The federal process to create an alternative energy plan for Hawaii may have changed but many of the same questions about the impact on Molokai linger.
The U.S. Department of Energy came to Molokai last night for the seventh of eight statewide scoping meetings for a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement intended to lay the groundwork for renewable energy projects in Hawaii.
Testimony was accepted from 42 individuals in a packed Mitchell Pau’ole Center. Several rows of folding chairs were added to the back of the room to accommodate the overflow crowd of around 200 people.
The first PEIS — announced in December 2010 as a partnership between the U.S. DOE and the State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism — was a widely criticized failure. With a narrow focus on a “Big Wind” initiative, the PEIS failed to follow the federal mandate to study “any reasonable alternative.”
The broader scope of the current study is still based on the 2008 partnership between the DOE and the State of Hawaii that created the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, calling for 70 percent clean energy by 2030. The original PEIS was limited in scope to consider only four Hawaiian islands while the new process looks at all six inhabited islands.
Unlike the last time the U.S. DOE came to Molokai for a PEIS in February of 2011, officials offered a question-and-answer portion to the meeting prior to accepting testimony. Representatives of the U.S. DOE, the Hawaii State Energy Office and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management presented a panel to answer questions.
Although these questions and answers were not recorded or made part of the official meeting transcript, many of the most telling truths regarding the PEIS process were revealed during this time.
The PEIS does not eliminate the need for an EIS on any specific project. This led to questions about the “teeth” or power this document will hold over energy developers. For example, the PEIS will not be published in time to have any impact on the Request for Proposals issued by Hawaiian Electric Company for utility-scale renewable projects, according to Jane Summerson, the Federal Document Manager for the U.S. DOE.
HECO has been the central proponent of “Big Wind,” the project involving an undersea power transmission cable project that would connect 200-megawatt industrial wind turbine projects on Lanai and Molokai to Oahu. So far, Pattern Energy, Molokai Ranch’s preferred developer for this project, is the only company that has responded to the RFP.
The only real power the final PEIS document will hold, Summerson explained, is for developers. Any contractor who seeks federal DOE money, subsidies or tax incentives will need to comply with the recommendations.
The new, expanded PEIS will describe the types of potential renewable energy activities and their impact on the environment — including cultural and socioeconomic impacts — on an island-by-island basis.
Summerson explained how the new study will look at distributed renewables (small-scale technology near the point of use), energy efficiency (recycling, energy conservation and reduction), alternative transportation fuels and modes (electric vehicles), electrical transmission and distribution systems (an undersea cable) along with utility-scale renewables, such as the windmill project.
Molokai resident Cora Schnackenberg then asked why sustainability is not considered on an island-by-island basis as opposed to a statewide approach. The concern — expressed repeatedly at the meeting — is that the energy demands from Oahu will drown out the legitimate concerns and voices of the people on Molokai.
Colette Machado, chair of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Board of Trustees, asked if the comments made by Molokai residents will be competing with comments submitted by Pattern Energy or any other developer. Summerson said she will conduct the process in a “fair, open and transparent manner.” What this means, Machado said, is that, “they cannot prohibit them (Pattern Energy) from telling them what’s important to us!”
A total of 42 people testified. Many used the time to condemn the proposed windmill project from various angles. No one supported it. Testifiers from Lanai came over for the meeting to support the opposition on Molokai organized by I Aloha Molokai. Arguments against utility-scale windmills ranged from environmental (destruction of the reef, loss of water and soil quality, danger to migratory birds and humpback whales), to economic (inefficient method to generate and transport electricity that won’t create jobs) to cultural (will destroy archeologically sensitive areas and devastate Molokai’s subsistence lifestyle).
But the testimony wasn’t just criticism of developers and government agencies. Many stepped forward to offer reasonable energy alternatives. Wayde Lee discussed his Molokai Sustainment Farming project that converts crops, such as kukui nuts, and recyclable oils into biofuels. This includes biodiesel, which can be used to power the Molokai Pala’au electric substation. One speaker suggested generating hydroelectric power from the flow of water traveling out of the Waikolu Valley.
Sybil Lopez offered a demonstration of the benefits of ethanol. Two pans, one filled with conventional gas and the other with ethanol, were set on fire. The gas created pollution, black smoke and left residue. The ethanol pan burned clean and left no residue. Using advanced technologies, said Lopez, waste material can be converted to ethanol, a cleaner, higher-octane fuel.
The issue of Molokai and Hawaiian autonomy was another commonly repeated theme. Many speakers discussed the need to create guidelines and plans for energy independence on an island — not state — level. OHA candidate and local activist Walter Ritte called for each island to hold jurisdiction not only over their own land but over the surrounding waterways. In this way, Molokai could take responsibility for the care of Penguin Bank, the offshore area noted for its high number of humpback whales.
Both Ritte and Kamalu Poepoe, a public school teacher and Hawaiian cultural practitioner, called for ‘Aha Ki’ole O’ Molokai to be consulted during this process. Poepoe offered to have the local advisory group conduct an updated survey that addresses the PEIS issues. A previous ‘Aha Ki’ole survey showed an almost unanimous opposition to the windmill project.
Former Molokai Planning Commissioner Joseph Kalipi asked for any windmill project to not come to his home of Maunaloa. “This is a big scam if you look at it. I hope your are listening to what is being said … please don’t make our people criminals.” It has been suggested that an unpopular windmill project brought to Maunaloa will result in illegal activity intended to sabotage it.
Traditionally, Popepoe said, any island trying to control or determine the fate of another island is committing an act of war. “Anything that happens on that island is that island’s kuleana,” she said.
Scoping comments will be accepted by the DOE until Oct. 9. Written comments can be emailed to email@example.com. The PEIS website www.hawaiicleanenergypeis.com will also accept electronic comments. Faxes can go to 808-541-2253, attention Hawaii Clean Energy PEIS. Regular mail can be sent to Jim Spaeth, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 300 Ala Moana Blvd., P.O. Box 50247, Honolulu, HI 96850-0247.
A draft PEIS, once completed in mid to late 2013, will generate another comment period and a series of public hearings. These new comments and the responses will be part of the final draft.