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Love and hot air

According to published reports, Hawaiian Electric Co. CEO Constance Lau compared the agreement that will bring wind-generated energy to Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Maui and O‘ahu to getting married: despite some questions and uncertainty about the future, you know you’re doing the right thing. In contrast, Henry Curtis of Life of the Land Hawai‘i called it "a bunch of hot air."

Aside from reminding us that Connie Lau is a bit of a romantic and Henry Curtis a bit of a punster, the competing views frame the gist of the discussion that invariably arises when we try to make big changes.

The basic outlines of the agreement would support wind-power generators on Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, with an underwater cable linking those islands to Maui,O‘ahu and even the Big Island. HECO estimates that the system could provide up to a third of O‘ahu’s power requirements, saving billions of dollars in fuel costs and significantly reducing our state’s dependence on imported oil. That money would stay in the local economy, instead of being sent overseas.

I would also hope that Moloka‘i residents will able to fill many of the jobs that accompany the task of managing a wind farm on the island, whether those jobs are technical or supportive in nature. And, as I’ve pointed out before, while the presence of wind generators will have some visual impact, they are more environmentally friendly than high-density hotel or residential developments.

So the agreement could mean environmental preservation, an economic boost, jobs, and cheap electricity. What’s not to love?

Experience shows that for every action, there is an opposite and equal criticism. An alternative always exists. The media quotes Mr. Curtis as saying that, "consumers will be a lot happier if they put solar panels on their roofs." He may be right. While the wind power proposal shifts HECO from being an energy producer to an energy broker, it still leaves them in command of the means of distribution; we will still have an electric grid to deal with. Individual power generation eliminates our collective reliance on centralized generation and the potential for market leverage and distribution failures.

Still, the best is the enemy of the good. A plan based on individual generation capacity assumes that everyone who wants to install solar panels will be able to pay for them, or will live in a location suitable for solar power. Those who cannot afford solar panels or cannot use them would remain at the mercy of centrally generated, fossil fuel-based electricity. In other words, those with the least economic leverage would face the greatest financial burden. That is unacceptable.

I believe that the agreement between the state and HECO to develop wind farms and establish Moloka‘i as a hub for energy distribution will be a boon to the island and its residents. The next key element, however, will be our willingness to continue to work for the elements of the plan that offer the greatest benefits to the people. If power is being generated on Moloka‘i, residents should enjoy the lowest rates. If jobs are available, they should go to residents as well. I, for one, am willing to make that commitment, and use this as a path toward improvement, instead of another opportunity for criticism.

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