IAM cancels third annual Alternative Energy Festival over concerns with neutrality and transparency of Ikehu Molokai project
I Aloha Molokai News Release
IAM regrets to announce the cancellation of its third Alternative Energy Festival, scheduled for Jan. 14. We had hoped once again to host vendors, speakers, and vigorous public discussion of energy options for our island, and our state. Recent confidential negotiations between Molokai Ranch, California wind developer Princeton Energy, Maui County and Maui Electric Company, however, have cast doubt on our ability to keep the festival as transparent and neutral as the previous two.
These negotiations concern the Ikehu Molokai project, a proposed 25-megawatt solar farm with pumped hydro backup, to be placed on Ranch land above and below Manila Camp. While the project sounds promising, many basic questions remain unanswered.
Moreover, Maui County’s premature endorsement of the project, before any public meetings have been held, risks giving project developers false confidence about community buy-in. According to the Dec. 4 issue of The Molokai Dispatch, Princeton Energy CEO Steve Taber “does not plan to hold a meeting with the entire community.” Certain members of the negotiating parties are already reported to be executing “non-disclosure agreements.”
(Update: Since this news release was written, Taber said that Princeton Energy will be holding an island-wide Molokai meeting to discuss this plan in greater detail some time in February. “community support is essential,” said Taber. Check Ikehumolokai.com website for meeting announcement.)
Among the questions that need answering: What would be the impact on Manila Camp? Has anyone asked those residents what they think? Why didn’t Maui County schedule public meetings to explain the project and gather input before they endorsed it? This is, after all, the whole point of bottom-up planning, which was the goal of IAM’s Molokai Clean Energy Initiative. This is also the whole point of our Resolution, HCR 189, which endorsed bottom up planning statewide and received unanimous support from our Legislature.
How will this project affect MECO’s Molokai grid? What upgrades would be needed? What would they cost? Who would pay for them? How will this project impact our grid’s ability to accept more residential solar? Can this project provide island scale emergency backup? What guarantee do we have that this new wind company will not purchase Pattern Energy’s entitlements and revive the industrial wind/undersea cable plan? This project does switch us to renewable energy. In theory, it also promises to reduce our rates; but in practice, with projected and probable costs, it’s hard to see how rates won’t go even higher.
IAM has never opposed appropriate development for the Ranch or for Molokai. We would love to support a project like this, if it checks out and wins broad community support. We have simply insisted that large projects follow an open, public and democratic process. This isn’t much to ask. Securing community buy-in first clearly saves time and money down the road. The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, for example, has understood our request, and has reshaped its proposed battery project accordingly. The Princeton project could also be a winner, but only if its drivers are willing to brake for democracy.