Senate Bill 2510 Is A Blueprint For Hawaii’s Energy Independence

As the voices get louder, the more obvious it becomes. All the talented energy developers — including residential and commercial solar — understandably want their technology to be a dominant presence on Hawaii’s electric grid.

Opinion article badge

I don’t blame them. They’ve worked hard to integrate renewable technology into our homes and businesses, and state and federal tax incentives have provided the once nascent and expensive applications the ability to compete with subsidized fossil fuel generation.

Renewable energy has transformed our energy supply pipeline and paved the way toward our clean energy future. We need many cost-effective alternatives to replace our aging oil generating infrastructure.

The thing is, it’s not enough. It was easy to pick the low-hanging fruit. Now comes the challenge and it will stir debate.

If it was easy, the world would already be 100% renewable. We need a plan to ensure we have both renewable intermittent power and firm power on the grid so that we can completely end our dependency on fossil fuels while providing Hawaii a stable, reliable grid.

Don’t get me wrong; we desperately need all the solar and wind we can get. In Hawaii’s unique environment, wind and solar are clearly vital, but even here, they can’t guarantee power on demand 24/7/365. With today’s four-to-six-hour battery storage technology, wind and solar are intermittent energy solutions – critical to satisfy some demand but not enough to guarantee that energy will be available to meet the demand at any given time.

HEI HECO Superintendent of Waiau, William Evans stands in 7/8 control room. HEI HECO Waiau power plant turbine without building. 14 april 2016
Hawaii’s renewable energy transformation won’t happen overnight. Firm power needs to be part of the state’s portfolio. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

And the industry doesn’t know when there will be major breakthroughs that improve this technology. What if it doesn’t happen until after 2045?

Sudden drops in supply due to cloud cover, Kona winds or even oversupply challenges the ability to maintain a stable supply of power. We need firm generation to buffer these abrupt changes to keep the lights on. Defined as a power source that can guarantee power 24/7, regardless of conditions, firm power needs to be there, even if in standby mode.

Today’s firm power generation comes primarily from imported carbon emitting oil. It needs to be substituted with our diverse natural, self-sustaining resources like geothermal, bioenergy and pumped hydro. Some predict it can also come from 24×7 batteries when the technology can become affordable.

Outdated Plans

During the summer, the Senate Ways and Means Committee members were invited to tour energy projects around the state, and we convened the state’s key energy stakeholders — the Public Utilities Commission, the State Energy Office, Hawaiian Electric and the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. It became alarmingly clear that there was no state constructed strategic energy plan to transition Hawaii to a reliable and carbon free future.

The last plan, created by the Office of Planning in 1996, focused on breaking free of the stronghold of imported oil. The world has changed in 26 years, but not our dependence on oil.

The bright spot in those meetings was the ratepayer owned co-op, KIUC, where its well-thought-out sustainable plan that includes firm and diversified renewable technologies has enabled it to reach levels as high as 100% renewable generation. Those who say it can’t be done are simply wrong, no matter how important and valuable their chosen energy source is to our comprehensive energy solution.

The world has changed in 26 years, but not our dependence on oil.

Senate Bill 2510 is not a mandate, nor does it pick favorites among the various resources. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a roadmap to guide Hawaii to an abundant mix of intermittent energy and firm renewable power solutions so that our grid can meet the growing demand it envisions of fossil free electric generation by 2045.

Every state in the country is staring down the real possibility that demand will soon exceed grid capacity, especially with the mantra of electrifying everything, wreaking havoc on large swathes of the country with grid failures and rolling blackouts. Here in Hawaii, we don’t have the luxury of sharing resources with neighboring grids. We’re on our own, making it imperative that we get this right.

Three years ago, the Legislature was reassured by the regulators that decommissioning the reliable, affordable Oahu coal plant would be safe, because it would be replaced by a single type of renewable energy source, solar and battery. It’s reported by Hawaiian Electric that of those 19 projects originally promised, only one will be delivered on time and the other 18 delayed or terminated.

No contingency plan was created. And no plan was done for Maui knowing they need to retire two firm facilities in three years.

The clock is ticking, and we can’t keep crossing our fingers that these delayed, terminated, and troubled efforts will somehow save the day. It’s irresponsible to keep putting all our energy future in one technology basket and expecting it to deliver a stable grid.

SB 2510 looks forward, putting forth a plan to bring firm and intermittent sources to our grid, setting targets and recommendations to guide the process and lead our energy partners to collectively ensure we can end our dependency on fossil fuel. That’s what we’ve promised, and that’s what we have to do.

Ignoring the elephant in the room won’t make it go away. And if we don’t act, we may well find ourselves in the dark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button