Powering Paradise - Maui's Clean Energy Environment

We call it paradise and "No Ka Oi" (the best) but behind Maui's pristine beaches and tropical waterfalls lies a polluted history of energy production that to this day exaggerates the unhealthy and wasteful ways of our country's industrial past. While much of the U.S. has cleaned up with green laws and initiatives, Maui lingers in a world of burning coal, diesel andbagasse. Even though Maui has fallen behind in greening its act, it may become an economic proving ground for clean energy. 

An early adopter of electricity, Maui had its first electric lights powered by burning bagasse (the solid waste remains of burnt sugar cane) in 1881. The lights were used to help the Spreckels mill increase nightly production. The majority of Maui's energy supply now comes from burning diesel. This puts residents and visitors wallets hostage to the cost of crude. The cost of energy on Maui is the highest in the nation. Businesses transfer this cost on to goods and services.

With state and federal initiatives and laws and under pressure from the community Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is striving to create renewable sources of power. HECO is advertising with more than one million to increase public support for alternate energy in the islands.

The Current State of Wind.

First Wind's Kahea Wind project installed on the South West side of the West Maui Mountains has been producing 30Mega Watts since June of 2006. According to First Wind's website, "the 20 GE 1.5 megawatt turbines generate enough clean, non-polluting power to meet 9% of Maui's total electricity needs during peak hours and up to 30% during non-peak hours."Kahea Wind is actively seeking to double the number of towers and energy output of their farm. 

Shell WindEnergy and Ulupalakua Ranch announced jointly on June 30, 2006 that they planned to install a 40 megawatt wind farm in Ulupalakua Maui which is on the South West Slope of Haleakala. If the same formula used for Kahea Wind holds this would produce 12% of Maui's total peak requirements and 40% during non-peak hours. In May of 2008 Rob Parsons reported in Maui Time Weekly that ShellWindEnergy had scaled back its plans to produce only 20 megawatts, is considering battery storage to prevent fluctuating input to the Islands grid and is in the process of drafting the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) required to move forward. 

Tapping in to Hydroelectric.

An Australian company named Oceanlinx is moving forward with a project to harness a mere 2.7 Megawatts of energy by installing floating generators off the North Shore.

In March 2008 Oceanlinx hired Planning Solutions to draft an EIS that is expected to be finished in 2009. The turbines would use air pressure generated by wave swells pushing into a semi submersed chamber.

Makila Hydro, LLC Makila Hydro, LLC was formed in 2001. It has restored a generator at the Pioneer Mill in Lahaina that was originally constructed in 1914. The plant has has been pushing a half a megawatt into Maui's energy grid since September 2006.

Other prospects for ocean energy include tidal power, Auau channel turbines that run deep between Maui and Lanai, and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). Difficulties with deep ocean power plants include the protection of sea life and keeping the generators free of accumulated debris.

Plugging in to the Solar Source. 

Despite advances in Solar Power, cost still outweighs benefits. There are researchers trying to change that and some innovators in the field on Maui are finding ways to skirt the high costs.

Solar thermal energy production employs a rooftop system made to heat water. By heating water with solar energy, households can expect large reductions in monthly energy use, (from 15% - 25%). The State of Hawaii, The U.S. Government and Maui Electric, a branch of HECO , all offer incentives for these energy saving installations. There are state and federal income tax credits and no interest loans available.

The photovoltaic method of energy production employs cells that turn light into electricity. These are the cells you find on your solar powered calculator. The high cost of these cells has remained the main obstacle for solar power but with some unique business models photovoltaic energy is inching forward.

Although Maui has a very long way to go to achieve energy sustainability, the greening of paradise continues. I for one look forward to an island that can live up to its sparkling reputation.

If your coming to experience the "No Ka Oi" of Hawaii, consider these affordable Maui Condos to provide a balance of luxury and cost.

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