Finding the right location for clean energy projects can prove challenging.
Environmental and Cultural Concerns
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Land in Hawaii is limited and some renewable energy sources require a lot of it. Also, most renewable energy projects must be located where the renewable energy source (wind, geothermal, solar, etc.) is located. This may be in a remote area away from existing power lines where new substations and transmission lines must be built to get power to the grid. That leads to higher costs.
With increasing residential and commercial development on our islands, especially Oahu, it is hard to find "remote," less populated space for energy projects like wind farms that have a high profile and visibility.
NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) attitudes also make siting energy facilities difficult. Efforts to locate a wind farm on the ridges above the Kahe power plant in Leeward Oahu were blocked, in part, by residents who did not want to see a wind farm on the hills near their homes.
Estimated acres needed for generation facilities to produce one megawatt of electricity:
|Photovoltaics (PV)||6 acres|
|Fossil fuel||0.03 acres|
** Acres for biomass are based on utilizing crops that are dedicated to biomass-to-energy conversion plants (i.e., crops like eucalyptus trees that are grown and harvested exclusively for electrical energy production).
A key challenge to any major infrastructure project, including renewable energy facilities, is location. Most people say they favor renewable energy, but when it comes to building a project, they may say "Not in My Back Yard."
Renewable resources are not shared equally among islands. Oahu has the most people and thus the greatest electricity demand but limited sites and resources for renewable energy projects. Hawaii Island has abundant geothermal energy, a resource no other island presently uses for electricity.
Each Hawaiian Island has a separate stand-alone grid and it presently is not possible to move electricity between islands. Some renewables are not always available, like sunshine, wind, even the water in small streams. Having a large percentage of variable or "as available" energy on small, remote grids such as those in Hawaii is challenging, making it harder to maintain reliability and power quality. In addition to variable renewable energy sources, the electric utilities need "firm" energy sources which are available on-demand 24 hours a day to meet its customers' energy needs.
Supporting facilities, including power lines, substations, transformers and other equipment also pose a challenge. Most renewable energy projects are built in remote areas, far from population centers. Infrastructure to bring the power from these places to the grid – and to store or "smooth" variable "as available" energy – is expensive and adds to the cost of the electric power.
Still, Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawaii Electric Light Company are working hard to increase renewable energy. This includes encouraging other companies to develop renewable projects, adding power lines and substations needed for renewable projects and working on ways to smooth and store "as available" power.