It is rather unfortunate that we still have people like Peter P Goldstern in the kingdom or put it this way, it is only in the kingdom that we still find people like Mr Goldstern. Yes, only in the kingdom can Mr Goldstern put his strings of B.Sc and M.Sc into perfect use! Have we forgotten Dr Wong, the court jester and the like?
It is typical to start on a fakahekeheke note and acknowledge that what he is doing is the wish of HRH and therefore assume that all Tongans will accept it since it is a maa’imoa. It is his sure bet that the saying; kai aipe manu vaivai he fangota ‘a e lulutai is still true in the third millennium.
Mr Goldstern’s intention may have been a damage control for Shoreline but this cannot be achieved by a simple misleading letter like this. Shoreline took over the power generation in 1998 and Shoreline’s alternative energy studies began in 2002, yet he chose to use “many years” as if these studies has been done for more than 10 years and that Shoreline is very serious about cutting down costs, cheaper power, etc.
One need not have a degree from MIT nor the Uni of Washington to know that wave power is not a commercially proven technology. Wave power stations in the UK, Norway and Japan are all for research and development. Why does one even spend a second of one’s valuable time to re-evaluate what is clearly a common sense question? A developing country like Tonga cannot, as yet, adopt a technology which is under development in developed countries. The same can said of fuel cells. This is still under development in places like Iceland and in the USA too. Grid-connected wind power generation is proven and is a commercialized technology which is found in Tonga’s backyard like NZ, Cook Is, Fiji, French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Yet to make this sounds technically complicated, Mr Goldstern is talking about a wind-hydropower technology in Okinawa that can be adopted at ‘Eua to Tongatapu. On the surface of it, generation efficiency will not get any better but the capital outlay will almost double. Do we need to go further in this investigation? If it has not worked in other Pacific countries or in the developing countries of the Caribbean and elsewhere with their better wind regimes, how on earth can it work in Tonga? Yes, only in the kingdom!
Biomass (copra oil) offers an opportunity for Tonga as an alternative to the expensive diesel oil and Mr Goldstern should more productively used his expertise in this area. Copra is a dying industry but was once a principal source of foreign earnings and employment. With innovative thinking and the political will, the industry can be revived to support the ailing economy. Vanuatu, Marshall Is and Fiji have taken positive steps to use copra oil as a substitute for diesel.
I do find it appalling that Mr Goldstern states that solar is not cost-effective yet. Six islands of the Ha’apai Group have been electrified with solar photovoltaic in 2002 under an aid programme. Lofanga was not included as Shoreline has some plans for them. At the same time, Ha’ano, ‘Uiha and Ha’afeva were electrified with diesel generators under a different aid programme. The solar consumers are presently paying T$13 per month for their power bill and have accumulated about T$100,000 for maintenance while the diesel consumers are each paying an average of T$26 per month and are conducting monthly koniseti feinga pa’anga to cover for the fuel cost alone. These people are now begging for duty free fuel and for government to subsidize their costs. Do we even need a calculator to prove that solar is cost effective against diesel in this Ha’apai illustration?
Tonga has been bombarded with all sorts of phony energy schemes from people like Mr Goldstern. The Norwegians proposed to build a wave power plant at Makeke and for government to buy back the plant after 6 years. Tyres were proposed to be imported and burn in Tonga for power generation. An oil refinery was proposed for one of the islands. Nuclear power and wastes to energy were proposed at one time. Recently, the Koreans proposed to convert seawater into gas. None of these schemes had any technical and economic merits to start with. Mr Goldstern’s ‘Eua-Tongatapu 5 MW wind-hydro scheme will be the latest addition to this list.
The problem with the power sector in Tonga is not with the high costs of fuel nor is it the non-diversification of the generation source. It is the absence of an effective non-biased regulatory framework to oversee an open and competitive private sector. The participation of HRH in Shoreline is the stumbling block. The people of Tonga do not need experts from the World Bank, the UN, and people with long list of degrees to tell them that. They only hope that their power bill is used more productively rather than on Mr Goldstern’s studies.