Saving Hawaii: Guarding our State’s Future

By Megan Kauffman

Hawaii needs to use more clean energy. In order to do this the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative called for Hawaii to use 70 percent clean energy by 2030. To get the ball rolling Big Wind was proposed. Big Wind (a.k.a. Interisland Wind) is a 400 megawatt wind farm project that was originally supposed to be built on Molokai and/or Lanai. The power generated by the wind farm would be fed to Oahu by an undersea cable. It is now likely that Molokai will not be used because First Wind, Molokai’s wind farm developer, missed a deadline to show the Public Utilities Commission that it had acquired land to build on. Now the project would be built entirely on Lanai if it goes through, which could cover up to one quarter of the island. (http://friendsoflanai.org/2011/07/31/impacts-on-lanai/)

One thing is for sure- Hawaii needs a renewable source of energy. According to a report done by Civil Beat on the Big Wind project, “Hawaii relies on fossil fuels more than any other state. Depending on fluctuating oil prices, Hawaii spends $6 billion to $7 billion a year (and more than $8 billion in 2008 when oil prices hit $147 a barrel), and the cost of electricity in Hawaii is more than double the U.S. average. For every 10 percent increase in world oil prices, there is a 0.5 percent reduction in the state’s GDP.” (http://www.civilbeat.com/topics/big-wind/) 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy comes from oil, so it’s understandable that our energy bills are some of the highest in the country. If the construction of the Big Wind project were to move forward it is likely to have serious effects on the environment of Lanai as well as our ocean environment (because of the undersea cable). The project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) admits that the undersea cable will be laid crossing into a humpback whale sanctuary and could impact that as well as damage other ecosystems in the cable’s path. Expansion into some coral reef areas are quite possible. The EIS also states that, “Critical habitat exists for 37 plant species on Lanai, and zones of designated critical habitat occur in the program area.” Hawaii doesn’t have a whole lot of acreage so damaging these critical habitats for our plants and animals will leave them with nowhere to grow and thrive, contributing to extinction. There will be effects to several of Hawaii’s endangered flying animals because of the wind towers. These species include the Hawaiian petrel, Newell’s shearwater, Hawaiian stilt and the Hawaiian hoary bat. As stewards of this unique land we need to do our best to avoid doing things that are going to harm our already delicate ecosystem. At the same time we must continue to search tirelessly for an energy alternative for our state.

This is an urgent situation that could impact the future of our islands negatively if we do nothing to oppose hasty movements made by profit hungry developers who have no vested interest in the wellbeing of our land. There are several elections going on right now that will put people into office that have the power to be a voice for the citizens of their districts and make a difference in the decisions that are being made about Hawaii’s energy future. Hawaiian Electric Company continues to raise our electric bills because oil is no longer easy to get and more complicated drilling methods (think fracking) are being used to get it, which drives up the price of oil as well as our energy bills. Wind power is not bad, after all Denmark does extremely well with it and is on track to owe 50% of its energy to that power source by 2025. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/26/wind-energy-denmark)  However, wind isn’t the answer for everybody, especially on an island with less land than even tiny Denmark has. Hawaii has several other sources for clean energy including solar energy (we’ve got tons of that!), wave energy, geothermal and ocean thermal conversion technology (OTEC). Many Hawaii residents have already converted to solar energy for their homes, reducing their electric bills by hundreds of dollars every month. Geothermal energy is a really exciting option for Hawaii’s energy problems; however, scientists are still trying to figure out if some of the older volcanoes on Oahu and Maui have enough steam to give the islands a good, steady source of power. Hawaii island has enough geothermal energy to share, according to a 2006 report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (http://web.mit.edu/mitei/research/studies/documents/geothermal-energy/geothermal-energy-full.pdf) The problem would be getting that power to the other islands. OTEC would be an easier resource to tap because this technology runs a heat engine from the difference in temperature of the cooler deep water and the warmer shallow water of the ocean. So, as long as the sun shines and keeps the shallow water warmer than the deep water we have a renewable energy resource. In order to work OTEC must have a temperature difference of at least 25 degrees Celsius, which limits its use to tropical regions and makes it usable in Hawaii. (http://www.hawaiisenergyfuture.com/articles/Ocean_Thermal_Energy_Conv.html)

Right now the State of Hawaii is jumping the gun and rushing into spending a lot of money on a project that may or may not be the answer to our energy problems. More than likely the citizens of Hawaii will be disappointed when they see wildlife disappearing and becoming extinct because of careless decisions that were made. I understand the state wanting to rush to reach its goal of 70% clean energy by 2030 but that should not be done at the expense of the special place that we live in.

Not looking at the many good ideas that are possible for the energy needs of Hawaii is a mistake that we will all regret. Big Wind is not the best answer for our energy needs but we can have a bright energy future if we do our best to never accept second best for our state and continue to support the exploration of new technologies that will support our growing population in a clean and healthy way.

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3 Comments to “Saving Hawaii: Guarding our State’s Future”

  1. Hawaii has no other renewable energies right now that we can go to besides Solar and wind. It may cost us the land but it is for a purpose for us to use less oil fuel. It may cost a lot for the project but it is cheaper than paying for a barrel of oil. I agree with the wind farm because in Hawaii, it is the best location for renewable sources, we have wind, sun, and when they get a working model we have the waves. Since, the wind goes for 24 hours a day, Hawaii can guarantee energy all the time. If the wind farms aren’t being used then the land will be replaced by homes or something else.

  2. Hawaii’s Wind Farm project is honestly one of the best ideas yet. As the islands do not have many options of renewable energy resources. The project has its pros and cons but the acres of land that could possibly be used for the project would be used for great purposes. However it would be unfortunate to lose the many native plants and wildlife to the islands. HECO as an organization that provides an electric source for the whole isalnd chain, but this should not be a project that should easily give itself the rapid thought of production till it is clearly thought out well.

  3. Because of the high cost of fossil fuels and the environmental impact of these fuels, it would be a wise decision to use solar and wind energy. I do think though that the wind farms aren’t that attractive on the Hawaiian landscape, and they do take up massive amounts of space. I think that valuing our land is the most important ideal that we can hold on to, and we need to find an alternative energy source besides fossil fuel, but while wind farming is a good source, Hawaii’s landscape isn’t made for such a massive project.

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