Ikehu Project hopes to convert island to 100 percent renewable energy

| November 12, 2013 | 23 Comments

This graph shows how solar power would change over to hydroelectric power at night to keep the Molokai electric grid running smoothly. Yellow bars represent solar generation, green shows hydroelectric generation and red shows losses. Under the plan developed by Princeton Energy Group, the electric grid would have greater stability while operating losses for the utility would be eliminated.

This graph shows how solar power would change over to hydroelectric power at night to keep the Molokai electric grid running smoothly. Yellow bars represent solar generation, green shows hydroelectric generation and red shows losses. Under the plan developed by Princeton Energy Group, the electric grid would have greater stability while operating losses for the utility would be eliminated.

Princeton Energy Group has a plan to generate 100 percent of Molokai’s electricity via renewable sources and the San Francisco-based company wants the community’s support.

Molokai Ranch chose Princeton to develop an energy plan for the island after deciding earlier this year to not renew its agreement with Pattern Energy, which had committed to a 200-megawatt wind power project on the West End. Princeton’s plan fits better with the Ranch’s “four pillars” vision for the future, including its idea to make Molokai a predominately “green island.”

Princeton representative Steve Taber, along with Molokai Ranch CEO Clay Rumbao, presented its renewable energy project, called “Ikehu Moloka’i,” to I Aloha Molokai and those attending its Molokai Clean Energy Initiative meeting Oct. 29. The central ideas behind the Powerpoint presentation can be found at the website ikehumolokai.com.

In its plan, Princeton, a for-profit renewable energy development company, will lease land from Molokai Ranch to produce 80-90 percent of the island’s electricity with photovoltaic generation. As the island’s largest landowner, Molokai Ranch will be able to lease key parcels of land around the Maui Electric Company power plant in Pala’au and along transmission lines. Princeton will then sell the power back to MECO at a reduced rate through a power purchase agreement.

“We see some real benefit to the community,” said Princeton project leader Taber. “What we’re trying to do is get our costs down and pass the savings to the consumer. Rate relief is the driving force,” he added. “Rates (on Molokai) are ridiculous.”

Based on its filing for July 1-31, 2013, MECO is paying an on-peak rate of 28.305 cents per kilowatt hour and 25.634 cents for off-peak hours. This compares to an on-peak rate of 18.689 for Maui. The cost of purchasing and shipping diesel fuel to Molokai accounts for the higher price. Princeton is aiming to sell its electricity to MECO for 20 cents per Kwh.

“Diesel is an obsolete generating source,” said Taber. The system creates voltage drops, he said, which then trigger blackouts or brownouts. Taber said the “ancient generating equipment” also contributes to the unstable electric grid.

The Ikehu project takes advantage of the solar resources along Molokai’s south and west areas. Most of photovoltaic arrays will be located above Manila Camp.

According to Princeton: “A storage system will shift a portion of the solar production to nighttime, and it will also replace the grid stabilization function now provided by the diesel gensets. The storage will be provided by circulating water from existing reservoirs in the Molokai highlands, letting it flow downhill to capture its hydroelectric potential at night, then using the solar generation to pump the water back up to the reservoirs during the day.”

On cloudy days, the diesel generators will operate on 100 percent renewable biodiesel. This will only serve as a backup during extended periods of cloudy weather. “Since the storage system will replace the grid stabilization function of the current diesel gensets, the gensets will no longer have to throttle up and down to follow load. These measures will improve the efficiency of the gensets, reduce maintenance cost, and extend their service lives.”

Princeton now has 18 months to get approval from the Hawaii Public Utility Commission and all the necessary state and county permits. This needs to be done now so the company can take advantage of the tax credits that expire in 2016.

Princeton is also considering small-scale wind project to serve Molokai only that may help in reducing rates even further. Taber said the company is “agnostic” about the use of wind and will only consider it with the support of the community. “That’s up to residents,” he said.

Taber believes the Molokai community will be more accepting of this proposal than it was toward Big Wind, which planned to send 400 megawatts of electricity through undersea transmission cables from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu.

“Molokai is a special place to us,” said Taber, who added that one of the partners in Princeton owns land here. “The idea of 90-foot tall wind turbines was not good. This project is 100 percent consumed on Molokai. There is no Oahu in the project.”

“This is good for the island,” added Taber. “We want people to support it; I hope they’ll see and appreciate the merits of this. Community support is essential.”

More opportunities to review and discuss this preliminary plan are in the works. Taber said Princeton will be holding meetings in Maunaloa and Manila Camp on Dec. 14.


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  1. This is good news for the following reasons:
    – no inter-island cable needed
    – no large scale farm of windmills that sends power to Oahu
    – lower electricity rates on the way and more money for my family to spend on costs like school and retirement saving
    – island independence and self sufficiency
    – environmentally friendlier energy production with less pollution; PV technology continues to grow in efficiency
    – allows for Ranch to be a productive/contributing member of Molokai community, with mutual self-interest

    I’m sure there are some downsides to this but this represents several steps in the right direction. The idea of continuing to import diesel and burn it as our sole source of power is ridiculous; it’s time for Molokai to turn the page.

  2. Paul says:

    The basic concept is great but the devil is in the details. In spite of their need for a quick approval, we need to carefully consider the specific plans and all the environmental issues. The Ranch’s track record on EIS accuracy and completeness has been pretty iffy to date.

    It is hard to have any confidence in the Ranch after Big Wind and Peter Nicholas and obscene water rates. Can we trust them to control our electricity as well? Will they threaten to cut it off sometime in the future to force higher rates on us? We can’t expect the PUC to protect us so we need some enforceable guarantees.

