A new five-year Oahu energy plan released by Hawaiian Electric Co. on Wednesday calls for reducing costs to consumers and increasing the utility’s use of renewable energy.
The plan, required by Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission, came after months of meetings by a 68-member community advisory group. Yet it doesn’t appear to go beyond energy goals that have been discussed in the past.
Still, it’s noteworthy that the utility made lowering energy bills a top priority. In recent weeks, the PUC has criticized the utility for not doing enough to lower electricity prices in a state where bills are three to four times the national average.
The three major tenets of the plan include lowering customer bills, pushing forward on clean energy and ensuring fairness when it comes to installing rooftop solar. Beyond a general discussion about those energy goals, few specifics were provided about what types of renewable energy projects will be taking priority in the coming years.
The advisory group was comprised of a broad cross-section of people throughout the islands, including state and county officials, members of business and environmental groups and community activists.
Members of the group have complained in past months that the process has been chaotic and that they struggled to get detailed information about different renewable energy scenarios from HECO. The group was convened by the PUC to provide input to HECO on its future energy plans.
Scott Seu, HECO vice president for energy resources and operations, presented the plan to a community meeting held at Farrington High School on Oahu. Roughly 35 people, a mix of interested residents, energy developers and utility officials, attended the meeting that was scheduled to last two hours. But it ended an hour early because of the lack of comments or questions.
One major priority of the plan, which is non-binding but must be approved by the PUC, is bringing down energy costs.
The utility says it plans to begin taking some of its old generators offline in the coming years and is still looking at importing liquefied natural gas as a cheaper alternative to oil. The utility is also hoping to fast-track low-cost renewable energy projects.
Earlier this year, the utility announced that it would begin accepting proposals for large renewable energy projects that provide cost savings to consumers, despite a ruling by the PUC that requires such projects be competitively bid. Seu said that the utility has received about 25 project proposals and is currently reviewing them. HECO plans to request a waiver from the competitive bidding process from the PUC for projects it deems worthy.
As far as renewable energy sources, Seu said that bringing geothermal from the Big Island was an unlikely scenario in the near future. But other than that, the utility doesn’t seem to be ruling out any other options, including increasing wind and solar energy and pushing forward on biofuels.
The controversial Lanai wind farm, which would bring energy to Oahu, is still a possibility, said Seu. HECO has an agreement with Castle & Cooke for the wind farm. But the project can’t move forward without a bid for undersea cables. The PUC is months behind schedule in releasing a request for proposals for 200 megawatts or more of renewable energy for Oahu, which includes the cables.
The utility also said that it planned to unveil smart meters in 2018. The meters can provide both the utility and consumers with real time information about their energy use.
Seu stressed that despite the planning process, it was important to remain flexible when it comes to integrating new sources of energy into the electric grid.
“I think what you see here is just it’s an indicator that we are at a critical point as a state in the transition to clean energy,” he told Civil Beat. “And what you see here is many different options, different technologies, we’re seeing policy questions come up that we never have. So the good news is that we have almost too many options and I think that’s the challenge. And there’s been a lot of different views on which of these options we should focus on.”
Read the plan:
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