Most of Hawaii’s electricity is generated via petroleum, all of it imported. Given the long term price trends, the State and Hawaiian Electric (HECO) on O’ahu have been motivated to find some alternatives, the most obviously being wind and PV. HECO being a traditional, big power supplier, prefers to go big and centralized when going green.

There is a wind farm on O’ahu at Kahuku, but HECO is looking for a bit more elbow room than Honolulu County provides, and is looking at putting wind and PV farms on Lana’i and Moloka’i. There has been some resistance to the idea out on these neighbor islands (what’s in it for us?), and back on O’ahu (who’s paying for this?).

The big ticket item for this plan is the fat, thick, 12 and 27 mile long undersea power cables to get the juice to market: $1 billion, just for the cable installation.

GE (US) is the sole source for this cable, and should they get the contract, they can guarantee repeat business. Unlike undersea communication cables, if they leak or break, there’s no patching or splicing the damage. They have to replace the whole thing. The system would be a underwater landslide, dragging ship’s anchor, or storm damage at the cable landing sites away from a major bill for the rate payers.

Imagine taking that first billion, and making it the only billion, via distributed, decentralized power generation on O’ahu (and the other islands). PV panels generate two things: power and shade, and in the tropics, shade is a valuable commodity. PV panels on a roof reduce the owner’s electric bill via the feed in tariff for power sold to HECO, and reduced need for a/c. Ditto for PV over parking lots, road ways, and public areas. In addition, there’s still suitable, windy locations on the island for more windmills.

Distributed, decentralized power provides a robust, secure supply, and can save the rate payers money. The only real question is: can HECO think that far out of their box?