Hawaii begins study of ocean floor power cables to bring wind energy to urban Honolulu

By Mark Niesse, AP
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hawaii begins study of undersea power cable plan

HONOLULU — Hawaii on Thursday began environmental planning for a project that would lay power cables along the ocean floor to connect wind farms on the gusty islands of Molokai and Lanai to electricity-hungry Honolulu.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona announced the state selected Los Angeles-based AECOM Technology Corp. to study the route and potential environmental impacts of undersea cables that would transport wind power.

The planned wind farms and cables could help reduce Hawaii’s need for foreign oil and make the islands more self-sufficient, said Josh Strickler, the state’s renewable energy program facilitator.

“We have an oil dependency beyond any other state in the nation, and this is a problem of our own making,” he said. “It’s going to be up to us to solve it.”

The $2.9 million study is expected to be completed in 2012, and the $1 billion cable would be built by the end of 2014.

The cable and proposed 400 megawatt wind projects would supply about 12 percent of the power on Oahu, which relies mostly on oil and coal. Statewide, $6 billion annually is spent on imported oil.

Aiona said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlights the importance of renewable power.

“The incident in the Gulf is shocking, it’s tragic, it’s catastrophic,” he said. “Our need to decrease Hawaii’s addiction to oil is even more evident.”

The environmental study will evaluate how the cable could affect endangered species, aquatic ecology, water quality and the lives of rural island residents. It’s being paid for with federal stimulus money.

“We have plentiful wind in our islands and no oil. Wind spills are far easier to clean up,” said Jeff Mikulina, executive director for the Blue Planet Foundation, which supports renewable energy initiatives.

In an effort to avoid the controversies that surrounded Honolulu’s proposed rail project and a bankrupt inter-island ferry system, the environmental study will involve the community and leave options open, Strickler said.

Residents on rural Molokai and Lanai will have to decide whether their islands will benefit from sending wind power to Oahu, he said.

“We’re trying to do this process the right way for the first time in a long time,” Strickler said. “I expect there’s going to be challenges, I expect there’s going to be resistance, but I expect we’re going to work through it.”

The cost of the cables would be slowly paid off by Oahu’s electricity users, but they would likely benefit in the long run from cheap wind power instead of relying on potentially expensive oil, he said.

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