Proposed Big Wind Monopoly in Hawaii Should Be Opposed

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BY HENRY CURTIS – The State goal is to replace petroleum imports with local renewable energy production. The State first assumed that Oahu lacked its own resources, and also assumed that wind was the silver bullet. The State solution: huge wind farms on Moloka`i and Lana`i and an undersea high voltage electric transmission line to bring the power to O`ahu.

The proposed project would require modernization (upgrading) of harbors on Lana`i and Moloka`i and turning their country roads into highways in order to bring the wind components to the windfarm site.


Public hearings were held on Lana`i and Moloka`i: “Lanai residents turned out Saturday to express strong opposition to bringing “big wind” to their island” (Maui News, Feb 6, 2011).

“If the community members attending last night’s public scoping meeting have anything to say about it, undersea transmission cables will never carry wind-generated electricity from Molokai to Oahu. Those offering public comment at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center gave a resounding “no” to the proposal known as the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program (HIREP). With the unanimous rejection of this project”  (Molokai News, Feb 4, 2011)

The State released a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice. They have asked for public comments (due by March 1) to scope out the issues that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should examine. The Draft EIS will be published around October 2011, and the Final EIS will be published around April 2012. It must be then since the EIS is paid for with federal Stimulus funds.

The Legislature jumped into the fray with legislative bills designed to create a regulatory structure needed to allow an independent company to build, operate and sell to HECO the billion dollar undersea cable.

The Legislative bills (House Bill 1176 HD 1 and Senate Bill 367 SD 1) are premature and appear on the surface to have numerous faults. Legislation and decision-making should occur after the completion of environmental and cultural impact statements; after alternatives have been evaluated; and after studies justifying positions are in the public domain. Furthermore, to avoid legal entanglements, the Hawai`i Supreme Court’s reasoning in the Superferry case should be understood by all.

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against the Superferry on the basis of Article XI, section 5 of the Hawai`i State Constitution.

Article XI, section 5 states: “The legislative power over the lands owned by or under the control of the State and its political subdivisions shall be exercised only by general laws, except in respect to transfers to or for the use of the State, or a political subdivision, or any department or agency thereof.”

The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that Act 2 created a class that was “logically and factually limited to a ‘class of one’ “, that is, it was not reasonably probable that other members could enter the class in the future, the class was illusory”

Some in the Legislature apparently want to see if the Hawaii Supreme Court really meant what it stated, and are working on these bills which are focused on one class.

The one class are two wind companies that responded to a HECO request for proposals for renewable energy for O`ahu. The two companies submitted bids for off-island energy. The wind companies felt that competition meant there would be a winner and a loser, so they signed a deal with each other, thus establishing a class of one.

The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission forbid intervention by third parties and ruled that everything was okay.

The cable may go from O`ahu to Moloka`i to Lana`i. The cable will benefit a class of one (the monopoly consisting of FirstWind & Castle and Cooke) and the second segment of the cable will benefit just one company within the monopoly.

DBEDT has published a joint Federal/State Environmental Impact Statement Preparation Notice (EISPN).

The federal requirements for EISs are spelled out through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This Act requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for projects with significant impacts. Agencies are required to conduct a “hard look” at alternatives.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) oversees NEPA and has published the “Forty Most Asked Questions” regarding NEPA.

“In determining the scope of alternatives to be considered, the emphasis is on what is “reasonable” rather than on whether the proponent or applicant likes or is itself capable of carrying out a particular alternative. Reasonable alternatives include those that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint and using common sense, rather than simply desirable from the standpoint of the applicant. …An alternative that is outside the legal jurisdiction of the lead agency must still be analyzed in the EIS if it is reasonable. A potential conflict with local or federal law does not necessarily render an alternative unreasonable, although such conflicts must be considered. …Alternatives that are outside the scope of what Congress has approved or funded must still be evaluated in the EIS if they are reasonable.”

The EIS Preparation Notice listed two options: two wind farms with joint planning and two wind farms without joint planning. Although the public has come up with numerous reasonable alternatives, and asked to see the reports underlying the EISPN, they have been told, wait for the Draft EIS.

Even the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the national electric utility think tank, was able to come up with a reasonable alternative.

HB 1176 HD 1 states: “Technical implementation and routing studies have been conducted that show that it is feasible to connect renewable generation facilities on Lanai or Molokai to the Oahu load using undersea high-voltage transmission cables. …economic analyses have shown that harnessing the wind resources for the islands appears to be a relatively cost-effective means for helping to meet Hawaii’s energy policy objectives.”

These studies are not publicly available and are not part of the EIS.

There is no doubt that this cable bill is being designed for a class of one, a wind monopoly.  HB 1176 HD 1 and SB 367 SD 1 are examples of special legislation aimed at benefiting a specific class of 1.

Henry Curtis is the Executive Director for Life of the Land.





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