By NEIL “DUTCH” KUYPER
Parker Ranch has begun comprehensive integrated resource planning with a priority of investigating a microgrid that extends beyond ranching operations to encompass our hometown of Waimea.
As Parker Ranch and its cattle operations face the tightening grip of energy costs, we see a possible solution in the rich natural resources of Waimea and have begun to explore how to use them to stabilize costs and keep more dollars at home.
About a year ago, we were looking at answers for the ranch, but quickly realized that our future, like our past, is intertwined with our hometown. Generations of hard work and commitment to preserve the way of life built by paniolo and their ohana created the bond between ranch and town.
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 us. Parker’s mission is tied to quality of life in Waimea, working through our four beneficiaries.
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.
We’ve analyzed the local food and local beef situation and it is clear that success depends on an energy decision. For the ranch, energy is our single most volatile cost and it hinders our ability to be competitive. Energy costs squeeze our margins. We also discovered that increases in energy costs for residents in our region outstrip their incomes and force them to make cutbacks and trade-offs.
Despite our island having more renewable energy than any other part of the state, we continue to pay some of the highest electricity prices. Microgrids might provide respite.
We are talking to the Waimea community so that as our planning goes forward, we keep our neighbors informed. Because of the potential of close collaboration with the community and our beneficiaries, we have adopted this holistic approach to evaluate our energy resources.
Our state seeks to accelerate developing the potential of major, indigenous natural resources.
This will enhance our energy and broader economic sustainability, foster 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.
We know that Parker Ranch and the surrounding area 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.
Our energy resources could be deployed for energy solutions, 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.
We also think that we have resources of size and scale that could benefit the entire island of Hawaii.
We believe statewide, three key concepts should be seriously examined for greater self-reliance, energy independence, and protection during storms or other large-grid interruptions:
— potential for microgrids;
— possibilities for storage (both small and large scale);
— merits of a statewide grid enabled via undersea cables.
Parker Ranch has chosen to focus on two of those. First, explore a microgrid for our hometown, hoping that it might serve as a case study for other rural communities and lead to overall stability of price and supply. Second, aggressively study large-scale pumped-hydro storage given the available elevation change across our lands. HELCO is reluctant to accept more intermittent wind on its grid, which is why storage is so critical to solve the energy challenge.
The state Public Utilities Commission is leading the effort to explore the merits of a statewide grid and an undersea cable between Oahu and Maui.
A change in strategy requires informed decision making and therefore investment in research.
At Parker Ranch, we have started with the integrated resource plan. A community microgrid for Waimea, if proven feasible, would ensure a level of certainty. Of course, any decision impacting Waimea must be made by the residents.
These efforts offer great potential for renewable energy to be maximized across our town, our island and eventually the state of Hawaii to achieve more certainty in the future for our way of life.
Neil “Dutch” Kuyper is the president and CEO of Parker Ranch Foundation.