Parker Ranch recently announced it has begun a comprehensive integrated resource planning process to evaluate its energy resources — with a major twist — prioritizing the study of a community microgrid for our hometown of Waimea.

Waimea was here long before Parker Ranch. Over time, the sustainability of the Ranch, the oldest private business in the State of Hawaii, and the surrounding community of Waimea became closely intertwined through generations of hard work and a commitment to preserve our way of life, as carried on by many paniolo and their ohana. The long tradition of stewardship and of cultivating our natural resources can continue through a community microgrid, which could serve as a bridge to the future for successive generations.

Parker Ranch has retained the team of Siemens PTI, Booz Allen Hamilton and Pace Global to conduct integrated resource planning and determine microgrid feasibility. Each has substantial experience working in Hawaii and will help formulate a comprehensive map of the potential for energy resources to be harnessed.

Rather than struggle with energy instability, we could build a microgrid of “energy certainty.” A community microgrid can harness a variety of renewable generation sources and electrical loads in an interconnected system that will provide greater stability in concert with more sustainable local energy generation and storage. Ultimately, it has the potential to significantly lower energy costs to the community.

We have begun talking to the Waimea community so that as our planning goes forward, we keep our neighbors informed. With the potential for close collaboration with the community and our Beneficiaries, we have adopted this holistic approach to evaluate our energy resources for several reasons.

First, we know that Parker Ranch is rich in wind resources because ka makani of Waimea and North Kohala is legendary. The mascot of one of our Beneficiaries, Hawaii Preparatory Academy, is Ka Makani. The rows of trees lining the entrance to the Parker family homestead have been long bent in the direction of the prevailing trade winds.

Second, we possess resources that could be deployed for energy solutions on many levels, starting with our ranching operations and extending to our community’s largest employer — another Beneficiary of Parker Ranch —North Hawaii Community Hospital, and possibly to other businesses in our hometown Waimea. We also believe that we have resources of size and scale that could benefit the entire Island of Hawaii.

Third, our way of life is threatened by the uncertainty posed by our dependence on oil and food imports. For many, incomes are not keeping pace with the rise in the cost of both energy and food. The prices of gasoline and electricity are forcing some residents to make difficult cutbacks and tradeoffs. This appears to be the experience of many communities across the entire State.

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative was successful in guiding the State to establish renewable portfolio standards – targets for the percentage of our electricity that would be generated from renewable sources. Many now wonder if those targets for renewables should be increased, especially if higher targets would enable lower electricity rates to be achieved.

In any case, one thing is clear: we should seek to diversify our energy sources as quickly as possible. The merits of turning to liquefied natural gas (LNG) to diversify are hindered by the lack of the high-cost, necessary infrastructure in Hawaii. HECO, Hawaii Gas, and Young Brothers each have an obvious economic interest in seeking to incorporate LNG into the electrical generation and fuel mix.

It is true that acquiring direct gas interests may lock in the price for some time. Still, many experts contend that the shale gas play is largely behind us and that the “opportunities” in gas are now largely downstream in infrastructure investments. LNG does have the potential to lessen the cost of fuel and produce less greenhouse gases. However, LNG is a fossil fuel, and it will still require that we export our hard earned dollars to oil and gas producers and distributors.

More critical for Hawaii is accelerating development of our own major, indigenous natural resources for energy. This will enhance our energy and broader economic sustainability, foster our homegrown energy industries and workforce development, keep our dollars within Hawaii’s economy, provide support for local food production, including agriculture, livestock and aquaculture, and bolster our own energy and food security.

Statewide, three key concepts should be seriously examined for greater self-reliance and energy independence: (1) the potential for microgrids, (2) the possibilities for energy storage (both small and large scale) and (3) the merits of a statewide grid enabled via undersea cables. HELCO has expressed unwillingness to accept more wind on its grid, which is why storage is so critical to solve the energy challenge for us.

We have chosen to focus on two of those: First, prioritize exploring a microgrid for our hometown, hoping that it might serve as a case study for other rural communities. Second, aggressively study the potential for large-scale pumped-hydro storage given the available elevation change across our lands. The state Public Utilities Commission is leading the effort to explore the merits of an undersea cable between Oahu and Maui.

A change in strategy requires investment in research. At Parker Ranch, we started our own strategic exploration with the integrated resource plan. At the same time we are focusing on the idea of a community microgrid for Waimea — to ensure the certainty of our way of life for our hometown. Of course, any decision impacting Waimea must be made by the residents. Others, such as the PUC, are researching the merits of a statewide grid. These efforts offer the greatest potential for renewable energy to be maximized across the State of Hawaii and to achieve more certainty in the future for our way of life.

About the author: Neil “Dutch” Kuyper is President & CEO of the Parker Ranch Foundation.

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