December 4, 2012
By Cynthia Thielen
Harsh reality shows that modern wind power has been contentious throughout the world.
Wind turbines are eyesores that often disturb the natural landscape, endanger wildlife and regularly need backup fossil fuel. Great Britain recently announced that it would halt most land-based wind projects.
The situation is exacerbated in Hawaii, where wind energy costs range from 20 to 28 cents per kilowatt hour — more than three times than in California. Fires at First Wind’s Kahuku Wind Farm have led to turbines that do not work — adding to the mass of unused turbines that litter America’s lands.
In spite of optimistic theories and predictions, wind power far too often fails — both from an economic and an environmental perspective — when one walks from the academic desk and into the real world.
The Star-Advertiser nevertheless ran an article, “Neighbor isle wind plan would boost state economy,” on Nov. 1, and an editorial, “Case for wind power grows,” on Nov. 2. These headlines might lead one to think that the wind controversies of a mere few weeks ago are moot. The qualifiers and provisos within the items themselves, however, show it is premature to celebrate.
Both items appear to be written in reaction to an Oct. 29 University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization (UHERO) forum presentation, as well as a subsequent posting on UHERO’s website.
One must read UHERO’s Nov. 1 posting to get an idea of what the net positive economic effect to consumers over 20 years might be. The number is “$589 million … translating to an impact of $2.80 per year to households.” Neither Star-Advertiser item mentions these small amounts. Even if we assume that ratepayers will truly see a cost reduction of $2.80 per year (and not a cost increase), is it really worth it?
The plain truth is that nothing in the items or in UHERO site’s postings should instill confidence that “this time, things will be different” for wind power.
Reality speaks volumes over theories and predictions. Theories cannot repair the problems that wind technology shortcomings bring about.
The addition of an interisland cable should also be cause for alarm. ABC News reported that according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the cost of an undersea cable is expected to be $16 billion — with “most” of the costs paid by the private sector.
I have no doubt that oil companies are eager to discredit all forms of alternative energy. We give them ammunition when we stubbornly support “green” failures such as wind power.
A recent DOE report shows that wave energy has the potential to provide Hawaii with up to 130 terawatt hours of electricity per year (TWh/yr) — 13 times our current, statewide energy needs of 10 TWh/yr.
Hawaii’s unique combination of year-round trade winds, powerful winter swells, underwater topography and absence of a continental shelf results in one of the best wave energy climates in the world.
Hawaii’s ocean waves have the power to generate firm power at each individual island, for each individual island — and, with the help of wave energy-conversion devices, could soon eliminate the need for fossil fuel — all without the help of interisland cable.
It’s time for the Star-Advertiser to put its editorial might behind wave energy and other green technologies that actually work.