Undersea Cable Still On the Table for Some Islands
State and federal energy officials got a clear message from Molokai residents who voiced their continued opposition to a potential undersea transmission cable in Hawaii that would transport energy interisland.
“I’m totally pro-renewable energy which is why I’m very concerned and upset by this document,” said Molokai resident and energy expert Mike Bond, referring to the Hawaii Clean Energy Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). “The one thing that concerns me the most is the tacit acceptance of the undersea cable… I think the cable is a disaster — it’s hyper-costly, and in my view, a political, corporate scam.”
The PEIS is a 1,000-page-plus document that analyzes potential environmental impacts associated with a wide variety of clean energy technologies and activities across the state. Molokai residents had the opportunity to offer their comments on the draft document two weeks ago when energy planners visited the island to receive input.
“We aren’t looking at specific projects, we’re looking at potential environmental impacts of a wide range of projects and technologies that would help the state meet its energy goals,” said Jane Summerson, National Environmental Policy Act Document Manager with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) established by the state and federal government in 2008 set a goal of shifting from heavy dependence on fossil fuels to 70 percent clean energy by 2030– a combination of 40 percent from renewable energy generation and 30 percent from energy efficiency and conservation measures. In 2010, the state announced preparation of a PEIS for the so-called Big Wind project, which would have included utility-scale wind projects on Molokai and Lanai, the energy from which would have been sent to Oahu via undersea cable.
Based on the feedback from statewide scoping meetings that criticized the project, however, Summerson said the DOE went back to the drawing board and created a new PEIS that would include a broad range of potential projects and considerations throughout Hawaii.
“We’ve long said if there’s significant community opposition to any particular project, we don’t want to see it happen,” said Mark Glick, Hawaii’s state energy administrator, in an interview after the meeting. “I think our record speaks for itself — we’re the ones that reversed this process — we’re a big part of the reason why this has shifted [away from Big Wind.]”
In the fall of 2012, Summerson and others visited Molokai to gather input on how to shape the new, so-called Hawaii Clean Energy PEIS, and two weeks ago, they came back to gather comments on the draft document, released in April.
“[The PEIS] is to be used by decision-makers, developers and communities in developing strategies, and for general public to better understand what technologies are, what are impacts and how you can participate in a more informed manner,” Summerson told Molokai attendees at the Kaunakakai School Cafeteria.
The lengthy PEIS document addresses 31 clean energy technologies and activities grouped into five categories: energy efficiency, distributed renewable energy technologies, utility-scale renewable energy technologies, alternative transportation fuels and modes, and electrical transmission and distribution. Summerson added that 17 resources areas are covered, ranging from biological resources, to the impact to cultural and historical sites, as well as health and safety.
“This process does not eliminate the need for a project-specific environmental review for any proposed project,” Summerson said.
She also stressed that the PEIS does evaluate some types of projects as examples of what types of implementation and impacts may be considered, but it does not use actual energy projects currently being proposed.
Molokai resident and testifier Peggy Lucas Bond challenged that claim, pointing to a cable between Maui and Oahu discussed in the PEIS.
“The selection of the Maui-Oahu grid-tie project seems to imply that the state’s desire to move forward with this project is valid,” said Lucas Bond. “Although the draft states that this representative project is not intended to reflect known or planned project, the reality is that this project is before the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. The draft goes so far as to agree that the grid-tie is ‘in the public interest.’ How can a project whose costs will certainly raise rates and have massive environmental impacts be ‘in the public interest?’”
Glick said afterward the undersea cable docket is currently being considered by the Public Utilities Commission [PUC] and he expects their decision within about a month. He said by essentially combining the renewable resources of Maui and Oahu and connecting the two island grids would provide grid stability and fuel savings from being able to shut off some of the diesel generators on either island. Through more efficient utilization of resources alone, Glick said the project “would pay off the cable by itself.”
If approved, the undersea cable would run between Lanai and Molokai. Glick said the state is already working with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which encompasses the area. He added the cable would “have to meet very stringent requirements.”
Many Molokai testifiers voiced deep concern for the environment and engendered species should the cable move forward. Others remained unconvinced of its economic benefit.
“The implementation of deep water cables… not only hinders reliability by adopting an ‘all-your-eggs-in-one-basket’ philosophy, but also ignores the order to provide electricity at an affordable cost because the ratepayer and taxpayer foot the bill,” said Greg Kahn in his testimony.
While officials could not respond to comments, Glick said afterward that the cable would be only one of many solutions implemented under the state’s vision.
“We need to do it as an integrated system… that includes grid modernization, geothermal, biomass, hydro, wind and [solar]… smart inverters, battery technologies [and] cheaper fuels to bring down prices,” he said. “We think it takes all of those approaches to maximize our potential under a diverse scenario.”
Regardless of the state’s intentions, Molokai residents remained mostly focused on one thing: opposition to the potential of an undersea cable.
“I think Molokai has stated loud and clear our stance on the cable and we oppose it,” said Kanohowailuku Helm, president of energy group I Aloha Molokai.
Glick said despite the potential for a Maui to Oahu cable, “it is certainly not a consideration for Molokai.”
“We wouldn’t wish that to happen,” he said, adding that both Molokai Ranch and Lanai owner Larry Ellison have stated they are not interested. “I said long before that utility-scale solutions on Lanai or Molokai wasn’t desirable — we didn’t need that to reach our goal.
“I know that’s going to be hard to sink in for everybody given all the pain and suffering that they’ve dealt with and very understandably so, but those things aren’t going to happen,” he said.
In the meantime, Glick praised the state’s progress toward its goals so far. By the end of 2015, Hawaii had set a benchmark of 15 percent renewable energy generation. That goal has already been surpassed, he said — by 2013, the state was already at more than 30 percent.
Currently in the public review process of the draft PEIS, comments gathered will then be analyzed and reviewed, with additional analysis conducted if necessary. The agencies will prepare the final PEIS, followed by decision-makers considering the alternatives and announcing their conclusions.
“[The PEIS is] meant for anyone who’s going to be engaged in this energy revolution… and hopefully guide them on how to engage more respectfully and responsibly,” said Glick.
A complete version of the draft PEIS can be found on hawaiicleanenergypeis.com.
Comments must be submitted by July 17 by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, through the website hawaiicleanenergypeis.com, or by mail to Dr. Jane Summerson, Ph.D., U.S. Dept. of Energy – NNSA, P.O. Box 5400, Bldg. 401 KAFB East, Albuquerque, NM 87185.