Under the Sun
Summertime heats up thoughts of power needs
SUMMER kind of sneaked up on me this year. The transition from spring usually moves in noticeably, the light slanting over Mauumae Ridge earlier and earlier, its angle in steady progress through the mauka windows behind my desk until it bounces off the iMac to dazzle me as I sip morning coffee.
It must have been the stretch of rainy weather that caused me to miss the changing, those days when clouds effectively rendered noon as gloomy as evening.
Suddenly, the heat of summer has turned up, even though the season is officially a week away.
"It's so HOT!" the neighbor lady wailed one recent afternoon, shortly before I heard her shower faucet squeak open. Her hoots of splashing relief didn't last long, though if she'd stood under the spray all day, I wouldn't have blamed her.
Her house sits no more than 10 feet away, in the lee of the trades, blocked from the breezes by another house in front. In summer, the planet's full tilt toward the rays cooks the air around the closely sited structures.
AS IT happens, that was the day the electricity cut out across a large section of Oahu. The neighborhood was spared, but afterward, Hawaiian Electric warned that its power reserves have grown thinner over the years as demand has increased. The company's plants are older and require more maintenance, reducing back-up generation should one of its own or one it buys power from goes off line.
The company later issued "talking points," which runs through its list of conservation efforts, like dollar-off coupons for light bulbs that burn less energy, credits for letting HECO turn off water heaters during emergencies and pilot programs to charge lower rates for off-peak use.
The company also has bigger plans. HECO reiterated its commitment to building another generating plant, proposing to fuel it either with renewable ethanol or an ethanol-naphtha blend, and how it still hopes for a wind power project, though its Kahe proposal was shot down last year.
BUT FOR all its efforts, HECO may not be able to keep up with demand if Oahu's growth continues apace and in the same mode.
By and large, new housing is built with marginal consideration of energy efficiency. Air conditioning is a necessity, not an extra, particularly on land where abundant sunshine was good for crops, but not for growing dwellings.
Space shortage requires homes be put up in clusters. Orienting structures so that prevailing winds cool their insides no longer comes into play.
At the same time, HECO tinkers around the edges of reducing the need for oil. Not that the company isn't trying, but it doesn't seem to be trying hard enough. Sure, there are many obstacles, such as the objections raised to the Kahe proposal. Still, HECO is grounded in tried and true models for power generation with little immediate incentive to alter course.
POLITICAL LEADERS don't seem to understand that they need to provide that incentive, whether it be reward or punishment. For example, the company bears little financial burden when the cost of oil goes up because it passes the increases to customers. Take a close look at your electricity bill and you'll find that as much as a third pays the company's fuel tab. You can bet that if it had to absorb that cost, HECO would be moved to find alternative fuels.
The company isn't the bad guy. It is only doing what it has done for years and years, which is provide power via fossil fuel for people to buy. No, the bad guys are those of us who turn a blind eye to the need for change, a need that started yesterday.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at email@example.com