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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