Hawaii should ride the tide of wave energy
The recent news that Hawaiian Electric Co. has increased its monthly electricity rates by 3.3 percent is an added blow to island consumers, who are already pinching pennies to pay for high costs of gas, food and housing.
Although the higher rates made the front page of the Sept. 29 Star-Bulletin, the increase should not be a surprise. Currently, 94 percent of HECO's energy on Oahu comes from imported fossil fuels. This means that we are almost completely dependent on oil, and when oil prices rise, our electricity bills will respond likewise. The new increase means consumers will pay about 19.11 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
Instead of draining natural resources and consumers' money on oil, a proven technology called wave energy could provide 80 percent of the power on Oahu and all the needed power on the neighbor islands at a much lower cost. Once a wave energy project is developed and operating, it ultimately can deliver energy at 5 to 8 cents per kWh, in contrast to HECO's 19-plus cents.
I recently attended the sixth European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference (EWTEC) in Scotland. Scientists, government and industry leaders eagerly exchanged knowledge and resources on the exciting field of wave and tidal-delivered energy, which is already providing steady and cost-effective energy in certain locales, and ultimately can reduce the world's oil consumption
When I spoke at the opening of the EWTEC conference, I told the attendees that Hawaii is the perfect place for scientists and engineers to conduct energy projects. Already recognized as one of the two best sites in the world, Hawaii boasts a constant and dependable (rather than seasonal or intermittent) source of wave energy. And the Electric Power Research Institute in California says that coastal wave energy has nine to 10 times the energy provided by U.S. hydroelectric dams. The timing is right for Hawaii, since several technologies are already at the commercial stage and ready for deployment.
Ocean Power Delivery Ltd., in the Scottish Orkneys, using a single device, has been providing power to 500 homes for five years. Pelamis, another wave technology, received the first commercial wave farm order and is constructing three 750 kw wave-machines in northern Portugal, an initial phase of a larger project. Also, Wave Dragon, developed in Denmark, is a slack-moored wave energy converter, which can be deployed alone in 25-meter water depth. With 15,600 hours of experience, it won't be long until it will provide electricity for 40,000 to 60,000 homes, using only seven units.
These wave companies are giving Hawaii some international attention, as a potential research and testing site is almost ready to go on line. The Navy's Wave Energy test site, situated off the shore of Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, is the first of its kind in the United States. As the initial research and development phase of this important project nears completion this winter, Hawaii is positioned to lead the nation in deploying this technology.
But we need to invite other Wave Energy companies to test their technology in Hawaiian waters. Hawaii should create a wave energy "park," similar to that located in the waters off Orkney, where Pelamis, Wave Dragon, Limpet and others can be tested. This will help us find the best technologies for Hawaiian waters.
High cost of living threatens our economy, as does our dependence on imported oil. Hawaii remains vulnerable to international crises that affect the supply and exportation of crude oil, while other states and nations are profiting from our purchases. No local jobs are created; our economy suffers, and so do our pocketbooks. Hawaii residents are painfully aware of rising oil costs, both at the pump and in their household bills. The rising tide of oil costs is unlikely to recede as our dependence on oil continues. Instead, let's ride the tide of wave energy and watch our electricity bills decline.
Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua-Kaneohe Bay) is the assistant minority floor leader.