Molokai’s Bright Energy Future
By Peggy Lucas Bond
“Solar is the strongest renewable energy resource for Molokai,” concludes the just-released Life of the Land report, “Wayfinding: Navigating Hawaii’s Energy Future,” by Henry Curtis. “Today Molokai has all of the resources it needs to become energy self-sufficient and to stop exporting cash for transportation fuel and electricity.” Solar water heaters for every residence should be the first step, the report states, followed by concentrated solar power and photovoltaic panels supplemented with micro-wind and hydroelectric.
The Molokai chapter of the report has been posted on the I Aloha Molokai (IAM) website, IAlohaMolokai.com. It suggests that Molokai could sever its relationship with MECO by creating a Molokai Energy Cooperative, or by following the Kauai model and becoming its own county and establishing a municipally-owned utility (MOU). Discussing the full mix of renewable energies available on Molokai, it adds, “Molokai could rely on a combination of hydro, biomass/biofuel and batteries for half of its power generation and solar/micro-wind for the other half.”
Undoubtedly Molokai has the sun resources for sufficient solar energy and the land as well. The general rule is that five acres of rooftops or flat land are needed to generate 1 megawatt (MW) of solar energy. Molokai’s peak consumption is estimated at 5.7 MW, which would be about 30 acres of photovoltaic panels, assuming 100 percent efficiency. Molokai has far more rooftops and flat land than this.
Curtis says micro-wind is the second strongest resource for Molokai, not large industrial wind projects, which are very expensive and inefficient, and have enormous negative impacts on human health and welfare, lifestyle, property values, and environmental, cultural and social resources.
The variable solar and micro-wind could both be firmed up “(or fluctuations smoothed out) with hydropower. Molokai could install inline hydro facilities on its energy delivery systems (fresh water, irrigation water) and use its large lakes/reservoirs for pumped storage hydro.” Additionally, “It is probably reasonable to assume that micro-wind and solar generated energy stored as Pumped Storage Hydro, used in combination with in-stream hydro, could supply a significant portion of Molokai’s energy load.”
Beyond Molokai, the report concludes that the state of Hawaii could and should generate 90 percent of its electricity from distributed renewable energy resourced by 2030. The distributed energy model is the opposite of the existing HECO/MECO model of centralized energy, with huge, expensive and inefficient power plants or industrial wind projects connected to long transmission lines and cables.
With a chapter on each of the major Hawaiian Islands plus Niihau and the military, the report is well-documented and thoughtful, containing a wealth of information on conservation, energy efficiency, energy resources, batteries and storage. Curtis’ parting words in the report are, “Golden rule: the community knows best.”
The complete Report is available on the Life of the Land website, lifeofthelandhawaii.org/Distributed_Generation/Wayfinding_Navigating_Hawaii’s_Energy_Future.
Henry Curtis has been the Executive Director of Life of the Land since 1995. He has a BA in Economics from Queens College, City University of New York. He provides expert testimony on ocean power, biofuels, and energy. He is committed to Hawaii’s energy self-reliance and well-being and is motivated by the values of aloha `aina, malama `aina and his love for Hawaii Nei.
Peggy Lucas Bond is a resident of Molokai and an Ocean and Electrical Engineer. She has worked for the University of Hawaii Marine Resources Department, the National Science Foundation, on several large undersea and electrical projects, and served as the engineer aquanaut on the TEKTITE II undersea project.