NANEA KALANI, Pacific Business News, March 21, 2008
Australian technology company Oceanlinx is moving ahead with a wave energy project that would anchor large floating generators off Maui’s Pauwela Point and could power up to 2,500 homes.
A month after announcing the $20 million project, Oceanlinx has hired Honolulu-based Planning Solutions to conduct an environmental impact assessment, which could take up to a year.
Oceanlinx expects the project to be on line by the end of 2009, generating 2.7 megawatts of power that it would sell to Maui Electric Company.
The company’s patented turbine technology will harness air generated by rising and falling sea swells near the big wave surf spot known as Jaws. The air flow would spin the turbine’s blades, generating electricity.
State lawmakers are considering legislation to provide Oceanlinx with up to $20 million in special-purpose revenue bonds.
“For Maui, this will be one more link in a renewable energy chain that includes biomass and wind,” said Hawaiian Electric Co. spokesman Peter Rosegg. “As oil prices continue upward … clean, local renewables like solar, wind and wave power offer more stable prices and increased energy security in the long run.”
This month, the average Maui household will see an electric bill of $206.10 for 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity usage.
The wave energy project will add to the 30-megawatt wind farm above Maalaea, which MECO says accounts for about 9% of Maui’s electrical power.
The Oceanlinx project will involve anchoring two to three 450-ton floating generators a half-mile off of Pauwela Point in waters about 120 feet deep.
Each 25-foot-high platform is about the size of a basketball court — 90 feet long by 65 feet wide — but Oceanlinx says they will not be visible from the highway or any residences in the area.
Environmental groups on Maui say they don’t anticipate environmental issues with the project.
“We haven’t seen an EIS yet, and there’s some concern about the view plane, but so far we think this is a real project with potential,” said Lance Holter, chairman of the Maui Sierra Club. “The downside with visual issues is minimal compared to the upside of creating a new renewable energy source for Maui residents.”
Maui Tomorrow, the advocacy group that strongly opposed the Hawaii Superferry, says it also supports additional alternative energy options for Maui residents.
“The Oceanlinx group has been really proactive and engaged with the community, which is refreshing,” said Executive Director Irene Bowie. “We’ll reserve judgement until the environmental review is done, but we’re optimistic.”
Oceanlinx and MECO say the selected site on the northeastern coast of the island has no fishing, boating or surfing activity nearby. The site was chosen over another area in Kapalua past Honolua Bay.
The company will install underwater transmission cables that will run along the shoreline to Maliko Bay, where it will then feed into a utility substation on MECO’s grid.
The Maui units would be the 11-year-old company’s first commercial project. Oceanlinx also is in talks with energy companies in Rhode Island, Portugal, Namibia, Mexico and Australia.
The wave technology has yet to take off in the United States. Fewer than 50 so-called hydrokinetic projects have been permitted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and none has been built.
FERC, which oversees energy industries, said in December it issued its first license for a wave energy project to be built off the coast of Washington state.