2012-09-11 20.59.04 960
Jane Summerson, US Department of Energy, addresses attendees at the Hawaii Clean Energy PEIS hearing Tuesday at McKinley High School

‘Big Wind’ is no more – or not

The state project to develop wind power on Moloka‘i and Lana‘i, connected to O‘ahu via an undersea cable, is being repackaged, and possibly replaced, by a new initiative.

Analysis Energy
Ikaika M Hussey

Formerly Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program: Wind, the new approach is broader, taking into consideration a wider range of solutions under the genericized name “Hawaii Clean Energy.”

The former focus on Lana‘i, and/or Moloka‘i?

“We’re not looking at any specific project, any specific site,” US Department of Energy spokesperson Jane Summerson said at the outset of Tuesday’s programmatic environmental impact statement meeting at McKinley High School in Honolulu.

The role of the federal Department of Energy is broad: to focus on “development of guidance to use in future funding decisions and other actions to support Hawai‘i.” Presumably, this means that US DOE will set policies, within which individual projects can be executed.

The “potential future action” may now include (from the Amended Notice of Intent):

Energy Efficiency

Buildings (new construction and retrofits)
Energy Conservation
Ground Source Heat Pumps
Initiatives and Programs (e.g., tax incentives and rebates)
Sea Water Cooling
Solar Water Heating

Distributed Renewables
Biomass (small systems)
Hydroelectric (small systems)
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Solar Photovoltaic Panels
Wind (small systems)

Utility-Scale Renewables
Municipal Solid Waste (including landfill gas)
Ocean Energy (wave and tidal)
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion
Solar Photovoltaic Arrays
Solar Thermal Systems
Wind (land-based)
Wind (offshore)

Alternative Transportation Fuels and Modes
Electric Vehicles
Hybrid Electric Vehicles
Liquefied Natural Gas
Mass Transportation

Electrical Transmission and Distribution
On Island Transmission
Land/Sea Cable Transition Sites
Undersea Cable Corridors
Smart Grid
Energy Storage

Political power

The breadth of the new initiative runs quickly into some very real power dynamics.

Hawaiian Electric Company, a subsidiary of publicly-traded Hawaiian Electric Industries, Inc., is the major player, with an interest in maintaining its position as the distributor and supplier of energy, with little incentives to radically modify their approach to energy technology.

The scope of potential energy vendors may not change much either; Pattern Energy, Bio-Logical Capital, First Wind, IDG, and precious few others are in position to be major suppliers of green energy to a new, trans-island power grid. This array of players won’t change much from the previous round of discussion.

And at the heart of the debate is O‘ahu’s self-sufficiency. Will the Gathering Place shift from consuming foreign oil, to our neighbor’s wind, steam, and biofuels?

A victory for the grassroots?

Sommersen specifically cited the strong negative response to ‘Big Wind’ from Lana‘i and Moloka‘i as a reason the new initiative looks at potential projects on all main islands except Kaho‘olawe and Ni‘ihau.

Of the 218 comments received regarding the proposed action, the majority centered on opposition to the proposed action. Standard examples are “To conclude, I’m against the wind farm and transmission cable,” “I am opposed to any development which would place at risk the resources we have,” and “No, we’re not for it.”

Whether the revamped energy project is a victory for the Lana‘i and Moloka‘i grassroots only in form, or in substance, will come down to what comes out of this process. Will it be a reformed ‘big wind?’ Or will it reflect community concerns?


Robin Kaye, a leader of grassroots organization Friends of Lana‘i, called this a “victory for rationality and the rule of law.” Via email, he said:

The State (DBEDT and the Governor) screwed up.  Federal law for Programmatic EISs require an exploration of “any reasonable alternative.”  They chose Big Wind or No Big Wind only, and were caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar—objections came from the grassroots, from Federal agencies and from other Hawaii state agencies.

So, yes, I see it as a terrific victory for grassroots.  I’ll bet few ever thought that this quiet neighbor island plantation town would voice such loud, rational and persistent objections to this irreparable destruction of our island.

Public comments on the programmatic EIS

Statewide hearings continue through September 20.

The Independent will publish, or link to postings elsewhere, of testimony on the PEIS, so as to give the broadest possible sense of the public conversation on energy. Please get in touch with us via email or post a comment below with a link to testimony. Alternately, you can set up a free account and post testimony on your own.