Rush to Geothermal a Result of Poor Leadership | Hawai`i News Daily

Rush to Geothermal a Result of Poor Leadership

Caution: Geothermal

Caution: Geothermal

Solar and wave technologies are the future for Hawai`i, not large scale inter-island geothermal development. Investing in massive geothermal development will limit our other options for the next 30 years. That is a huge mistake.

Solar technology is advancing so fast it’s hard to keep up with it, and the price is dropping every year and will continue to do so; geothermal cannot do that.

Solar can be located where it is needed; geothermal can not do that. Solar is safe and really clean; geothermal is neither.

Solar is producing base load generation right now and the technology is improving almost monthly.

Alongside increased efficiency, a drop in the price of solar modules is also making the industry more appealing. Bloomberg reports that solar module prices have dropped 80% in the past three years.

In fact, prices dropped 21% last year and could drop another 50% this year. Solar is the future, not geothermal.

Puhagan geothermal plant, Philippines

Geothermal developers want to tie the public to 30 years of geothermal,  but the price tag is going to keep going up because they have to keep drilling new wells and import everything to keep the plants working.

Below are some links that show what I am saying is true. It’s not one idea or front but so many different advances that to ignore it is unreasonable. We have so much solar exposure the advantages over geothermal are staggering.

The idea of royalties and quick cash have so skewed the process and stacked all of the commissions, boards, advisory panels, and working groups, that Hawaii’s energy future has been put in very real jeopardy by a disturbingly flawed process.

The Hawaii Geothermal Cable Project aims to lay underwater electrical transmission lines between the Big Island and the other islands.  Elimination of the cable project could save (in my estimation) over $10 billion, which could be used to invest in sustainable energy projects. The economic analysis we had done in 1990 found that, to be feasible, the cable would have to subsidized. They wasted $26 million tax dollars on the cable studies project back in the 1980s. Now they plan to risk many billions more on a cable that must run through the deepest and roughest channel ever attempted. The cable will be vulnerable to disruptions and failure; then what?

Without a doubt there will be staggering cost overruns. We simply cannot afford to put many billions into this without even looking at the other choices being used in other places.

All the other viable options have been discounted without a process to assess them. Some options are as simple as full utilization of solar water heaters but are not being implemented by our elected officials who are not providing real innovation or leadership. Ignoring the huge reduction in electricity we can get just from solar water heaters instead of racing to build more power plants shows the options we have are not being looked at. That is a simple off-the-shelf solution that can be done now, yet we are told we must build more power plants instead.

Steam rising from bore holes at Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland

Steam rising from bore holes at Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland

In these hard economic times it should be a crime for our elected officials to refuse to allow a fair process to assess the cost and benefits of this project and our energy future. There is something so wrong with this process that it is hard to understand or explain. It makes no sense to choose the most expensive and risky option (the cable) without even doing the analysis that will compare all of the choices we have.

Geothermal depends on world markets for chemicals, equipment, etc., to drill and operate. The cost of geothermal will continue to rise while solar costs are dropping substantially. Geothermal may be obsolete in ten years, but we will be stuck with it for 30 or more years because of poor planning now.

The least we should expect is diversification. The rush to total dependance on geothermal makes no economic sense other than to make a few people very wealthy and leave the rate payers and probably the taxpayers holding the bag. We need to have a real process where we are allowed to bring experts and talk about the negative side of geothermal. That is not happening. We are being told instead we must do this now–or else. And that is fear mongering to advance a geothermal agenda that can not stand the light of day.

We pay the some of the highest energy rates in the nation, so how can other places afford solar but we are told it cost too much here?

Below are just a few of many options for Hawaii’s energy consumers:

We should be leading, but instead we have been stuck on the failed Hawai`i geothermal model for 20 years. Wind farms in Hawai`i and West Virginia have incorporated battery banks to manage fluctuations in power production. By limiting the community input and not looking at “all” our options we risk being misled on the real future of independent energy in Hawai`i by vested interests.

The world is leaving us behind because our elected officials are not providing real vision or leadership. They continue to try and force things on the community instead of working with us. If geothermal was a good idea we would support it. We support Pacific Biodiesel because it’s real. In contrast, geothermal is a pipe dream and our leaders are too out of touch to realize it.

