Pearl Harbor historical island to be turned into solar power plant?

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Pearl Harbor historical island to be turned into solar power plant?

A huge controversy is brewing.  There's a ton of stuff about it out there today, but perhaps the best is this article from LA Times, via Stars and Stripes:

There is perhaps no greater American monument to the War in the Pacific than  Ford Island in Hawaii's Pearl Harbor.

The naval base there with its old hangars, runway and control tower — some  still showing damage from the Japanese attack that brought the United States  into World War II — is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dotted around the island's 450 acres are memorials to the battleships  Arizona, Utah and Oklahoma, which were sunk. Docked near the Arizona's submerged  hull is the Missouri, the legendary battlewagon and scene of Japan's formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.

Now, aviation enthusiasts, history buffs and military veterans fear that Ford  Island is under a new threat. The Navy plans to use a swath of the famous  airfield for a solar power plant with 60,000 photovoltaic panels. Opponents say  the project would dishonor those who died there on Dec. 7, 1941, and alter the  character of the island by giving the historic setting more of an industrial  feel.

USA Today had a bit more about both the Navy position and that of the opponents of the solar plant:

The unused runway in the center of the military base at Pearl Harbor is a good location for the solar project and is "critically important to achieving renewable energy mandates," says Navy spokeswoman Agnes Tauyan. But American history aficionados say the site should be preserved as sacred ground.

"We totally agree with (the Navy) being green, but we don't think they should do it where Americans spilled their red blood," said Ken DeHoff, director of the Pacific Aviation Museum, located in an airplane hangar on Ford Island. "There's plenty of room for them to create this project off to the west, which is just scrub oak and abandoned land."

Now, I need to state at the outset that I am completely agnostic on the issue of solar energy as a means of offsetting the problems with foreign fuel acquisition.  There is a great debate on the energy website that notes both the great opportunity for solar, but also notes the potential pitfalls.  The proponent in a debate on "Is solar energy a viable solution to reducing oil dependence?" argues that:

Solar energy can definitely be a viable solution to reduce oil dependence. Not just in the United States, but around the world. The sun is perpetually producing enormous amounts of energy.

According to Ken Zweibel in his article, “A Grand Plan for Solar Energy,” “The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year.”  The difficulty is harnessing this energy, and manufacturing mechanisms that can disseminate this energy to the masses at an economically profitable price.

Meanwhile, the other author at the site concedes that potential, but notes that:

Solar power is undeniably a great opportunity, but the technology is not sufficiently mature and the infrastrure constraints too problematic to make the necessary 'significant' change in power usage that will need to take us from an oil based future.


I encourage you to read that whole debate, because I do not have a scientific background, and can't neccessarily synthesize the argument very well.

But none of this is happening in a vacuum of course.  Looming over everything is the fact that the DoD is about to face huge cuts from the Sequestration that is scheduled for next year.  The DoD is facing cuts, and has shown no reticence in the past to try and pass the cuts along by raising premiums on retired military health care, or to cuts in that healthcare. 

Additionally, there is a well-founded attempt afoot to lower our dependance on foreign fossil fuels.  But that leads to.....well, interesting choices, as was made by the "Green Navy Fuel" controversy earlier this year:

The Navy is steaming ahead with an initiative to power ships with biofuel,  despite criticism the so-called “green fuel” costs nearly seven times more than  conventional fuel.

This month marks the first time the Navy is using biofuel in an operational  setting -- sending five ships to a multi-nation exercise off the coast of  Hawaii.

A Navy official told on Monday that sailing the so-called “Great  Green Fleet” this month on the 50-50 blend of alternative and conventional fuel  is part of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ plan to have half the Navy fleet on  alternative fuel by 2020.

The spokesman also confirmed the fuel -- which does not require engine  modifications -- costs $26 a gallon compared to $3.60 a gallon for conventional  fuel.

So, we've already spent $26 on $4 fuel, at a time when we are facing huge budget problems.  Now, the article notes that larger purchases of the "green fuel" would lower the cost per gallon, but by 600 percent? 

And many note that solar energy expenditures haven't gone well of late.  First, there was Solyndra:

The California solar panel manufacturer that received a high-profile $535-million Energy Department loan guarantee said it was ceasing operations, laying of 1,100 workers and preparing to file for bankruptcy protection.

Solyndra of Fremont, Calif., said it had been rocked by stifling global economic conditions and faced heavy competition from Chinese firms that were undercutting it on costs.

Then (presumably in the spirit of bipartisan problems with solar) there was Konarka:

News of solar firm Konarka’s failure comes days after Romney criticized President Obama at the Fremont, Calif., headquarters of Solyndra, the solar company that received $535 million in federal loan money only to go bankrupt late last year.

Republicans have frequently criticized the Solyndra episode as a waste of taxpayer money and an example of what they describe as the Obama administration’s “crony capitalism.”

But the failure of Konarka would appear to leave Romney vulnerable to criticism that he, too, supported government “picking winners and losers” in private industry.

And then just this week it was announced that Abound Solar was under investigation:

A bankrupt Longmont-based company that received $68 million in stimulus money is under investigation by the Weld County district attorney's office.

Abound made solar panels which it sold across the country, Europe and India.The Department of Energy approved nearly $370 million in federal stimulus money for Abound. The company received $68 million before payments were stopped in 2011.

Sources tell 7NEWS that the company's finances are under scrutiny.

7NEWS obtained internal documents from 2012 that show orders for tens of thousands of replacement solar panels. The orders cite different reasons for the replacements including, "low performance," "under performance" and "catastrophic failures."

 So, we are turning a historical site into a solar plant (possibly) based on a energy policy that hasn't worked out so well lately. 

Again, I don't know much about the science behind all this, but a few questions come to mind:

- What guarantee do we have that once this plant is constructed with taxpayer funds, it will realize the goals of energy production set for it?

- If the US can't construct the projects because of unfair Chinese competition, are we constructing the site with Chinese solar panels?

- If that's the case, are we merely supplanting a foreign need for US Fossil Fuels with a foreign dependance on technology from China?

- What potential costs or gains will the DoD realize from this?  Will it cost more to do this, or will it cost less when the ledger is tallied?

- Is this a long term solution to our problems, or a feel-good attempt to utilize renewable energy?

I have no idea what the answers to those questions are, but I hope the Navy and the Congress that would potentially authorize this move are looking into it.

The over-riding question though must be, are we really willing to create this potential eye-sore on hallowed historical ground?

I'm very open to your thoughts.


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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.