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Wiring the Islands for the Future

January 17, 2011

Connecting the Islands via undersea electrical transmission lines will allow alternative energy produced on the Neighbor Islands to be sold in Honolulu.

Creating an inter-island electrical transmission system will be the key to moving alternative energy from projects on Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island to the energy-hungry markets on Oahu.  This ability to sell electrical energy in Honolulu would make larger scale wind, solar array and even geothermal projects on the Neighbor Islands economically feasible.

RECENT HISTORY

In 2009, The Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) contracted with the University of Hawai‘i School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) to conduct an intensive survey of the ocean floor between the islands to determine the best possible routes for an interisland electrical transmission cable.

“The interisland cable will be at least 30 miles in length with a rating of at least 400 megawatts that would be capable of integrating the proposed 200 megawatt wind farm on Lana‘i and the 200 megawatt wind farm on Moloka‘i with the electric transmission systems on O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i.

The State received approval from the U.S. Department of Energy to use Federal Petroleum Violation Escrow funds to cover the cost of the $1.5 million survey. The Department of Energy partnered with the State of Hawai‘i in January 2008 to develop the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative, which has a goal of having 70 percent of Hawai‘i’s energy come from clean sources by 2030.

In late 2010 DBEDT’s Energy Office filed state and federal notices of intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for the Hawai‘i Interisland Renewable Energy Program (HIREP). The PEIS will examine the program-level impacts of the development of up to 400 megawatts (MW) of wind energy on Maui County, the transmission of the energy to Oahu via an undersea cable, and the integration of that energy into Oahu’s electrical grid.

Electricity can be transmitted as high voltage DC current in undersea cables and then converted to AC for distribution.

The PEIS will incorporate a thorough analysis of overall impacts and benefits, but will not grant any development rights or privileges to a specific wind farm project. Instead, it will provide a framework, uniform policies, and a process for comprehensively deciding how project components should be integrated within the framework. A PEIS is often employed on the federal level. It will specify best management practices for the three major HIREP components:

  • Transmission of renewable energy via undersea cable to Oahu: The undersea interisland cable will allow the sharing of renewable energy generated in Maui County, particularly Lanai and Molokai where resources such as wind are substantial, with Oahu, where resources are limited and demand for energy is high.
  • Generation of up to 400 MW of wind power on Lanai and Molokai: This PEIS will focus on wind, but the HIREP program could be expanded in the future to include other types of renewable technologies.
  • Utility infrastructure upgrades on Oahu needed to integrate large amounts of wind energy into the electrical grids.

The public has a three-month opportunity to provide input through the beginning of March, 2011. For more information on how to comment, log on to www.hirep-wind.com.

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