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Energy Efficiency on Molokai

By Sean M. Costello, Mechanical Engineer, President Hawaii Energy Consultants

I have been travelling to Molokai about every quarter from Oahu since May of 2008.  While there have been great strides made by the resilient residents of Molokai in installing solar water heaters, compact fluorescent lamps, and solar photovoltaic systems – it becomes increasingly apparent that the local electric utility has neglected the needs of the residents of Molokai for economically viable and sustainable electricity production. Access to the grid being denied for renewable energy systems is both irresponsible, and for the island of Molokai in my opinion, bordering on the unethical.

Since the local utility has been losing money providing 100% ! (yes, 100%) via diesel burning for production – perhaps it is time to demand that they diversify their fuel supply – or perhaps it is time for the local residents to band together to purchase MECO Molokai.  Since they are supposedly losing money every year – they should sell the rights to distribute electricity on Molokai for $1.  Yes, $1.  

Think about it, would you purchase a company that was losing money and not investing in its future for anything more?  The land that they own could easily be sold to recoup any costs they have tied up in their generation systems.  The residents of Molokai have long since paid for the existing transmission system (which is quite antiquated anyway).  It’s time to take the transmission lines back and start moving to a 100% renewable energy based system.  Water pumping operations could easily be pulled off-grid.  Houses could easily operate off-grid.  A small hydro system could easily provide power regulation services to stabilize the power quality.

On the west end Molokai has the highest level of solar radiation available in Hawaii.  On the east end Molokai has one of the best wind resource in the country.  Yes, not just the state, but in the whole country.  Why can’t the residents of Molokai band together, purchase the utility, operate it as a non-profit co-op, and develop renewable energy projects and export this energy ?  MECO has been bleeding this island for far too long and continues to neglect this island since the island is too small.

I recently met with the owner of Misake’s.  His electricity bill was exorbitant to say the LEAST.  Has anyone stepped in to offer him ideas about energy efficiency from the utility? I didn’t ask him, but I doubt it.  Has the utility offered him access to the grid so that he could develop a solar photovoltaic system on his roof ?  Not hardly.

It is very likely cheaper in the long-term for everyone on Molokai to go off-grid than it is to stay on MECO Molokai’s electricity supply.  In fact, why not ?  Everyone should just purchase a solar photovoltaic system and energy efficiency equipment and an uninterruptible power system and their cost of electricity would very likely go down for those individuals.

I urge the residents of Molokai to get together and demand to take back the electric utility.  There is plenty of solar and wind resource to operate on 100% renewable energy and everything can be backed up by pumped hydroelectric systems. 

In the meantime I urge everyone to invest in energy efficiency equipment.  If you don’t have solar hot water heating, a heat pump water heater is the next best alternative – it provides ultra-efficient air conditioning as well as water heating.  If you have an electric stove and cook a lot then an induction oven would very likely provide a sizeable reduction in your energy consumption.  If you use a lot of air conditioning, then a heat pump would cut your air conditioning cost in half and you could water your lawn with hot water instead of cold water and still save money.

The less energy you use the less profitable MECO becomes which would make them more inclined to sell their stake in Molokai.

I understand that Blue Planet recently came through and donated quite a few compact fluorescent lamps.  I applaud their efforts, but this isn’t enough.  I was just recently there on December 2nd to 3rd and saw incandescent lamps and old fluorescent lamps all over the place. 

My company is willing to offer an island-wide energy savings performance contract.  If there is enough collective demand for container’s worth of products we are willing to finance energy efficiency equipment such as LED lighting, heat pump water heaters, induction stovetops, and off-grid solar photovoltaic systems.  This works by looking at your past year’s worth of energy consumption which establishes a baseline of energy consumption and also installing a real-time energy measurement device such as an egauge (www.egauge.net).  We would collect data for a month or two.  Then let’s say your average electric bill is $200, we would come in and pay for the equipment that would provide energy efficiency.  Let’s say that afterwards your new bill is $100 providing a net savings of $100 – we would charge $50-80 for the savings.  This means your new total bill is $150-180 per month.  Typically the length of term is 2-3 years – at any point you’re welcome to purchase and own the system or after the term is up purchase the system for the then fair market value – or simply give it back.

Last, but not least, the entire island should think about farming crops that could produce either biodiesel or alcohol.  There is no reason to continue to import products when they can be produced on Molokai and the excess sold to the neighbor islands.  If anyone needs help with anything energy related feel free to email me at makanila@gmail.com

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