Thursday, October 15, 2009


GETTIN’ JUICED TO IT: It’s hard to know what to make of the announcement today that “our Kaua`i Island Utility Cooperative will buy electricity by April 2012 from a new power plant that burns both sugar cane and wood” according to Diana Leone’s Honolulu Advertiser front page report today- a far more complete telling of the story than the press release rewrite, un-bylined article in today’s local Kaua`i newspaper.

According to Leone, also relying on the press release but adding more details:

Pacific West Energy LLC and the utility have agreed on key issues regarding a 20-megawatt, biomass-to-energy plant that could supply up to one-third of Kaua'i's power needs from renewable sources.

All agree there’s a long way to go and of course the devil will be in the details. All the plusses reported today have to be tempered with what this means for the individual “members” of the co-op- a concern that has been anything but first and foremost in the minds of the board of KIUC.

Thirty percent renewable energy, along with the reported 325 jobs and the prospect of using much of our greenspace for growing a usable crop all seem on first blush to be positives.

But lets be clear- although it beats fossil fuel it is anything but a carbon free energy generation facility.

Even more important is another problem... it’s still a “facility”.

The idea of a co-op could have been a good one had it truly restructured the way we think of our energy consumption when citizens forked over a quarter billion dollars for an old dilapidated generation facility and a spanking new post-`Iniki transmission grid.

But instead, the mindset of “we sell electricity to you” just continued the same old consumer-abusive business plan used by commercial utilities.

The leaders of KIUC have done all they can to maintain that model and do everything they can to make sure that individual generation through solar and wind are kept to a minimum with a “can’t do” attitude that belies all the technological innovation used on the mainland.

No smart grids, where computer networks sense use and generation along the grid and instantly tell generators to produce only what is needed when sun and wind are insufficient. None of the new storage mediums prevalent across the world. Only generation plants- like this one- to serve the current business plan.

And this deal seems to cinch that for the foreseeable future. The “renewable standards” are now attainable without making every effort to serve the members.
By making installations on people’s roofs and in their yards an impossibility by using absurdly structured rates for those installations when people have to buy back what they generate into the grid at exorbitant rates, to the efforts of the council to make wind generation almost impossible with a bill currently deferred that would actually discourage individual wind generation and serve only big wind farms”, KIUC maintains that “we sell you electricity to you” model at all costs.

It will be interesting to see what this does to the “(un)important ag lands study”- it’s a game changer as to what's ”useful” ag land. Now that marginally productive acreage in terms of food suddenly becomes useful for growing electricity is there any such thing as useless and therefore unimportant ag land anymore?

But the worst problem it that it will also give KIUC the ability to sit back and continue to discourage individuals from producing their own electricity due to fear of losing the non-profit’s profitability.

Rather than having a goal of minimizing “plant” generation and subsidizing individual generation through zero interest loans with an eye toward minimizing power plants and just maintaining a power grid that serves the people who generate their own- and charging them a minimal amount to use the storage capacity of the grid- KIUC can now sit back and rely on this plant to meet the renewable standards imposed by the state and say screw you to the members.

And just wait ‘til you see what we pay for the juice generated from this biomass plant. If past is prologue it will be at the same rate as fossil fuel.

As long as we don’t demand a different business model from “our co-op” we will be paying through the teeth for a product that should be as free as the sun and wind.


ChokeChain said...

Where to start on this mess.

All the criticism of KIUC's board is accurate if far too kind. The same old crowd that runs everything else got their foot in the door here early and paid for a fat weasel to write the rules to keep them in place.

But neither solar nor wind is free. Wind would be much cheaper than burning cane/wood chips whatever, but it takes something like 8-10 cts/kwhr to pay for a windfarm.

Solar is still 2X as expensive as our current cost of production -- 30-35 cts/kwhr. And that's without any storage (batteries, reservoirs etc) to cover the 14 hrs/day solar is not effective. There is no free lunch.

ChokeChain said...

And the generation we currently have and paid $250 million in total for is not dilapidated. Much is old, but half of our daily power use comes from a very modern gas turbine up Maalo road.

the truth is just as effective as hyperbole.