The Hawaiian electric companies filed new long-term energy plans with the state Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday that outline their strategies for increasing clean energy, reducing consumer costs, and improving the integration of solar into their electric grids on Oahu, Maui County and the Big Island.
In April, the PUC rejected the companies’ originally submitted plans, calling them “excessively ambiguous.” They were given 120 days to redo them. Those plans were the culmination of a year-long, intensive planning process that included a 68-member community advisory group at a cost of $11 million.
The companies include Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), serving Oahu; Maui Electric Company, (MECO), serving Maui, Lanai and Molokai; and Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO), serving the Big Island.
Highlights of the plans, to be achieved by 2030, include converting to more than 65 percent renewable energy, reducing electric bills by 20 percent and nearly tripling the amount of distributed solar power.
“Our energy environment is changing rapidly and we must change with it to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said Shelee Kimura, Hawaiian Electric vice president of corporate planning and business development, in a statement released Tueday night. “These plans are about delivering services that our customers value. That means lower costs, better protection of our environment, and more options to lower their energy costs, including rooftop solar.”
How well the plans are received by the PUC remains to be seen.
“The Commission will immediately begin its evaluation of the filings to determine the extent in which the HECO Companies’ action plans are consistent with the Commission’s April orders and the State’s energy goals,” the PUC said in a statement Tuesday night.
The plans’ release came one night after about a dozen protesters organized by the Sierra Club Hawaii congregated outside HECO’s Ward Avenue headquarters to criticize the company’s solar energy policies.
The utility requires homeowners to get its approval before installing photovoltaic systems, and critics say that slows the pace of PV installations with some customers having to wait for several months.
HECO in its Tuesday statement said its plans “support sustainable growth of rooftop solar. Working closely with the solar industry, the companies are, by 2030, planning to almost triple the amount of distributed solar using fair and equitable plans.
“A clear, open planning process will let customers and solar contractors know how much more solar can be added each year,” HECO said. “Grid enhancements will make possible increased integration of solar power. And optimized control settings for solar equipment will improve safety and reduce the risk of power outages.”
The utility promised “fair pricing both for customers who generate power but who also rely on the company for additional electricity and/or backup, as well as those who remain ‘full-service’ utility customers.”
HECO also said it plans to expand its use of energy storage systems, including batteries, to increase its ability to avoid potential disruptions to the electric grid due to the variable nature of solar and wind power.
“Hawaiian Electric is evaluating proposals for energy storage projects on O‘ahu to be in service by early 2017,” the statement said. “Energy storage projects are also in the works for Maui, Moloka‘I, Lanai and Hawai‘i Island.”
The plans also call for the development of “smart grids” to help customers monitor and control their energy use.
The companies are proposing to complete installation of smart grids in Maui County and the Big Island by the end of 2017 and on Oahu by the end of 2018.
The plans also call for switching from oil to liquefied natural gas.
“Energy needs not met by renewables will largely be met with cleaner and less expensive liquefied natural gas, or LNG,” according to the statement. “Most existing oil-fired generating units will be converted to run on LNG. Older generating units will be deactivated by 2030 as new, more-efficient, quick-starting LNG fueled generators come online.”
While the plans will require “significant upfront investment by the utilities and unaffiliated companies,” customer bills are expected to decline by about 20 percent by 2030, according to the statement.
“This plan sets us on a path to a future with more affordable, clean, renewable energy,” Dick Rosenblum, Hawaiian Electric president and CEO, said in the statement. “It’s the start of a conversation that all of us — utilities, regulators and other policymakers, the solar industry, customers and other stakeholders — need to be a part of, as we work together to achieve the energy future we all want for Hawaii.”
You can read the new plans here.