Beyond Big Wind
Scope of clean energy initiatives broadens
When the Wind Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) scoping meeting was conducted in February of last year, many Molokai residents stood outside of the Mitchell Pauole Center waving signs that protested the state’s proposed Big Wind and undersea cable initiatives. From the comments that were made then, the panel, made up of both state and federal officials, returned to the drawing board and drafted instead the Hawaii Clean Energy PEIS, which promises to analyze not only wind energy, but a broader range of renewable energy initiatives and technologies, according to the initiative’s website. The goal is to meet 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs through energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2030.
“We don’t want to see any project move forward without overwhelming community support, [especially] if it is deemed inconsistent with…cultural and environmental impacts,” said Mark Glick, State of Hawaii’s Energy Office administrator.
The meeting on Molokai, held last Wednesday at the Mitchell Pauole Center, was the seventh out of eight public scoping meetings held across the state.
“This process is not looking at any specific project proposal,” said Jane Summerson, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance Officer for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). “We are not analyzing any specific site or location; this PEIS does not in any way eliminate the need for environmental review by every specific project that might later be proposed.”
What the document will do is provide a broad “menu” of information about potential cultural and environmental impacts for the DOE, the state, the community and, hopefully, future project developers, said Summerson. The PEIS will evaluate a range of concerns, including cultural and historical resources, threatened and endangered species, water resources, socioeconomics and land use.
The DOE will be accepting written comments until Oct. 9. They expect to have a finalized draft PEIS available for a public comment period “mid- to late- next year,” according to Summerson.
Five Categories of Clean Energy
Instead of focusing only on wind energy, as the PEIS did in 2011, the Hawaii Clean Energy PEIS spans five separate categories of clean energy initiatives: energy efficiency (conservation and reduction), distributed renewables (small-scale technologies located near the point of use), utility-scale renewables (generate large quantities of electricity for delivery to grid as with the Big Wind project), alternative transportation fuels and modes (biofuels and electric vehicles) and electrical transmission and distribution (such as an undersea cable).
DOE representatives say the department is still open to suggestions from the community on additional energy efficiency and renewable energy activities or technologies, as well as information about potential environmental, cultural or socioeconomic impacts that should be considered.
“Each island must be made energy self-sufficient, and on neighbor islands, that means smaller, local production,” said Lance Anderson, who represented Friends of Lanai, a group similar to I Aloha Molokai (IAM) who opposes the development of industrial wind farms on neighbor islands. “Oahu must come to grips with its energy consumption…and we must keep Oahu’s energy gluttony from destroying our lands.”
Many Molokai residents echoed this stance – instead of spending billions of tax dollars developing unwanted wind farms or an inter-island undersea cable, efforts should be redirected towards developing small-scale renewable energies. Some suggested solar panels be subsidized and installed on every house, others promoted the use of biofuels. One resident, Sybil Lopez, went so far as to light a bowl of ethanol on fire during the meeting to illustrate how clean it burns compared to gasoline. As proof that ethanol is a viable alternative to foreign oil, she said her 2005 Toyota Tacoma currently runs on 100 percent sugarcane ethanol.
“I get my electricity from solar panels and I get my water from the stream,” said east end resident Gandharva Mahinahou Ross. “I never paid a utility bill in my life and I think all of Molokai could…investigate renewable type energies to become 100 percent sustainable.”
Summerson acknowledged that the issue of self-sustainability has come up not only on Molokai, but also on all the other islands they had visited.
“[Self-sustainability] is clearly an issue of great importance to all the islands and we will be looking into it,” she said.
‘A Document Without Teeth’
Many attendees raised concerns that the PEIS lacked “teeth,” or the authority to enforce potential developers to abide by the information in the document.
“Because it is a planning and feasibility study, it doesn’t stop anything else from happening,” said Summerson. “It’s informational.”
While she said that the DOE has no authority to require developers to participate in the PEIS process or rely on the results, the plan will guide decisions about which projects receive grants or funding.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs Molokai Trustee Collette Machado predicted a conflict of interest between Molokai residents and wind developer Pattern Energy, which is already moving forward with plans to build 90 industrial wind turbines across 17 square miles of Molokai, according to ialohamolokai.com.
“Pattern Energy is going to come in and convince you their package is best –and we have to compete with them,” she told DOE officials.
The DOE is accepting comments on the PEIS until Oct. 9. You may submit them electronically at hawaiicleannergypeis.com, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax to 808-541-2253 or mail to Jim Spaeth, U.S. DOE, 30 Ala Moana Blvd, P.O. Box 50247, Honolulu, HI 96850-0247.