It’s been a busy week on the energy front here in Hawaii, what with Neil whipping up the troops at the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit once again for his undersea cable.

He issued edicts such as, “This time we are going to take full advantage and press forward relentlessly on our diverse resources!” And “We’re committed to doing this!” “We’re going to do it!”

Not surprisingly, DBEDT’s State Energy Office is already on board. In a recent filing DBEDT rhetorically asked the Public Utilities Commission (PUC): “Is an interisland transmission cable connecting Oahu and Maui in the public interest? The unequivocal answer is ‘Yes’”!

DBEDT also made the strange claim that, “There is no meaningful difference between a delay to that transformational process and opposition to it.”

You might think this all started on July 11, when the PUC opened a new Docket to investigate whether an undersea cable – this time between Maui and Oahu – is in the “public interest.” But it’s clear from recent filings that a number of really big players have already spent a pile of money over the past several years on preparing to bid on a Maui cable, while flying pretty much under the radar:

1) Boston-based First Wind, dba “FWH” (total assets in 2010: $1,712,269,000).

FWH already has wind turbines spinning at Kaheawa I and II (Maui), and Kawailoa (Oahu), and secured a $117 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2010 to build Kahuku on Oahu (which stopped functioning because of a battery fire).

Apparently FW targeted Hawaii because it “provides the potential for future growth and investment returns at the higher end of the range available for wind projects” and because Hawaii has “significant expansion opportunities.”

In its Initial Public Statement FWH told the PUC that due to significant “curtailment” of its existing power plants on Maui (due to MECO’s inability to take all the wind) it’s been monitoring a solar resource somewhere on Maui, and “to unlock Maui’s full potential for new renewable resources, an Oahu-Maui cable will be necessary.”

2) San Francisco-Based Pattern Energy, dba “HIC” (access to $25 billion in equity capital through Riverstone Holdings).

Pattern Energy is the same company, dba “Molokai Renewables,” whose lease to develop an industrial scale wind power plant on Molokai was cancelled early this year. Pattern is again partnering with Biological-Capital (who recently attempted to buy out Hana Ranch) apparently to protect the money it has already spent in Hawaii. Pattern says it has “invested significant resources and finances in developing” information, studies, and “other analyses” as well as to secure “site control” for converter stations. Pattern says it wants to protect “the value of investors’ investment in HIC.”

3) NextEra Energy, formerly known as Florida Power, dba “NEEH” ($64 billion in total assets).

NEEH told the PUC that it has “now spent approximately two years developing a grid-tie undersea cable system to interconnect Oahu and Maui, and ultimately potentially Hawaii Island,” which it refers to as “NextGrid Hawaii.” NEEH claims that it has already “invested more than $10 million to assemble a strong local team, acquire site control, develop viable cable routes, undertake preliminary engineering, prepare for the environmental review process, and advance other critical path work-streams.”

Not only has NextEra spent considerable funds, but people on Maui? They are all fired up and ready to go; NEEH already has a website up and running that shows us where they want to land the undersea cable on Maui (Maalaea) and NEEH has already figured out — and told the PUC what to do next.

On the other side of the table, there are a few stakeholders admitted to the Cable Docket whose concerns are not rooted in protecting money already spent or a future return on investment:

  • Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, on behalf of clients on Molokai, wants the PUC to hold a public meeting to solicit input on cable routing “as well as the larger issue of whether an undersea cable is in the public interest.” NHLC thinks someone should be watching out for impacts to “sensitive coastal resources, such as reefs, whales and other marine mammals, and fisheries” and impacts on protected “Native Hawaiian cultural practices,” protected by the Hawaii Constitution.
  • Renewable Energy Action Coalition of Hawaii, Inc.(REACH), wants the PUC to ask the utility to achieve 100 percent renewable generation for each of the islands, and thinks “a potential undersea transmission system should be owned by a State of Hawaii-owned utility, not an investor-owned utility allowed a rate of return on equity.”
  • County of Maui, Doug McCleod, Maui Energy Commissioner, thinks selection of a preferred landing site should occur early, on each island, “to make the EIS and Chapter 343 reviews meaningful.” McCleod also suggested that “the utility should continue to move toward becoming an energy services provider; if it desires to acquire ownership of an interisland cable, it should not own generation feeding into that cable,” and “to eliminate any confusion in the public mind, the Commission should clarify that residents of an island that is not served by a cable will not see any rate increase from the cable.”

In any event, Neil made it clear at the Expo this week that this time the renewed push for an undersea cable, according to the Star Advertiser, would not be dissuaded by opposition from several community and environmental groups, such as those on “Oahu, Lanai and Molokai.” (By now, unless you’ve been living in a parallel universe, you are aware that Big Wind/Molokai is dead and the PUC has decided to take a hard look at whether Big Wind/Lanai is even remotely doable, what with David Murdock’s decision to sell us off to Larry Ellison).

Remember several years ago, when Lanai and Molokai were the targets of the undersea cable? One of the corporate partners of Pattern, Michael Cyrus, had this to say about us: “You have to go through this process of noise, where you let people feel that they had a platform to speak, but you can’t let the noise distract you.”

Now it’s your turn, Maui: there is a very important meeting on Sept. 18 in Paia, sponsored by Maui Tomorrow, to discuss whether a Maui cable is in the public interest. It’s time to show up and ask those hard questions.

Be heard. Make some noise.

About the author: Sally Kaye, a full time resident of Lanai, is an editor and former prosecutor.

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