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EDITORIAL: Ocean cable key to attaining energy goals
[December 27, 2009]

EDITORIAL: Ocean cable key to attaining energy goals

Dec 27, 2009 (The Honolulu Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Hawai'i is embarking on an enormously complex journey, one that will take uncommon resolve, focus and planning.

Destination: a cleaner, more self-sufficient energy future for the Islands.

Nobody should doubt that this should be Hawai'i's goal, and now encouraging first steps are under way.

Initial planning has just begun for an interisland cable linking O'ahu with proposed windfarm turbines on Lana'i and Moloka'i. This moves the state in the right direction for various reasons.

Here's one: Hawai'i needs an electrical grid networking multiple islands, making service statewide more robust in the face of outages.

Also key is the need for Hawai'i to wean itself off its reliance on imported oil. This is not only because of mounting global concern about greenhouse-gas emissions but also because it has driven the cost of electricity to double the national average, a continuing drag on the economy. That money, too, would be put to better use by keeping it in state.

The state and energy developers can't afford to take any shortcuts in pursuit of that goal. The state has put out a request for proposals on preparing the environmental impact statement, a crucial planning document that needs to paint the picture of the project as clearly and comprehensively as possible.

The state is seeking consultants to bid on the contract to prepare the EIS focusing on the undersea cable project.

But it needs to be clear in the review that the cable is an essential element but only part of what's required to make an interisland grid a reality. A series of infrastructure projects and upgrades will be needed to make sure electrical grids on each island can accept the power.

Further, community groups on the Neighbor Islands need to be brought into the inner circle of planning so that their concerns are not given short shrift. That's surely the lesson learned in the Superferry debacle, when courts found environmental studies lacking and scuttled that project.

The development does have some federal support in stimulus funds already, but the studies are sure to show that the needed payments by Hawai'i taxpayers and electric ratepayers are likely to be enormous.

But it undeniably will be a worthwhile investment. At some point oil costs will resume an upward trajectory and Hawai'i, which can't lean on neighboring states for support, needs alternatives.

The state's aim is to draw 70 percent of electrical needs from renewable sources by 2030. If that target remains -- and it should -- several different building blocks will be required to make up the difference.

Waste-to-energy. Solar. Biofuels. And a robust network of windfarms.

The course toward this preferred future is still uncharted, and the right mix of renewable-energy approaches has yet to be discovered.

What's important, however, is that the pursuit of the goal begin in earnest. The state is taking a big step in the right direction with the cable project. Let's make sure the venture gets off on solid footing.

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