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Planning for Energy Resilience

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

A Molokai-initiated energy plan is forming that would increase the island’s renewable energy, sustainable emergency preparedness capabilities and strengthen infrastructure. Facilitated by Sust’ainable Molokai’s Clean Energy Hui, the Molokai Community Energy Resilience Action Plan (CERAP) has launched the planning process, identified priorities and begun looking at implementation and funding options. 

“Because Molokai doesn’t have much of an emergency plan, we’re all dependent on imported diesel so this is a priority for hardening our emergency response,” said Leilani Chow, Coordinator for the Clean Energy Hui. “Our number one priority was our water pumps. If we don’t get more diesel, we have seven days’ worth stored on island, and once the electricity stops, we only have seven days’ worth of water stored in the tanks. So we want to make all of our water tanks independent and hooked up to renewable energy sources so if we stopped getting [diesel] we’d still be able to get water.”

The CERAP also prioritizes backup power generation to first responders located at the hospital, fire stations and the police station, as well as critical services including the island’s emergency shelters, harbor, airport and wastewater facilities. 

The plan offers a variety of options to achieve these goals, such as solar panels floating on Kualapu’u Reservoir that would both mitigate evaporation of valuable water resources and provide an expansive space for a solar installation. Pumped hydro as an energy storage solution is also being considered. This method would use two reservoirs to pump water uphill during the day when solar energy is being generated, then flow downhill during the night to generate continued electricity. This method is similar to a large battery in that it allows energy to be released over time and increases the usability of energy generation from solar panels, which can only produce power when the sun is shining. 

In the realm of distributed and decentralized energy generation, priorities extend to innovative solutions such as community-scale solar grids with battery backup. Imagine having four strategically positioned solar grids, like those envisioned for Mana’e, Kaunakakai, Ho’olehua, and Maunaloa. These sustainable energy hubs, seamlessly interconnected to the island-wide energy grid, are designed not only to contribute collectively but also to operate independently when needed. If you’re interested in exploring cutting-edge solar battery solutions, you can find more information at Dragonsbreathsolar.co.uk.

“The past two years, we’ve been doing our energy homework,” said Chow. “We’ve learned all about our grid, the economics, what our options are, what those options would look like on Molokai and starting to get into what the tradeoffs would be. This CERAP process right now is us getting the technical expertise to really understand those tradeoffs. What are realistically the costs on Molokai, the environmental impacts, the community impacts.”

The group is working closely with University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, Hawaiian Electric, the Public Utilities Commission 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. 

Molokai’s Audrey Newman, a sustainability advisor and member of the Clean Energy Hui, said currently, 14 percent of island’s energy demand is generated by about 500 rooftop solar installations on Molokai. 

She’s hopeful that once Molokai residents can reach consensus on how they want to move forward, funding and implementation will follow. 

“The advantage of this plan is we’re so small [as an island] that once the community agrees on what they want and how they want to shape their energy future, everything can move ahead very quickly,” she said. 

Since the beginning of this year, CERAP has been asking the community for input to help guide the process. They are currently holding discussions with focus groups such as emergency services, business owners, land managers and other priority stakeholders. Between Sept. 20 and 29, four district discussions will be held for community input with open-house booth formats in Mana’e, Kaunakakai, Ho’olehua and Maunaloa, with details to be announced. The team is looking to find out Molokai residents’ mana’o on what is important and what pieces might be missing. An island-wide event is then being planned in November, with a draft CERAP anticipated early in the new year. 

Look for more information in next week’s issue.


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