We need better leadership for the good of Hawaii; leaders that are not beholden to special interests as we see with the geothermal-at-any-cost-in-Hawaii mantra of the governor and our mayor.

PV solar installations in the U.S. doubled in 2010, and then doubled again in 2011. They will likely more than double in 2012 as electricity prices from the grid soar, and solar prices plummet.

More people will continue to leave the grid and install PV systems, those that are left stuck with geothermal will have to pay for it, we have already seen HELCO say rates will go up as people leave the grid.

People will continue to move to solar and those who are stuck on the grid and geothermal will have to pay a greater share to maintain the grid and sustain HELCO. Expect your HELCO bills to keep going up, and solar costs to keep coming down.


Robert Petricci lives on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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  • Diamondrill05

    what a complete load of garbage – pie in the sky nonsense.  Utility scale storage doesn’t exist in Hawaii or anywhere else.  A modern economy cannot shut down when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

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  • Thomas

     This cable Steve

    He also revisited the past, which he experienced, as he renewed the
    late 1960s and 1970s call for as much as 1,000 megawatts of geothermal
    production on the Big Island, as well as the interisland cable.
    “Geothermal is just fabulous and the whole key to renewable energy is
    the Big Island, but we cannot think of it without the cable.”

    Geothermal opponents from the past, he said, “have examined geothermal and have seen the light.”Really? you would not know that from this video

    Here the governor and the county council chairman in there own words. Chairman Yagong makes a lot more sense than the mayor or the governor.

    Geothermal disagreement boils over at County Council

    then leaned further to the right and addressed environmental laws,
    sounding particularly and uncharacteristically conservative. Moving
    projects forward, in light of environmental laws, is important, but he
    said he “helped write some of those laws” and “they are not meant to
    stop things.” “Historic preservation (laws) never meant ‘I don’t like it
    so I’m going to stop it.’”

    He spoke of his quest for authority to
    move past “pseudo-environmental” and cultural issues to fast-track
    things, adding “if you don’t approve, throw me out of office; I am
    accountable.” He then took a strong right jab at due process and a long
    stride from constitutional balance of powers and said he’d like to throw
    some of the environmental and cultural opponents of projects “out of

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  • This guy has no clue what he is talking about… Solar panels start losing efficiency the day they are made and most warranties are only less than 30 years and often only 10 years. The sq footage to use solar is huge and geothermal can generate truly large amounts of power needed for the grid. Solar panels work when the sun shines… geothermal works 24/7/365…  

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  • Thomas

    From Thomas

    Steve is it really necessary to insult me? Your
    insinuation that I do not understand this issue or what I am talking
    could not be further from the truth, your lead comment was both rude, and sorry to tell you but your are dead wrong about the cable. if you understand the issue at all please stick
    to the facts and lets have an adult discussion with out the insults.

    am aware of the wind cable project as well, and that is not what I am
    taking about. Why not simply ask if
    I was talking about the Molakai cable? An exchanging information is
    more productive than assumptions and insults, in this case I will try to turn into a positive again by expanding on the issue in my quest to have people understand what this project really is about and is involved.     FYI Here is what the governor had to say on the Big Island recently.

    A measured look at Gov.
    Abercrombie: Who have we got here?

    Here is what this article says.

    “as much as 1,000 megawatts of geothermal production on the Big Island, as well
    as the inter island cable.

    Here what the governor said

     “Geothermal is just fabulous and the whole key
    to renewable energy is the Big Island, but we cannot think of it
    without the cable”

    Here is a link to a recent news story that has the governor and council chaiman Yagong talking about the cable. Please watch it if you are interested in the geothermal issue. Information is power, in order to discuss this we all need as much information as we can get.

    I wrote the article for the communities information and benefit, because
    I do have a lot of information and personal experience on this
    issue. I have been involved with the geothermal permitting and
    litigation in the past in Hawaii extensively and presently I am
    again heavily involved with research and coordination of alternative
    energy in Hawaii county.

