Wind Power Championed as Hawaii’s Future

Hawaii enters into historic renewable energy agreement.

By Catherine Cluett

Molokai could be a key component to a future of renewable energy in Hawaii. Last Monday, Governor Lingle announced an agreement that looks to wind power from either Lanai or Molokai to supply up to 400 megawatts of electricity to Oahu via undersea cable.

The agreement focuses on the Renewables for Oahu Project which calls for 1,100 megawatts of additional renewable energy, 700 of which will be implemented within five years. Oahu's current total energy capacity is 1,700 megawatts.

According to the initiative, in order to achieve substantially greater use of wind power on Oahu, where most of the electric power in the State is consumed, it is necessary to transmit the electricity by undersea cable. Initial focus of the plan is to connect a single wind developer from either Molokai or Lanai.

Several developers, including First Wind, have already proposed large-scale wind farms projects on Lanai and Molokai, ranging in size of up to 400 megawatts each. The developers are currently participating in a bidding process and their proposals will be reviewed for operational and cost efficiency.

The State agreement outlines the intention to eventually connect Maui, Lanai and Molokai to Oahu’s power grid. But such an expansive project may not be imminent. “It is understood that actual build-out of the inter-island cables will probably happen in stages,” the agreement states.

Hawaiian Electric has agreed to provide $100,000 in funding to model the Molokai grid and to make efficiency recommendations to residents. A similar program is already underway on Lanai through the Department of Energy.

"Buying energy from new renewable energy projects with prices that are not tied to the price of oil will also help provide more stable energy costs," said Constance Lau, president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Electric Industries, which also oversees Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu and Maui Electric Co. on Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

The Initiative also targets the ability to utilize wind, solar, ocean, geothermal and other renewable resources to meet the electricity needs of the ratepayers of the Hawaiian
Electric Companies.

Part of this effort includes a “pay as you save” style program for solar energy. Under this program, the utility can provide solar units to be installed on ratepayers’ residences. The unit is paid for through a “shared savings” approach using the ratepayer’s bill. At the end of 2008, Hawaiian Electric Companies will file an application with the PUC seeking approval to implement the program, with a goal of 2,500 annual installations.

“This agreement also includes measures to assist Hawaii consumers, providing options to help them reduce their electricity bills,” said State Consumer Advocate Catherine Awakuni.

In addition, the accord targets a decreased dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil by taking such measures as prohibiting the construction of any new coal plants in Hawaii. It also encourages the exploration of such options as biofuels, and incentive programs for clean energy steps like the use of electric cars.

These measures and more are included in the historical agreement between the Lingle administration, the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, the State Consumer Advocate, and the Hawaiian Electric Companies. The plan represents a monumental step in achieving Hawaii’s goal of 70 percent renewable energy use by 2030. The effort is part of the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative started in January between the State and the U.S. Department of Energy.

“This agreement reinforces that Hawai‘i is open for energy business,” said Ted Liu, director of the State Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism.  “It will require focused and upfront investment in order to get Hawai‘i off its dependence on imported oil, but in the long term, will lead to significant reductions in energy costs to Hawai‘i’s consumers.”

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