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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Power plant emissions a price we have to pay

Think of it as one of those "bad-news-is-actually-good-news" deals.

The latest report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that seven of the top 10 sources of toxic air emissions in Hawai'i are electric power plants.

What this tells us is not so much that power plants pollute. Rather, it tells us that Hawai'i has opted for an economy with relatively little manufacturing. About the only "smokestack" industries we have are the power plants.

The other major sources are our two refineries and a container manufacturing plant.

Since Hawai'i cannot do without electric power or refined oil, some level of emissions becomes the price we must pay. The power companies are constantly upgrading the technology they use to control and limit emissions.

But it is possible to analyze the contribution of the power plants in another way as well. Yes, they do produce some toxic emissions. But imagine the noise and air pollution that would be created if that same amount of power was generated at hundreds or even thousands of individual generating sites rather than at a few centralized sites.

Eventually, of course, it will be possible to imagine just such a scenario. But not one that involves multitudes of small, oil-fueled generators. Rather, Hawai'i should be working toward far greater reliance on "off-grid" alternative power sources that range from heat capture to new hydrogen technologies.

As these sources of electric power become more economical, more common and more accepted, then there will be even less reason for concern about those big power plants.