Power distribution key to expansion of renewable energy
A wave energy company plants to set up platforms off Maui's Pauwela Point.
AN Australian company's plan to generate electricity through ocean waves off Maui launches another promising component of the mix of renewable energy sources Hawaii needs to phase out fossil fuels.
Also encouraging is the project has enough financial support so that the company, Oceanlinx Ltd., doesn't need the state's funding help to move forward, declining lawmakers' offer to pass legislation for $20 million in revenue bonds.
What Oceanlinx and other renewable enterprises lack, however, is way to deliver the electricity they produce to consumers and right now, Hawaiian Electric Co. and its subsidiaries are the only way to go.
State officials and utility regulators should ensure that Hawaii can take full advantage of renewable power, clearing barriers to the established grid.
Oceanlinx plans to set up two or three wave-powered turbine platforms about a half-mile off Maui's Pauwela Point. The platforms measure about 65 by 100 feet and 15-25 feet high and will not likely affect views from land. Environmental reviews are still in the works and can be expected to draw attention from boaters, fishers and other ocean users concerned about possible problems that should be balanced against the benefits of renewable energy.
The company, which has signed a memorandum of understanding with HECO-owned Renewable Hawaii Inc., is negotiating with HECO's Maui subsidiary to sell its power. Rates have yet to be determined, but HECO executives indicate that customers -- who already pay the highest rates in the nation -- won't see their power bills drop and can anticipate paying even more.
Gov. Linda Lingle questioned why renewable power should cost more when oil, the major expense for electricity production, will no longer be used. That's a good question. The governor also should make sure that renewable companies get a fair shake as more of them seek access to the grid.
One conflict already has developed. The state's largest commercial wind farm company this week complained to the Public Utilities Commission that Maui Electric Co. won't buy more of its power even though it is ready to expand. HECO says it wants to buy from other wind power sites to assure reliability.
HECO's business decisions are its own, but as the controlling entity for power distribution, it has vast influence over renewable energy ventures.
Part of the "clean energy initiative" partnership with the federal government that Lingle announced last week seeks to examine obstacles to renewable energy development. The current situation should be reviewed to determine if it's best for Hawaii's energy future.