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Molokai Energy Planning Up for Review

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Molokai’s current energy ciruits and usage. Graphic courtesy of Molokai Clean Energy Hui.

The first phase of a revolutionary Molokai community renewable energy planning process is wrapping up. The Molokai Community Energy Resilience Action Plan, facilitated by Sust’ainable Molokai’s Clean Energy Hui, began taking shape in January 2022 and over the past year and a half, its community-driven goals have garnered immense input and support, creating a road map for the island’s energy future. 

“Our vision is to develop a portfolio of clean energy projects that achieve 100 percent renewable energy for Molokai that are technically feasible and economically feasible… in line with our community’s values, our lifestyle, our goals, and are supported by the community,” said Leilani Chow, coordinator of the Molokai Clean Energy Hui. “And the way that we are getting to that is by making sure that this process is community initiated, community led and community driven.”

Later this month, the draft plan will be submitted to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. 

In June 2021, at the Clean Energy Hui’s request, the PUC agreed to halt active energy proposals for Molokai so the community could lead its own planning process, which became the Molokai Clean Energy Resilience Action Plan, or CERAP. That means that instead of outside energy developers or officials proposing projects they think are good for Molokai, the community itself is taking the lead and driving the process.

Now, with phase one of the CERAP nearing completion, Molokai’s own energy planners of the Clean Energy Hui are asking the community to take one last look at the draft plan by June 16, before it’s turned over the PUC. 

“Our hope is that PUC will take this report on board and use it to guide future work and planning on Molokai,” said Audrey Newman, a sustainability advisor and member of the Clean Energy Hui. 

Chow explained the document sends a clear message to the PUC and government officials: “These are the priorities of the community. These are our goals. This is how we need renewable energy to support us.”

“This has never been done before, so I can’t say for sure what the results will be,” she admitted. “I think like at the very least, this is a publicly filed report that shows you exactly how to do energy planning successfully on Molokai, how to engage the community, how to get the qualitative community expertise needed to make a project the best project it could possibly be.”

The group has worked closely with University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), Hawaiian Electric, the PUC and other officials to create a plan that is Molokai-driven and supported, while working in tandem with energy experts and planners to ensure the process can move forward smoothly. 

Former HNEI specialist Mark Glick has been a key part of providing expertise to the plan, and was recently named chief energy officer for the state. Newman described him as a huge technical resource to Molokai’s planning process, adding he demonstrated “he really would listen to a community.”

“The novel community-driven planning process undertaken by Molokai Clean Energy Hui and Sustainable Molokai shows promise as an effective method of self-determination and community empowerment,” said Glick. “It has been a challenging, but highly informative process involving a partnership of community residential and business interests, Hawaii’s academia and nonprofit community, and public sector at the state and county level.”

The CERAP focuses on emergency planning along in tandem with renewable energy, making the approach a holistic one. High priorities identified in the plan include protecting access to Molokai’s water sources in the case of power outages, providing backup power generation to first responders, and preserving electricity to critical services including the island’s emergency shelters, harbor, airport and wastewater facilities.

“The first priority that has not changed through all the consultation we have gotten is… getting renewable energy on our critical infrastructure, so we’re ready for disasters and we’re ready for power outages,” said Newman.

Distributed and decentralized energy generation has also been identified as a priority. Community members favor having community-scale solar grids with battery backup that could serve smaller areas of the island, capable of operating independently from the central grid. 

Newman said a west end community solar project may be the closest to becoming a reality. 

Ho’olehua homestead residents also expressed particularly strong interest in taking ownership of their energy needs. 

“They were really excited about the possibility of being able to produce their own energy and support each other,” said Chow. “They’re really into looking at solutions that make them more self-sufficient and more independent. And we want to support them with that.”

Currently, about 85 percent of Molokai’s energy is generated by diesel at Hawaiian Electric’s Pala’au Power Plant, while about 15 percent comes from rooftop solar. The State of Hawaii has set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 for the entire state, and Molokai may be on track to beat that objective. 

Along with an overview of Molokai’s energy usage, needs, community priorities and project proposals, the CERAP also offers action items for renewable energy policy changes on a broader level. 

“It shouldn’t fall on the community only to get this kind of support — we need support from our government and from our decision makers and our leaders to continue this kind of process and get the best results,” said Chow. 

Though Chow said she knows they can’t reach every resident of Molokai, she feels confident that the plan is representative of the community. Clean Energy Hui planners and Sust’ainable Molokai staff had more than 2,000 conversations with residents over the past year, collected 713 surveys about people’s goals for renewable energy, and participated in more than 30 focus groups and 16 community events to spread the word and gather input. 

“I feel like it has really been making sure that there’s something for everybody. [Whether] people want to connect to the grid or not connect to the grid… no matter what situation you’re in… there’s something for everybody and everybody is considered and taken care of,” said Sust’ainable Molokai Executive Director Tehani Kaalekahi. 

“I think that everyone who wanted to be engaged in this process had multiple opportunities to have a one on one conversation and have their very individual perspective included,” added Newman. 

Chow explained that though the document will soon be submitted to the PUC, the planning process is ongoing. 

“Yes, this is the final report but this is just capturing a snapshot of Molokai’s energy plan right now and we’re going to continue to update it as technology changes and community priorities change,” said Chow, adding continued review and updates will be part of the process.

A second phase of the CERAP process is planned next. It will offer a deeper dive to look at the tradeoffs on technical and economical approaches for implementation of specific renewable energy projects. 

Chow said being asked to be a panelist and energy speaker at various statewide events has opened her eyes to just how “game changing” Molokai’s planning process has been.  

“I’ve been operating in our Molokai community bubble and I didn’t realize how innovative and impactful this has been off of Molokai,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much further Molokai is than other communities in figuring out how community can be involved in energy planning…. So far, Molokai has been the only community that’s taken on the role of energy planners versus energy planning participants. I’m just so grateful to everyone who has participated in this process. The community said exactly how they wanted it to go and the community showed up in a major way — it’s so incredible. It’s just been so amazing and it’s really paid off.”

To review the CERAP and offer feedback, visit molokaicleanenergyhui.org.


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