The Grid

SUBHEAD: A single-source for 24x7x365 5kwatt electric service to every residence in Hawaii is not possible.  

By Juan Wilson on 19 January 2011 for Island Breath - 
Image above: Control room of TVA nuclear power plant. From (

 To save ourselves we must downsize, decentralize and reduce consumption. The providers of the Grid have another mantra "Centralization, Continuity and Growth!"

I take exception to KIUC plans for large scale hydroelectric projects on the Hanalei, Wailua and Makaweli Rivers. The federal Rural Utility Service is putting up a total of $110 million of loan guarantees for Kauai powergrid improvements. There is $73 million for hydro electric. It seems unlikely that KIUC will not fumble the ball.

KIUC was unable to bring about a retrofit an existing sugarcane operation into a biofuel power station. (see The remaining $37 million is for KIUC to build a fuel fired generator in Kapaia. They are calling is a "10 MW naphtha/biodiesel" plant. Another description might be a diesel turbine. Talk about green smoke.

 As far as federal loan guarantees go remember what happened to the Maritime Administration $180 million loan guarantee for the Superferry? The state of Hawaii was out more than $40 million when the Superferry operation tanked.

Moreover, given the pathetic record of regulation, maintenance and repair of Kauai's earth dams and levies by our county, state and federal and private agencies, it is unlikely that if such a project could be built that it would not be a threat to those below the site. KIUC has shown a penchant for blowing green smoke up the public's skirt along with an unwillingness to re-examine their mission in light of reality.

In fact, the vast majority of proposed alternative energy projects proposed for Hawaii seem to be frantic desperate efforts to maintain the status quo. These power utilities see Peak Oil as the writing on the wall, but are unwilling to change their mission to accommodate the future.

Instead the plans are to go bigger and more centralized with "alternative" sources. Hawaii Electric Company (HECO) is the owner of Maui Electric (MECO) and the Big Isand's Hawaii Electric Light (HELCO). HECO using a "subsidiary" company called Ku'oko'a, led by Richard Ha, is attempting to create a unified state wide power grid that would use generate power with wind, wave and geothermal heat. It in reality a strategy to satisfy the needs of Oahu (with 70% of Hawaii's residents). How?

By creating alternative power on outer islands that would use underwater ocean cables from Big Island, Maui, Lanai and Molokai to feed Oahu. The daunting Kauai channel may even be under consideration to link up those proposed hydroelectric dams. This master plan may have worked 35 years ago with the resources and deep pockets that prevailed then.

Now, only a few years into the Great Recession, such plans seem out of reach for a dimming American economy. Some of these individual projects look more like schemes than plans. Schemes to take on more debt public debt for the benefit of private investors.

Schemes of public relations and high consultation fees. Some of these projects are likely to be destructive to our environment in new and original ways. Don't be surprised if, as the situation becomes more desperate, we hear cries for a nuclear power plant to be built on each island to provide the power we desire.

What KIUC and HECO refuse to deal with is the nub of the problem facing us… profound change. It will be difficult, but the rural outer islands will be more flexible in powering down in the face of rising energy costs (as I write oil is about $91/barrel).

Oahu is where the real problem exists. In terms of self sufficiency Oahu is overpopulated by at least a factor of three. Without future cheap oil Oahu will not be able to provide people the water, food or power that they need. And cheap oil is a thing of the past.

A diaspora of a half a million people may be needed to get down to a survivable population on Oahu. An negative impact on the outer islands can be anticipated one way or another. Investing now in stand-alone local decentralized systems is the key to future resilience and continuation of services.

As the Great Recession grinds on, and the middle-class is eviscerated, it is unlikely that we'll be able to afford a single-source for 24x7x365 5kwatt electric service to every residence in Hawaii.

It is quite possible we will experience what Lebanon, Iraq, Haiti and many other places have experienced for years... intermittent power and brownouts on a daily basis. You will have to supplement what electricity you consume or go without. Get moving while you can.

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