Molokai wind farm: Basic questions and answers (Part 2 of 4)

| February 18, 2011 | 11 Comments

By Steve Morgan

Why not use solar instead of wind power?

This seems like a reasonable question given the amount of sun that we possess. The simple answer is that solar is considerably more costly. In 2008 a study was done by the Department of Energy to evaluate all alternative energy sources including utility-scale solar farms and widespread use of individual rooftop solar systems.

In regard to both types of systems, the cost was roughly double that of wind. A report demonstrating a comparable renewable energy analysis is expected to be released by the DOA in March 2011. This information will also be included in the EIS.

Nevertheless, solar will play a part of Hawaii’s energy portfolio as tax incentives and net metering encourage the development of independent systems. Furthermore, in the event that an independent renewable energy grid is established for Molokai, solar would be a viable option as one of the components of this system.

Molokai is being asked to help supply Oahu’s growing energy demands. What measurable conservation efforts are being undertaken on Oahu?

Over the last five years, due to a combination of various factors including conservation efforts and a weakening economy, Oahu residential customers have cut their average electric usage by 7.2 percent. From 1996 through 2008 Oahu saw a reduction in oil consumption of 3.7 million barrels. Recent large-scale energy projects on Oahu include a 30-MW wind farm on Oahu’s North Shore and a 110-MW biofuel plant at Kalaeloa. Plans are also in place for a second wind farm on the North Shore (Kawailoa), which will create an additional 70MW of power.

Will Molokai be able to receive power from the proposed wind farm?

No, even a single windmill of this size would have too much output for Molokai’s electric grid. Assuming the offer to be the same as Lanai, as part of a benefits package, HECO would establish an independent agreement in seeing that our island’s electric utility would be 100 percent “green” by 2020. In the interim, what is being proposed by HECO would be to guarantee electric rates to Molokai at the same rate as Oahu customers. (Approximately a 50 percent price reduction.)

How long would it take to construct the wind farm on Molokai?

According to First Wind, actual construction would be accomplished within a 12-month period. Without complications, land rights, studies and permits would be accomplished by the end of 2012 and engineering completed by 2013. Actual construction would commence in 2014.

Does First Wind have land rights for the windmills on Molokai?

No, and the track record thus far has been a resistance from Molokai Ranch to sell land. The tipping point in all of this may be the State itself, which is taking a very proactive stance in fulfilling the requirements of HRS 269-92.

Peter Nicholas, CEO of Molokai Ranch, recently acknowledged that the pressure from the government is such that if Molokai Ranch refuses to sell, there is a possibility that the State would condemn the necessary Ranch lands through the process of eminent domain.

Editor’s Note: Wind farm meetings, set up by Molokai Ranch, are scheduled for March 2 at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center; March 3 at the Maunaloa Recreation Center; and March 4 at Kilohana School. All meetings will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Category: News, opinion, Sustainability

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  1. We applaud Steve Morgan for trying to educate your readers on the proposed industrial wind power plants targeted for both Moloka’i and Lana’i (and perhaps Maui as well). And we hope that his intentions of objectivity continue to guide his writing.

    There are a number of comments we would like to make to the first two of those articles — and a few corrections to suggest as well. As Mr. Morgan correctly points out, HRS269-92 does indeed mandate a set of goals for HECO, goals designed to push them towards the renewable energy goals of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. What Mr. Morgan fails to point out, however, is that the penalties for HECO, should they not reach those goals, can easily be waived by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC.) They are in effect voluntary goals.

    Much has been written about the supposed safety of the proposed undersea cable. Yet similar words must surely have been written about the undersea cable carrying Oceanic Cable’s transmissions that broke mid-channel last year. Everything is unbreakable — until it breaks. The cable we’re told will only be laid during the seasons when the humpback whales are not in Hawaii. What if the cable breaks during whale season? Will they wait to repair it when no whales are present? Is there any danger to marine life should the cable be accidentally sliced in two? The EIS is supposed to address these issues, but the EIS process is years from completion.

    We on Moloka’i and Lana’i frequently hear from HECO (and on Lana’i, as well from Castle & Cooke) that this industrial wind power plant will “guarantee” our electric rates to be equal to O’ahu’s. There are two problems with accepting that as fact: 1) HECO, Castle & Cooke, even First Wind do NOT set electric rates. They are set by the PUC; and 2) no one is talking about how much O’ahu’s rates will go UP to pay for the cable and the grid work on O’ahu. Two bills recently approved by two House and two Senate committees authorize HECO to pass on all the costs associated with the cable to “ratepayers.” So before our two islands’ rates are equaled to O’ahu’s, theirs will be substantially raised. The conversation about “levelized” rates is both premature and deceptive.

    There are many dates floating around regarding the timelines for this proposed Big Wind project. At a recent Senate hearing, the U.S. Department of Energy representative said it would probably not be online until 2020. DBEDT and HECO have told the public that the required EISs won’t be completed until sometime in 2014 or 2015, and then the permitting process takes at least another year. And all that assumes the absence of litigation or the impact of community opposition.

    I hope Mr. Morgan’s next two articles will cover the scoping meetings, and the overwhelming preponderance of testimony in opposition to this project. Mahalo, Friends of Lana’i

    • Steve Morgan says:

      In response to “Friends of Lanai”, thank you for responding in a way that intelligently challenges the issues. A few further thoughts-

      Because there is no guarantee that the PUC would allow for a waiver of penalties, I believe that referring to HRS269-92 as setting “voluntary goals” would be an exaggeration. If the PUC recognizes the project as “essential for the public welfare” then they may insist that the deadlines be met. As we are well aware of here on Molokai, the PUC is hardly a neutral organization. As the current administration sees the necessity to proceeed, the pace that is set by the administration will most likely be reflected by the PUC.

      In regard to levelized rates, I agree with you, in offsetting the cost of the system, it’s not hard to imagine that the levelized rates could easily match what Lanai or Molokai residents are already paying. The assumption that the State is making is that the cost of oil in the future will outweigh the cost of the proposed system. The State is wagering on the side of a static expense in contrast to that which is unpredictable.

      One issue that you address, which I believe is an essential question to many of the residents of Lanai and Molokai is- “What guarantee do we have that the benefit promises will be kept? Elaborating on this point, one of the proposed promises between Castle and Cook and the Lanai Community is to allow the private businesses on Lanai to purchase the buildings that they have been leasing. At the Jan 11 Senate hearing, Senator Baker rightfully smirked when she heard this, recognizing this as a promise made years ago as part of another agreement that was never kept.

      So how can the promises be enforced? In regard to levelized rates, could such a guarantee be worked out within the details of the PPA whereas as the private entities involved be legally required to provide the difference? But then what if the Private entities go belly up, then what? Can the State back these and other guarantees up? Examining methods that do not allow for loopholes is essential. That is why I believe the conversation of such things must start now.

  2. Henry Curtis says:

    If the only thing you do is to blindly accept as fact whatever the proponents suggest is true, then the project sounds good.

    A journalist is someone who investigates and reports on a subject, instead of regurgitating someone else’s message.

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