HARRY EAGAR, The Maui News, January 29, 2008
Waves crash on the rocks at Hookipa Beach Park as Alley Hagerman and Bryan Bates of Canada rest on the sand Monday morning. An Australian-based company wants to install a 2.7-megawatt generator off Maui that would be powered by the ocean’s rise and fall. No information was available Monday on how soon such a facility would begin operating.
Hawaiian Electric Co. had planned to wait to announce the idea until next month, when more details will be settled, but the news came out when a bill was introduced in the Legislature to authorize $20 million in tax-free development bonds.
This would be similar to the $59 million in bonds approved last year for a land-based alternate energy project, BlueEarth Biodiesel’s proposed refinery on Maui.
Oceanlinx Ltd., the Sydney, Australia-based company, could be eligible for a 100 percent technology tax credit.
Like wind energy, wave energy is not “firm.” When the waves are too small or too big, the generator has to shut down, according to Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg.
The Oceanlinx unit would be moored somewhere offshore, probably on a northeast shore with some protection from direct swells. Power would be fed into the island grid via an undersea cable.
The generator gets its power from the rise and fall of the water, but the turbine is driven by air.
A platform has an opening underwater. The surge of the ocean increases or decreases the pressure on air in a chamber. The air expands and contracts, driving the turbine blades.
Maui Electric Co. President Ed Reinhardt was not available for comment Monday. A memorandum of understanding has been signed between Oceanlinx and Hawaiian Electric Co., with Maui Electric to draw up a purchase power agreement with Oceanlinx.
A 2.7-megawatt installation would supply, at full blast, a little more than 1 percent of MECO’s peak demand. It would be about one-tenth the output of Kaheawa Wind Farm at its maximum output.
Oceanlinx claims a technological advantage over other wave generators because its turbine blades can be feathered to extract maximum value from each change in ocean level. Also, it works on both the up and the down strokes.
Oceanlinx has a prototype installation off Sydney and a number of projects proposed around the world, but no commercial installation in operation.
The company says it can configure its basic model to produce either electricity or desalinated water, or a mixture of the two.
Although there is a lot of interest in wave-generated electricity, no functioning platforms are operating in U.S. waters. Another company installed a prototype off the coast of Oregon last year, but it sank.
Because a wave chamber uses the kinetic energy of the restless ocean, no fossil fuels are required. Oceanlinx says its unit has only one moving part, and all the functional parts of the system, except the mouth that communicates with the ocean, are above the water on the platform.
Other companies are working on tidal generators, which operate on the same principle but should be less affected by weather.
No information was available about how soon Maui Electric and Oceanlinx hope to have a unit operating.
The state has mandated that 20 percent of electricity should come from renewable sources by 2020. Maui is well on the way, since it gets nearly 10 percent of its electricity from wind and slightly more from burning bagasse.
Kaheawa is considering nearly doubling its output, and Shell Wind has announced a 40-megawatt wind farm at Ulupalakua.
Wind and wave will present system-management challenges to Maui Electric because their output will fluctuate unpredictably.
Too much variation in the voltage can cause the transmission grid to crash.
Also Monday, Gov. Linda Lingle and U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
This partnership is designed to accelerate the transformation of Hawaii into one of the world’s first economies based primarily on clean energy resources.
Wind, solar, wave, geothermal and biofuels are candidates.
The partnership envisions 70 percent clean energy by 2030.
Karsner called the clean energy “affordable,” although with the possible exception of solar thermal (hot water heaters), few if any nonfossil fuel technologies can compete with oil today.
They pencil out with the help of tax abatements or credits, which shift part of the cost somewhere else.
The partnership will provide technical assistance and technology program support for a variety of projects that draw on the Energy Department’s research and development programs.
Efforts will focus on working with public and private partners on several clean energy projects throughout the state including:
- Designing cost-effective approaches for 100 percent use of renewable energy on smaller islands
- Designing systems to improve stability of electrical grids operating with variable generating sources
- Integrating renewable energy – including solar, wind, energy storage and advanced vehicle technologies – into existing systems
- Expanding Hawaii’s capability to use locally grown crops as byproducts for producing fuel and electricity
However, environmentalists are not on board with biofuel crops if the crop is the African oil palm, which is BlueEarth’s preferred feedstock. Their objections stem from the adverse environmental effects of palm oil plantations in rain forest regions.
Also on Monday, Maui Tomorrow Foundation and Sierra Club-Maui Group joined other groups to denounce the “palm oil pipeline” into Hawaii.
Hawaiian Electric wants to promote local production for BlueEarth and for another biodiesel refinery on Oahu, but so far even a crop has not been settled on.
“Switching from imported petroleum to imported palm oil does nothing for Hawaii’s energy security,” said Lance Holter, chairman of the Sierra Club-Maui Group.
They presented their protest at the Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change at the East-West Center in Honolulu.