    • molokainews says:

      Paul: If this was Molokai Ranch applying for this project I would have the same lack of confidence. But in this case Molokai Ranch is simply the landlord and Princeton will be responsible for implementation. You’re right, the devil is in the details so let’s examine the details as a community and see if this innovative proposal has something positive to offer.

  3. kalaniua ritte says:

    as long as we go through a process like the laau developement…we had a small meeting wit the ranch about this…

  4. Paul says:

    As long as the process is transparent to the whole community…

  5. Paul says:

    In fine print at the bottom of the IkehuMolokai.com web page see the following, especially the second sentence:

    “Moloka‘i Ranch and Princeton Energy Group offer this forward-looking statement in published material for the renewable energy project on Moloka‘i as a vision for the community. The content is valid as of the publishing date, and parties are not under any obligation to update this summary with new conditions, changes or unexpected occurrences that happen to affect the statement afterwards.”

  6. Haole Da Mushman says:

    That is a whole lot of promises they make for less than a 30% discount.

    Considering the cost would be in the tens of millions, it makes far more sense to take that money and purchase PV for individual homes.

    Do the math: On a $200 power bill, assuming they will come in their promised prices, you would save $58/month.

    If you have a $15,000 PV system, that bill goes down to $17. Saving you $183/month, which more than pencils out if you finance the PV system.

    So island-wide, say there are 4000 homes, it would cost $60 million dollars to P/V the island (ignoring the cost of upgrading the grid to handle it, which is another several million dollars).

    Instead, these people who do not come from here want to come and change the landscape and the nature of the island.

    Not only will the landscape look radically different, but what will happen to the hunting grounds that surround the reservoirs up on the mountain? How big will these water driven power plants be?

    Since this water is now a power source, the lines and reservoirs will have to be fenced, and the threat of a stray bullet or a cheeky uncle piercing the lines in protest will mandate cameras, and much greater security.
    In addition there will have to be new high voltage power lines installed on the mountain to run down to the distribution point.

    Beware the man who comes bearing gifts with one hand, he often has a hammer to beat you down hidden in the other hand.

    This deal smells.

    • molokainews says:

      Agreed, individual PV systems would offer far greater savings. But given that MECO feels the Kaunakakai circuit has reached reached its penetration limit on renewable energy that is a problem.

      An even bigger problem is that individual PV systems still rely on other sources for cloudy days and nighttime power. This solution is 100 percent renewable energy 24/7, 365 days a year. Before we dismiss this innovative proposal I think we owe it to Molokai to hear Princeton’s responses to some of the issues that have been raised.

  7. steve says:

    100% renewable energy partially used to desal water- anybody agree?

    • agree! in addition to full desal, i’d add the creation of brackish water that can be used for ag purposes. Both of these actions would leave more water in the streams and waterfalls.

      (no need for anyone to start a discussion on what kind of ag is good ag and what kind is bad ag)

      • Haole Da Mushman says:

        “…leave more water for the streams and waterfalls.”

        I love it when someone makes a comment opining about something that they know nothing about. It is both sad and funny, the two emotions of life.

        If you think water is being siphoned off of streams and waterfalls for the bulk of Molokai (Waiaulua, Wailau and a few other relatively small consumers of water excluded), you are dearly misinformed.

        Our water comes from wells that are drawn from a lens of freshwater that sits above the brackish water that sits above the saltwater in the aquifers that penetrate our very porous island. The water we drink today is water that has been filtered through the island in a process that takes more than a decade.

        There is no shortage of water here, merely a shortage of available water. Though, drilling the deep artesian wells is HUGELY expensive and then you have to very carefully manage the pumping across the fresh water lens, otherwise it is pierced and brackish water comes in and sours the well for some time.

        When it comes to DeSal plants, look at the places that use them, they have huge reserves of oil cash, vast deserts that demand more water and the dicatorships required to make such things work.

        Solar power DeSal plant on molokai I am afraid is both far fetched from apolitical standpoint and poorly researched from a practical standpoint.

        2 Ears. 1 mouth. Use them in proportion and the world will be saved.

        • steve says:

          against the ikehu project from the start? (“this deal smells)

          against the idea of desal? (“HUGELY expensive artesian wells” vs. (desal “poorly researched from a practical standpoint”)

          make me think you could change your id the haole de caveman.

          try keep an eye on what uncle larry is doing next door.

  8. Paul says:

    There is really a great potential for good in the basic proposal. By the time the money guys get through with it, who can say what the actual benefit is, or the damages inflicted. We need to carefully and rationally dissect the detail, if and when it becomes available.
    The proposed savings to MECO over fossil fuel is about 6 cents / kwh according to Princeton’s proposal. On a 350 kwh monthly bill that is only about a $21 savings IF MECO were to pass it all back to the customer…how likely is that? With the legal weasel words already on their page, standard boilerplate or not, the suits have a lot of room.
    One fact shines through…they need to move within the next 16 months or so to get the pot of free federal money that makes it worthwhile to them. Is the long term picture truly sustainable or is it like big wind…sustainable only with big subsidies?
    We should give it a chance but only if they give us full disclosure to evaluate the pros and cons.

  9. kalaniua ritte says:

    i agree wit da mush man…

    • Steve Morgan says:

      As someone who lives entirely off the grid, when evaluating cost structure, keep in mind that there is a life time to solar panels, typically 15 years and at the 10 to 15 year stage efficiency deteriorates. If it is a stand alone system (off the grid) there is also a certain amount of maintenance required. Without proper maintenance batteries deteriorate rapidly and are costly to replace. It’s not complicated but how people take care of their other home resources may determine how they care of their PV system…. Up front capitol is another big issue.

      • Steve Morgan says:

        Scratch what I previously said. I was referring to the original panels we installed almost 30 years ago. It seems that the standard warranty now guarantees an 80% out put load at 25 years. That is an incredible improvement from the past. After 25 years?

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