    The cable I am mention in my article is for geothermal power to be sent
    to Maui and Oahu. It has nothing to do with the Molokai wind cable, I
    hope that is clear now. I apologize if what I said was not clear.
    You can google it also. Let me say it again, the 10 billion dollar or
    more cable is being planned and it is for the massive geothermal project
    they want to do in Puna. For that much money every house in the entire state of Hawaii  could have it’s own Photo Voltic system.

    There were 515,625 housing units in Hawaii in 2009.
    The net change from 2000-2009 was 55,084 houses, or a percentage change of 12%.

    Done right for the cost of the cable alone at today’s prices every house
    could have it’s own power. There are different ways to do it and that
    does not include the cost to build the power plants. I have seen the
    figure 200 million spent on the current 30mgwt PGV/ORMAT plant in Puna. My
    point is simply I believe we have better options, whether I am right or not the rush to geothermal is not looking at any of them. This project is based
    on corporate profits and political ambition not what is the best thing
    for the rate payer, the tax payer, or the environment and economy. In
    the desire to maintain the monopoly and the outdated grid certain
    corporations and politicians are attempting to push this through without
    thorough scrutiny.

    Please before you support this project do some
    real home work. There is a lot of misinformation and propaganda being
    put out by proponents of this multibillion dollar project.
    IMO it’s about profits not about what is the best energy strategy for
    Hawaii county. You pay the highest rates in the country, we have had geothermal for 20 years. It produces between 25%30% of our power, so saying it’s cheap, and it being cheap are two different things. Look at your bill, compare it to anywhere on the mainland and then ask yourself why do we pay so much if geothermal is cheap.

    Geothermal will stifle independent power systems
    and maintain a centralized power monopoly, that is the past. Holding us back from true energy independence and tying us to obsolete technology while the word leaves us behind as we move forward over the next 20 or 30 years is a huge mistake. The greatest benefit of geothermal is it moves the monopoly from oil to
    geothermal, it will still be a monopoly that will produce artificially high
    rates and will be obsolete in ten years anyway in my opinion, but we will be
    stuck with it for 30 years. They are refusing to even look at conservation or diversification. Like so many things done this way, it’s
    about money first if nothing else we need to understand that. It does
    not even reduce the amount of oil imported to Hawaii by any meaningful amount as most people believe, the majority of oil burned for power is a
    residual product of jet fuel, gasoline, and diesel fuel refined on Oahu.

    Power plant use of

    residual oil cuts cost

    of imported oil

    The total peak load of power for Hawaii county is under 200mwts. The
    Governor has stated he wants up to a thousand mwts and the legislature
    is working on bills for the cable and to eliminate public hearings or
    environmental reviews. If it’s so good why do they have to do that?

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  • rsjm

    Our arrogant illuminati including but not limited to golden parachute coveter  Richard Ha (I’m Caligula, & there is only one God  — Me!), egregiously irresponsible social corporatist Helco, & our corrupt County officials led by retired Helco shil Warren Lee (just call me “Rapacious Lightning Rod”)  — all out for themselves!   

    The public interest ends up in last place, the ravenous greed of this unholy trinity (Ha/Helco/Lee) coming out on top to screw us over again and again.    Take back our County, and rid our souls of these cursed scoundrels!

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  • Gee, I wish Thomas had half a clue what he was talking about.

    The proposed inter-island cable is to tap WIND resources, which are rich on other islands like Molokai and Lanai but not on Oahu, where the demand is.

    He talks of dependency on geothermal; well, FLASH BULLETIN: right now, we’re dependent on OIL for some 77% of Hawaii’s energy, and coal for another 14%.  Those aren’t my figures; they’re from the Institute for Energy Research ( So 91% of the electricity comes from oil and coal.

    So why does that make geothermal the bad guy?

    Thomas is right about a couple of things.  Off-the-shelf technology SHOULD BE employed to the extent possible, like solar water heaters. No reason not to do so.

    But so should wind, geothermal, tidal and, yes, solar.

    There IS no silver bullet; we need it ALL to get off imported oil.

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  • Clarkbar

    Haha my mistake. Great piece Thomas!

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  • Clarkbar

    Great piece, Jim. Thanks.

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