “New technological developments, such as the commercial development of energy storage, may render the operations of HEI’s electric utility subsidiaries less competitive or outdated.”

As electric rates continue to go up and up, those who can leave the grid, will leave the grid, by building or installing on-site generation. The fixed costs associated with energy production, transmission and distribution will then have to be absorbed by the remaining (smaller) rate base. Thus, those who remain will see their rates go up even more, causing more people to opt out of a centralized grid, driving the rates for those who remain even higher. Under this scenario, companies such as HECO would be sucked down into a bottomless vortex and ultimately fail as a viable investor-owned corporation.

There will be vast changes to the electric grid in the short-run. These will likely include Smart Grids, Smart Buildings, the use of liquefied natural gas (LNG), the expansion of geothermal, and grid-based batteries such as pumped storage hydro (PSH).

In the longer-term the electric grid may become obsolete.

Energy is the glue, the connector, the life blood of all that we do. Energy powers the old economy and the new economy. Fossil fuel byproducts have become part of our life: pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, paints, plastics, detergents, ammonia, pesticides and fertilizers. The energy industry has grown into a $3 trillion/year mega-industry.

Our current energy paradigm cause enormous damage. A National Academy of Science Study report found that 20,000 people die prematurely each year from fossil fuel air pollution, and that fossil fuel health impacts in the U.S. exceed $100 billion/year. Childhood asthma is on the rise. Greenhouse gas emissions are out of control. The oceans are rising and becoming more acidic.

Energy disasters are increasing: Fukushima, BP Deepwater, Borneo peat soil wildfires, Kuwaiti Oil Fires, Exxon Valdez, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, among many others. The new energy and telecommunications technology rely on rare earth minerals such as coltan and neodymium. The use of these resources have their own environmental problems.

Life of the Land’s Wayfinding:  Navigating Hawai`i's Energy Future (June 2012) by Henry Curtis was written to address these vast transformations and to suggest some ways forward.

The Report examines a Distributed Generation (DG) future, focused on a decentralized, community-based model of energy self-sufficiency, utilizing local solutions. On the near horizon is the capacity to replace yesterday’s electric grid with tomorrow’s Smart Buildings, where conservation and energy efficiency will reduce demand, on-site renewable energy facilities will provide energy for buildings and electricity for vehicles, and small microgrids will be used within small communities.

The State of Hawai`i could and should generate 90% of its electricity from distributed renewable energy resources by 2030.

Some communities may focus on rapidly increasing the renewable energy penetration level on their grids. This can be done in conjunction with Smart Grid technology.

Other communities may opt for increased renewable energy in combination with the importation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) a cheaper and cleaner fossil fuel.

Still other communities could decide that, rather than waiting for the inevitable escalating rate hikes and for climate change to reach crisis levels, they should find ways of leaving the grid now.

In the transformation process, all of these communities can save money, increase the amount of revenue that stays and circulates within their local communities, while creating local jobs, and decreasing the environmental, social and cultural impacts associated with energy production, transmission and use. 

Since each island has different resources and different values it only makes sound social and economic sense to design each island system differently.

The Author

Henry Curtis has been Executive Director of Life of the Land (LOL) since 1995. He has a B.A. in Economics from Queens College, City University of New York.  He is a blogger, community organizer, videographer, director, producer, peer reviewer, moot court judge, community facilitator, and provides expert testimony on ocean power, biofuels, energy and externalities. He has represented LOL in over thirty regulatory proceedings before the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).  He serves on the PUC Reliability Standards Working Group (RSWG) and the RSWG Minimum Load & Curtailment Subgroup. He is committed to Hawai`i’s energy self-reliance and well-being and is motivated by the values of aloha `aina, malama `aina and his love for Hawai`i nei. 


Great article! What Hawai`i needs now is creative, out-of-the-transformer-box thinking!
I'm glad someone is looking forward and suggesting different alternatives. Sadly, our stodgy
old utility is only thinking of their bottom line. Congratulations to Henry Curtis, who has
the courage to put an alternative plan forward that is about people, and not corporations.

Learned at lot from this report.

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