Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Hawaii going underground for greener energy

Apart from acres of sunshine, lashings of wave power, and sail-fulls of wind, there's another resource that many a small island has plenty of - the heat to be harvested from the simmering volcanoes that have built them up from the ocean floor. Hawaii is a great case in point, and long ago made tentative steps into bring geothermal onto the grid.

Those baby steps may be about widen considerably, as geothermal goes through a growth spurt on the islands. Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO), the regulated utility for the actual island of Hawaii (or Big Island as locals call it) is publishing plans to expand geothermal to cover 88 MW of the island's generation. That's enough for volcano-power to meet half of Hawaii island's peak demand.

But getting the islanders on board is being seen as critical, and so HELCO is opening up its Request For Proposals to the public for comment. Previous plans for tapping geothermal heat have foundered when they have trampled on the sensitivities of those Hawaiians who worship Tutu Pele - the volcano goddess. “We are working hard to have it done right, respecting the environment and the culture,” Lt Gov Brian Schatz told the  Honolulu Star Advertiser recently.

HELCO claims that the RFP, which should be finalized in January 2012, will be guided by comments from both prospective developers, and the public, alike. With oil-fired generators making Hawaii the island with the highest electricity rates in the state (which are also the highest in the US) the need to turn off the oil-burners is more than evident.

"This is incredibly important for ratepayers on the Big Island,” Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz said. “This will help stabilize prices. What people on the Big Island need is clean, affordable energy. And that’s the purpose of this RFP.”

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