HECO and Big Wind Forced to Consider Energy Alternatives

A recent Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ruling threw a big wrench in Hawaiian Electric Company’s (HECO) Big Wind plans, forcing HECO to consider alternative energy proposals.  According to the ruling, proposals must be for 200 megawatts of renewable energy, but need not be focused on wind.

So while HECO has been forced to pause and consider alternatives before moving ahead, perhaps we should all consider our energy consumption, alternative energy sources, and the implications and potential pressures created by the state’s Clean Energy Initiative.

We’ve got more than big wind…

We’ve also got plenty of sunshine.  But we are currently relying heavily on fossil fuels.  The fact that we depend on imported petroleum for about 90% of our primary energy is quite shameful when we consider that we have the most diverse and abundant alternative energy options in the country.

Many homes and businesses in Hawaii have already been putting the sun’s energy to use.  Pearlridge Center on Oahu is considering solar parking canopies, Kauai has the largest solar farm in the state and is building an even bigger one, and Hickam Air Force base will soon become the second largest solar community in the country.  These are just a few of the many examples of solar power being put to use here in the Aloha State.

There is a strong argument to be made for solar, and in a state with so much sunshine it seems only logical to make the most out of this natural, renewable resource.  In an interview with The Hawaii Independent, Molokai resident and energy industry veteran with a background in environmental planning, Mike Bond, states that “rooftop solar is by far the best source” of alternative energy.  Rooftop solar not only provides power to homes and businesses, but it can also heat water.  And with hot water making up an estimated 30 percent of electricity bills in Hawaii, this change in energy source could significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The more we can do to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, the less we will need multi-million dollar mega-projects like Big Wind.


Let’s do more to use less

The sun shines nearly every day for extended periods of time here in Hawaii.  While the sun is out, lights can often be turned off.  And if they must be on, we must be more diligent about using energy efficient and LED light bulbs.

There is also a good deal of wind blowing in the islands.  So much wind that HECO hopes to harness it on Molokai to provide power to Oahu.  But we don’t necessarily need wind turbines to reduce our fuel dependence; what we do need is to be more conscientious about our energy use.  When possible, rather than cranking the air conditioner, we could crack a window and let the wind in and/or turn on a fan that requires less energy.

In addition, rather than wasting the energy needed to power a clothes dryer, we could make use of the free and renewable energy of both the sun and wind to dry our clothes.  And when replacing old appliances or buying new ones we would be wise to consider purchasing energy efficient models.

These are all steps we can take to reduce energy consumption at home.  But when we leave our homes and head out – to work, the store, school, the beach, and anywhere else we might go in a car – we are contributing to the state’s biggest energy conservation enemy: automobiles.  Vehicles burn up seventy percent of the fossil fuels used in Hawaii.  We could do well to significantly reduce this number if we choose to walk, ride a bike, carpool or take public transportation when possible.  And the state could consider making a contribution by improving bike lanes and building more bike paths, offering incentives to those who purchase electric or energy efficient vehicles and/or utilize public transportation, and implement stricter requirements for fuel efficiency in vehicles sold here in Hawaii.

Perhaps businesses and office buildings should also be held accountable for their energy use.  Certainly changes could be made to avoid excessive air conditioner and lighting use, which would in turn reduce the state’s overall energy consumption.


Our goal should be…

To reduce energy consumption and dependency on fossil fuels in every way possible.  While the Clean Energy Initiative goals are ambitious and respectable, we should not allow massive, multi-million dollar projects to distract us from making simple and long-lasting lifestyle changes in our own lives, changes that can serve to reduce energy consumption and make use of the renewable resources we already have around us.

But we must work together to reach our goals.  And we need not rely so heavily on controversial, multi-million dollar projects, such as Big Wind, to get us there.  If we make changes at a personal level, if the state provides support with incentive programs and fuel efficiency requirements, and if HECO lets go of the 15 percent per network area ceiling it currently imposes on rooftop solar, we would be well on our way to meeting the goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030.