Ocean thermal energy conversion plant proposed


BY ERIN MILLER | WEST HAWAII TODAY

A mainland company is a step away from securing a 30-year lease to test ocean thermal energy conversion in West Hawaii.

The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority board of directors last week authorized final lease negotiations with OTEC International LLC for a 2.5-acre demonstration plant.

"This looks very promising," NELHA Executive Director Gregory Barbour said Monday. "It is a very significant development for us."

Previously, the largest energy plant at NELHA generated up to 220 kilowatts of electricity, Barbour said. OTEC International proposed generating up to 1 megawatt. The company, based in Baltimore, will "demonstrate integration of components that use temperature difference between warm surface ocean water and cold deep water to produce electricity," according to its announcement about the board's decision.

OTEC International will ask for final approval at the March 20 meeting, Barbour said. Additional lease details will be available once the board finalizes the document, he added.

OTEC International Chief Operating Officer Eileen O'Rourke was traveling Monday and unavailable for additional comment.

The plant is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2014. OTEC International officials anticipated purchasing or using $10.4 million in local materials and services and creating 95 construction jobs.

Barbour said OTEC International agreed to purchase new pumps and to give those pumps to NELHA, as well as to pay for the electricity to pump the deep sea water. Once warmed, water will pass along to other NELHA tenants, Barbour said. OTEC International will also install a complex monitoring system to track water flow and other safety measures, Barbour added.

Although NELHA is already covered by a master plan that included an environmental impact statement, OTEC International officials also agreed to complete an environmental assessment.

"Just to be safe, we asked if they would do one," Barbour said. "There's nothing in this project that hasn't been discussed in our EIS."

The other ocean thermal test now under way at NELHA is looking at the performance of different alloys used in heat exchangers, he said.

OTEC International's main funder is the Abell Foundation, also based in Baltimore.

emiller@westhawaiitoday.com