Maui Power Plant Woes Illustrate Need For Sustainability - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Richard Ha

Big Island resident Richard Ha is president of Sustainable Energy Hawaii.


We were shocked to read that Hawaiian Electric may have to build a whole new power plant on Maui solely because the company that supplies spare parts for its Maalaea power plant generators unexpectedly shut down.

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Hawaiian Electric says the four diesel-powered engines, which are capable of supplying nearly a quarter of the island’s electricity, require new parts every two and a half years as part of routine maintenance, and no other manufacturer appears able to provide those parts.

The company has enough spare parts for now but is scrambling to determine how it will keep Maui’s lights on when the engines need servicing in 2027.

It’s a perfect example of why Sustainable Energy Hawaii is working so hard here on the Big Island to plan ahead and keep our electricity on.

None of us at the nonprofit SEH are working for our own gain. Sustainable Energy Hawaii is a group of people trying to make life better for future generations. We know we need to plan for a strong future, and that’s what we’re doing.

Our current priority is to raise awareness and funding for the Hawaii Groundwater and Geothermal Resource Center. This agency, founded by Don Thomas and current director Nicole Lautze, considers geothermal a powerful baseload renewable energy that can enable Hawaii to safely achieve its clean energy goals.

The center provides both new and historical information about groundwater and geothermal resources. By drilling around the island, they map geothermal hotspots, our water resource, and its characteristics (for instance, they know where to find underground superheated water).

Volcanoes can be dangerous, as seen in the 2018 destruction of Leilani Estates on Hawaii island. But they are also sources of energy. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Once that research is done, we’ll be ahead of the curve and can standby until the utility asks for more geothermal, at which point we will have good information to work with.

Compare this to Puna Geothermal Venture having been developed in the East Rift zone.

While the planning was made in good faith and based on the best research at the time, look what happened. With another volcanic eruption, it could be covered entirely. We need better information about our island’s resources.

Hawaii Groundwater and Geothermal Resource Center envisions “a sustainable Hawaii that practices responsible and active stewardship over natural resources, and promotes evidence-based energy and management policies that protect the people, land, and future of the islands.”

We need better information about our island’s resources.

The problem is that HGGRC is vastly underfunded. To complete a full assessment of Hawaii Island, it needs $25 million.

Once that assessment is done, future geothermal facilities can be planned using accurate data, meaning people can determine which areas are too close to populations, which are culturally sensitive, and the like.

Both Lautze and Thomas spoke at SEH’s recent geothermal webinars. Their talks are available here.

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About the Author

Richard Ha

Big Island resident Richard Ha is president of Sustainable Energy Hawaii.


Latest Comments (0)

How about they replace the existing obsolete engines with new ones.

Musashimiyamoto · 1 month ago

There are economically viable geothermal resources on Maui too. Didn't one of Trask sisters try to start a geothermal company a few years back to exploit one of those? Believe it or not, there may even be one or two viable hot spots on Oahu as well. With ample solar, wind and geothermal power, Big I has the potential to generate enough electricity for our entire state. While an inter island extension cord from Big I to Maui/Oahu has been deemed not feasible, there is an alternative. Consider that Europe is looking to import huge quantities of electricity in the form of hydrogen from distant corners of the world. Hydrogen can easily be converted to electricity and while inefficient, it is viable. Hundreds of billions of capital are being allocated right now to enable this.Electricity is the key input required to produce hydrogen. Hydrogen is the key input to produce ammonia, aka, fertilizer. If properly planned, Big I could "export" enough electricity (in the form of hydrogen) and fertilizer to satisfy 110%+ of our state's energy and fertilizer needs. Geothermal is Hawaii's diamond in the rough. Fund HGGRC !

Thrasybulus_of_Athens · 1 month ago

Several readers commented to get replacement parts from China. As good as that sounds, however it is not that trivial. These are generators serving thousands of people. Do we really want uncertified parts to be installed on critical public utilities? Who are these "Chinese" manufacturers and who will certify that the replacement parts meets stringent quality requirements? Are the parts made of the proper alloys to meet the heat and stress placed on them? A few percentage off on a alloy's composition can create a very different metal with very different properties.Let's not forget that China is plagued with much more counterfeit products than Japan or US. Chinese tech companies are risking being delisted from US stock markets because they will not share their audits with US regulators.Who would like to be the person to answer to an investigation board that "I" authorized uncertified Chinese replacement parts to be purchased and installed in critical US infrastructure that had failed and left thousands of homes without power?

Mnemosyne · 1 month ago

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