Sunday, January 27, 2008

Musings: Unholy Alliance

The wind is still blowing briskly, making it a great day for laundry, which is currently hanging on the line. As I waited for it to wash at the Laundromat, I sat and watched the sailboarders having a good old time in the wild, choppy eastside surf.

It seems like all that energy could be harnessed to serve up some electrical power to us insatiable humans, although the downside with wind farms is their ugliness and the toll they take on birds.

Still, those and other alternative energy projects are reportedly going to be heavily plugged here in the Islands under a new energy initiative between the state and federal government.

Gee, it sounds great at first blush, the thought of federal money pouring in to wean Hawaii from the fossil fuel feed trough, while showcasing models of alternative energy in the Islands.

So why am I suspicious?

For starters, it’s an initiative between the feds — you know, the same guys who still haven’t signed on to the Kyoto protocol and aren’t convinced of global warming and America’s need to help curb it — and our guv, who cannot by any stretch of the wildest imagination be considered a friend of the environment.

That’s why I was rather alarmed when I read this paragraph in a Star-Bulletin article on the initiative: The Energy Department has already begun requesting information. The agency says it wants to hear from financiers, developers and other stakeholders about what would be needed to "create an environment conducive to streamlined, cost-effective development and financing of clean energy supply, delivery and end-use projects in Hawaii."

In other words, what's needed to push these projects through without those costly, time-consuming, bothersome environmental reviews? We’ve already seen the Lingle Administration jam an “alternative transportation system” through without an EIS. Surely she could find political support for the same “streamlined” process by dangling the prize of federally subsidized “alternative energy” before the cowardly lawmakers who caved once, and a populace that pays more for energy than anyplace in the USA.

Why else would the feds be coming here? The Kansas City Star (thanks, Ian Lind, for the link) offers this explanation: “It [Energy Dept.] also wants to find ways to tap into Hawaii’s unique resources to develop renewable sources of energy. These include harnessing the power of ocean waves, creating new biofuels based on algae or palm oil, and increasing the use of underground heat generated beneath the island state’s volcanoes.”

Now special as Hawaii is, there’s at least one other state with these same “unique resources,” including geothermal, which it gets from tapping geysers, and that’s California. That energy-sucking state has perhaps even more incentive than Hawaii to become energy self-sufficient, and indeed, Guv Arnold has taken more steps than Linda Lingle to get there.

So if this is such a great deal, why isn’t that Republican guv signing up his state? Could it be because California has much more stringent environmental regs than Hawaii — and lawmakers willing to ensure they're followed?

The Kansas City Star offers another motivation for the deal: “The Energy Department picked Hawaii for the initiative because of its … strategic location for national security….”

OK, now we’re getting somewhere. After all, the Pentagon’s plans to ramp up military operations in the Islands are going to use an awful lot of energy. Consider the high energy laser weapon they want to test at PMRF. It needs 30 megawatts of power, compared to the entire island of Kauai ‘s total energy requirement of approximately 70 megawatts.

Before we line up to accept the fed's money and expertise, which most surely will come with a price attached, we need to ensure that Hawaii’s environment and public health won’t be sacrificed along the way.

We also need to think about where all that energy will go. If it’s going to be used to subsidize more growth in inherently unsustainable industries like the military, tourism and luxury second-home construction, what’s the point?

When I talked to my neighbor Andy about this initiative while walking this morning, he recalled that when he was serving on the county planning commission, a developer came in seeking approval to build a hydroelectric plant on the Wailua River, promising to provide 10 percent of the island’s energy.

In voting against it, Andy recalls saying (and I paraphrase here): If it’s going to provide 10 percent of the island’s total energy needs, fine. But if the island just keeps growing and using more energy, soon that 10 percent will shrink to some meaningless percentage and we'll be right back where we started.

Except the Wailua River would be dammed, with all the associated environmental, cultural and aesthetic issues.

Sooner or later, we’re going to have to bite the bullet and deal with our over-consumption instead of desperately seeking new ways to keep on living the same old selfish, greedy, unsustainable way.

And in the meantime, let’s keep a close eye on this new unholy alliance between Lingle and the Dept. of Energy. Remember, it was her buddy John Lehman who predicted the Superferry would effect a paradigm shift in the way business is conducted in Hawaii.

Why would we possibly believe that Lingle would be any more sensitive to environmental concerns in pushing new energy projects that serve the very same military-industrial complex?


Andy Parx said...

You hit it right on the head Joan. For 10 years I’ve been trying to requite roofs in Hawaii to be solar voltaic and the houses net metered, put in a 0% government subsidy to do it on all current roofs and require it for all new construction. I made dozens of calls and plenty of emails and I can’t get an acknowledgement from KIUC, the solar voltaic industry itself (very fishy) or even Mina Morita.... go figga... I guess you just did for me.

Anonymous said...

....Add this to the bill in the legislature to streamline and "modernize" the protocol for E.I.S.'s. Yikes. I can't find the bill number right now but I just read about it a few days ago in the hearing notices.
(I think) it was scheduled to be heard on Monday, maybe.
Thanks Joan and Viviane. I sure love you guys.