Moloka`i Community Concerns Over Latest Energy Proposal
By Henry Curtis
I Aloha Moloka’i (IAM) issued a press release yesterday on the proposal by Moloka’i Ranch and the Princeton Energy Group to form a consortium called Ikehu Moloka`i which would make all of Moloka`i’s electricity from renewable sources.
“IAM has never opposed appropriate development for the Ranch or for Molokai. We would love to support a project like this, if it checks out and wins broad community support. We have simply insisted that large projects follow an open, public and democratic process. This isn’t much to ask. Securing community buy-in first clearly saves time and money down the road. The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, for example, has understood our request, and has reshaped its proposed battery project accordingly. The Princeton project could also be a winner, but only if its drivers are willing to brake for democracy.”
There are behind the scene actions occurring. Maui County is believed to have given its endorsement to the proposal. Some parties are reported to be executing “non-disclosure agreements.”
According to the Molokai Dispatch, Princeton Energy CEO Steve Taber “does not plan to hold a meeting with the entire community.”
The Solar Farm and Pumped Storage Hydroelectric are planned for Manila Camp. Has the developer met with the residents of Manila Camp? Are there alternative sites under consideration?
Princeton said they might use a vanadium battery instead of pumped storage hydroelectric. What impacts would that have?
Is Princeton engaged in top-down or bottom-up planning?
IAM believes in a bottom up approach. The Legislature passed IAM’s Resolution (HCR 189) which endorsed bottom up planning statewide and received unanimous support from our Legislature.
IAM has been holding monthly meetings with federal, state and county regulators, politicians, utilities, renewable energy companies and policy wonks. IAM is actively engaging the community with annual energy festivals.
Princeton proposes to make all Moloka’i electricity from renewable resources and sells it to MECO which would re-sell it to customers. If the electricity is 100% renewable then what happens if a customer installs a net metered solar system on their roof?
Would MECO accept it? Would the Public Utilities Commission allow it? Would Princeton expect a payment for their lower sales of renewable energy?
Princeton has said that under their scheme rates will go marginally down.
On-site solar installations currently cost 40-50% of the cost of grid-based electricity. The price of solar panels is expected to drop 5-7% a year for the next several years. Why would anyone favor being locked into a 20-30 year contract at rates perhaps marginally lower than they are today, when truly lower rates are around the corner?
Princeton Energy Group is a wind company. They build wind systems throughout the world. They are proposing wind farms in Mexico to feed California’s energy appetite.
How do they feel about the inter-island cable?
“We were on sidelines for the Big Wind project, but we were kind of offended by the project — it was way out of scale,” said Princeton Energy Group CEO Steve Tabor. “We said we’re interested in doing something smaller scale that addresses the needs of the island.”
Considering that Steve’s wife has been coming to Molokai for years, it is odd that they didn’t say something sooner. On the other hand, the Board members of Princeton are involved with numerous other wind companies and one of their Board members was the former President of the American Wind Energy Association.
So perhaps the after-the-fact, “we didn’t support Big Wind” is less than credible.
Meanwhile the State will not give up the idea of interlinking all of the islands. DBEDT favors AC cables between Moloka`i, Lana`i and Maui; and DC cables between O`ahu, Maui and the Big Island.
On Wednesday December 4, 2013, DBEDT Energy Administrator Mark Glick was a guest on
“Ultimately, the biggest grid modernization aspect that we believe will have at the State Energy Office, and the Governor, believes that will have the biggest impact is the interconnection of the islands, in particular, the grid-tie between Oahu and Maui. Then ultimately, because of geothermal energy, ultimately making its way to Hawaii. We believe that will have biggest impact on creating much greater grid reliability and stability.”
The Barrel Tax (Act 73) “gave us dedicated pool funds to target high impact solutions to try to get us to our 2030 targets. We’ve also made it so that the network of developers and other stakeholders in this energy market have the tools and are not impeded by over regulation or by any other barriers to get this job done.”
“HNEI has been a vital partner to us. It provide money for key initiatives like the Programmatic EIS which we believe, it was a game changer in perceptions about how we go about implementing our clean energy initiative, but also answering a lot of technical pieces of the puzzle.”
There are big questions haunting the Ikehu proposal. What is being hidden from the community? Does Molokai Ranch and Princeton have side deals? Is Princeton negotiating secretly with HECO and DBEDT? Will there be efforts to seal information from public review? Are the rates fixed or do they have built in escalators?
Will Princeton work with the entire community?