As many as 200 companies are showing an interest in the largest bid for renewable energy in the state’s history.

The Legislature’s recent approval of the undersea cable bill earlier this month is generating added interest in projects seeking to bring energy from neighbor islands to Oahu.

Hawaiian Electric Co. is expected to release a request for proposals soon for 200 megawatts or more of renewable energy. The amount is equivalent to about seven Kahuku wind farms — the North Shore project on Oahu that includes 12 turbines with blades stretching more than 400 feet into the sky. Proposals can use any viable technology and be sited on any island that can reach Oahu by cable, or on Oahu itself.

Wind, solar and undersea cable developers, engineers and attorneys are just some of the dozens of stakeholders who flocked to an informational meeting hosted by the utility and state officials in December. Since then, companies have been making the rounds talking to state and local officials.

“We are definitely seeing people coming in our doors talking about proposals that they are thinking of making,” said Doug McLeod, Maui’s energy commissioner.

HECO’s plans to seek more power projects has been in the works for months. State regulators instructed the utility to move forward with the bidding process after Boston-based First Wind missed a critical deadline to secure land for a 200-megawatt wind farm on Molokai. The wind farm was to be half of the Big Wind project, which would build dozens of wind turbines on Molokai and Lanai and bring the electricity to Oahu via undersea cables.

Since then, there’s been a frenzy of activity among energy companies hoping to score a winning bid. And in addition to the familiar faces in Hawaii’s energy scene, new companies are expected to compete for a place in the state’s attractive energy market where high electricity prices — double the national average – make a wide range of renewable energy projects competitive.

National Companies Eye Hawaii

One of the larger companies that has shown an interest is ESS Group, which has offices in Massachusetts, Virginia and Rhode Island. The company has developed 600 miles of land and underwater transmission lines and 1,500 mw of renewable energy. It is a consultant for the Cape Wind project, a 450 mw offshore wind farm on Nantucket Sound, according to the company website. A company official, who attended the informational meeting on HECO’s RFP in December, did not return a call for comment.

Lockheed Martin, the multi-billion dollar military contractor, is looking into wave energy projects and ocean thermal energy conversion, according to the company. OTEC exploits the temperature differential between cold, deep seawater and warmer surface water to generate electricity. Power would be brought to shore through undersea cables from floating power plants several miles offshore. While still pre-commercial, its advocates tout the technology’s ability to supply large amounts of energy to Oahu in a relativity non-intrusive way. But it’s struggled to attract the hefty financing needed to build a commercial-scale facility.

Florida-based NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind and solar energy in the country, also has at least checked out the landscape for projects. While the company sent a representative to Hawaii in December to learn more about the RFP, it is being tight lipped about any future plans.

“It’s not something that we are comfortable with talking about,” said Steven Stengel, a spokesperson for NextEra. He said it was “a good question” when asked if there were any projects that the company was proposing.

While wind and solar projects are expected to be the primary proposals, some companies are thinking outside of the box.

Darren Kimura, CEO of Sopogy, a local solar thermal company, said that the company was looking to partner with other developers in combining energy sources.

“Could it be wind? Yes. Biofuels? Perhaps. Even geothermal? Yes,” he said. And Sopogy isn’t discounting any island either.

“We are looking for ways to produce more energy using less land,” said Kimura. “For example, we believe that of course our stand-alone solution is a good one. But when we can combine them with other renewable energy inputs we can increase efficiency and potentially the probability of winning the RFP.”

First Wind, which spent several years on Molokai trying to negotiate a wind farm deal and made several failed offers to Molokai Ranch for land, also wasn’t shy about its plans to bid. The company won’t be including Molokai, however, despite protesting last year that it was elbowed out of the Big Wind deal.

The most prolific wind developer in Hawaii, First Wind intends to submit bids for projects on Maui and Oahu, said John Lamontagne, a spokesperson for First Wind. He wouldn’t say if the proposals would be limited solely to wind energy, nor disclose the specific locations it is exploring, other than to say it’s not Oahu’s gusty Kaena Point.

“We recognize the cultural and environmental significance of the area, and are not considering a project there,” he said by email.

The company, which already has wind farms on Oahu and Maui, may also look at expanding capacity at its existing sites, he said.

And then there is the controversial Molokai wind project.

Last year, after First Wind missed its deadline, the CEO of Molokai Ranch announced that it would work with San Francisco-based Pattern Energy. The company formed a joint venture with Bio-Logical Capital called Molokai Renewables and company executives appear undaunted by the upwelling of local opposition to the project.

While company officials did not respond to a request for a phone interview, Keiki-Pua Dancil, a company executive, released a statement saying that the company’s position had not changed and that it intended to move forward with a bid.

“Molokai Renewables LLC focuses on exploring the opportunity to provide clean energy to Hawaii in a responsible manner, looking specifically at potential on the island of Molokai,” Dancil said in an email.

There’s also a good chance that Castle & Cooke, the developer for the wind farm on Lanai, could bid on an extra 200 megawatts for that island. If successful, this would mean that the entire Big Wind project, about 140 wind turbines, would be built on Lanai — a cheaper option than also tying cables to Molokai, but one that would enflame local opposition to the project. The company pressed hard last year to get the entire project after First Wind missed its deadline, and the option was part of the original contract that the company had with HECO. A company representative did not return Civil Beat’s call for comment.

Cable Project An Important Component

When it comes to undersea cable developers, there are only a handful of companies in the country with the expertise, and Pattern Energy is one of them. Pattern developed San Francisco’s Trans Bay cable in San Francisco, which is similar in scope to the undersea cable project proposed for Molokai and Lanai.

Also a contender is Hawaii Infrastructure Partners, a joint venture of PowerBridge, Anbaric and HDBaker & Co. The company has said that it plans to submit a bid. PowerBridge was the developer of the Neptune Project, a 600 mw undersea cable project that transmits energy between New Jersey and Long Island. The company has other major cable projects under development on the east coast.

HECO’s draft RFP, released last year, attracted such a cascade of inquiries from developers that the utility said that it needed more time to come out with the final version, which is expected in the next few weeks. It still has to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission.

But while interest abounds, Sopogy’s Kimura said he expected that in the end the number of contenders would be small.

“There is no risk for someone to show up at one of these meetings,” he said. “I think when it gets down to who follows through with a bankable proposal, we’ll see that list come down by 90 percent even.”

Whoever wins is almost sure to be well capitalized.

Just putting a proposal together could cost $1 million, said Reb Bellinger, a vice president at Waimanalo-based Makai Ocean Engineering, which hopes to be a subcontractor for undersea cables.

“Anyone responding to this thing has to be a big time player,” he said.

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