Sunday, June 10, 2001

A bulldozer pushes trash to a conveyer belt that will transport
the pile into the HPOWER plant.

Plugged in:

Hawaii's quest for power
boosts interest in
renewable resources

By Diana Leone

While California braces itself for a long, hot summer of rolling blackouts, Hawaii residents can rest at ease.

It's true that as a state we pay more for our electricity than the rest of the country -- almost double the national average and the highest rates of any state even after recent California increases.

However, the same island isolation that helps drive our electricity prices up also gives us more backup power than our continental cousins.

"HECO, HELCO and MECO have more than an adequate energy reserve, so that we don't face the problem California does this summer, or in the immediate future," said Charles Freedman, corporate relations vice president for Hawaiian Electric Co., which operates the utilities on Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, Lanai and Molokai -- retailing 96 percent of the state's power.

"California was depending on other states as a source of power and that was part of their problem," Freedman said.

In an island state with regulated utilities, Hawaii power companies must have more back-up capacity than mainland utilities to ensure reliability. If a power plant crashes, there's no way to buy power from a neighboring state.

That's not the only thing that's different about Hawaii's energy situation.

While President Bush crafts a national energy policy, Hawaii can parallel the nation in some ways, but in other ways the state must chart its own course.

A national energy plan will be good in several ways, Hawaiian Electric officials said in a recent interview. It asks the nation as a whole to look at supply, demand, conservation and technology all at the same time, said Dave Waller, HECO manager of energy services.

"I don't think it changes a lot of what we're doing already, trying to get constituents and political decision-makers to focus on a comprehensive look at energy," said Tom Joaquin, HECO vice president for power supply. "From my perspective, it's a good starting point for the dialog that needs to happen."

"We can take what works for us (in Hawaii) and where the national policy doesn't apply -- like with nuclear power or natural gas -- we can look at different things," Freedman said.

Here are some key differences between Hawaii and the mainland when it comes to electric power generation:

Rodney Smith, Chrys Flores and Guy Morishima, from left,
worked Thursday night in the machine shop of the facility
run by Covanta Honolulu Resource Recovery Venture,
formerly known as HPOWER.

>> Hawaii uses oil to generate a whopping 78 percent of the state's electricity, compared with just 3 percent nationwide. So everything the Bush plan says about diversifying from fossil fuels goes for us in spades.

>> Coal is king of power generation on the mainland at 52 percent. In Hawaii, it accounts for almost 15 percent of electricity's fuel. Much of that is from the 180 megawatt AES-Hawaii plant in Campbell Industrial Park. Its high-tech design and operations reduce hazardous emissions associated with burning coal, but it still creates carbon dioxide, a main component of greenhouse gas.

>> Hawaii has no nuclear power plants. Nationwide, nuclear power supplies 20 percent of electricity generation, and the Bush plan calls for more. But the large size of nuclear power generators does not fit Hawaii's needs. Also, the state Constitution prohibits nuclear power.

>> Another mainland electric mainstay is natural gas, accounting for 16 percent of electric fuel. Transporting natural gas to Hawaii on a large scale would not be cost effective or safe. Gas that's sold here for cooking is refined from crude oil after it arrives.

>> The mainland's rushing rivers provide 7 percent of our electric power. But Hawaii's short, erratic streams can only eke out 0.7 percent of our electric oomph.

>> Renewable energy -- from wind, solar and geothermal sources -- is a real area of opportunity for Hawaii. Hawaii gets 6.5 percent of its electricity from renewables. Statistically, that puts us ahead of the mainland, which uses 2 percent renewable energy overall.

Proponents of renewable sources say Hawaii's combination of heavy dependence on oil, high electricity costs and the abundance of resources makes it only natural to push ahead on this front.

"We are overly dependent on oil as a fuel source," said Maurice Kaya, energy resources and technology division head in the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. "The emphasis recently has been mainly on renewable sources of energy and taking as many opportunities as we can to achieve greater efficiency."

State Rep. Hermina Morita, D-East Maui-North Kauai, agrees. As chairwoman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, she shepherded the renewable energy portfolio bill through the Legislature (HB173, still awaiting action by the governor).

"One of our biggest problems right now is how we deploy our renewables," Morita said. "In Hawaii, the way the regulatory structure is set up it's more advantageous for a utility company to operate their plant, before they bring anyone else on line."

Her bill sets goals for the proportion of Hawaii's electricity needs to be filled by renewables: 7 percent by the end of 2003, 8 percent by the end of 2005 and 9 percent by the end of 2010. It also allows residents with solar photovoltaic cells to run the meter backwards when they are producing more energy than they are using.

Critics say the bill does not aim high enough while utility spokesmen counter that the goals will be something to strive for.


The AES-Hawaii plant, reflected here in water, burns coal to
produce steam that drives the turbine to generate electricity.

Nationally known energy-efficiency expert Amory Lovins spoke to a group of renewable energy supporters while in Honolulu recently. He emphasized that Hawaii's small population and physical division by island make it perfect for the emerging trend toward smaller power plants and fewer transmission lines.

"Small is profitable," Lovins said, and advances in electrical engineering and financial economics can be tapped to "do more with less."

On Oahu, Hawaiian Electric expects electric demand to increase by 20 megawatts a year. But at the same time, all Hawaii electric companies have pursued "demand-side management" -- assisting customers to use less electricity and rewarding them for it financially.

The electric companies estimate that by 2005, they will have lowered projected electric demand from what it would have been without the demand-side management: by 46 megawatts on Oahu, by 7.6 megawatts on the Big Island, by 8.9 megawatts on Maui (including Molokai and Lanai), and by 2.1 megawatts on Kauai.

How's this for efficiency? The Kauai Power Partners plant under construction in Lihue will add 26.4 MW to Kauai's electric mix by 2002, but the diesel- and naphtha-burning plant will actually reduce Kauai's overall fuel usage by 11 to 14 percent, said Denny Polosky, Kauai Electric vice president and general manager.

This kind of focus on bang for the buck is exactly what renewables gurus like Lovins have been preaching for decades. It seems possible that the paths of the environmental and business communities finally might be crossing.


Still, Jeff Mikulina, Hawaii Sierra Club director, warns that Bush's energy plan and his proposed budget tell different stories. "The president's plan does nothing to wean us from our oil habit," Mikulina said recently.

"His budget cuts research and development in renewable energy 37 percent and cuts energy-efficiency development."

Meanwhile it offers "no mention of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions," which are of particular concern to Hawaii as an island state. The Sierra Club is so steamed they've taken out ads on local radio stations denouncing the Bush plan.

Still, Hawaii could take a leadership role, Mikulina suggested. "While Bush is busy chopping renewable energy programs nationwide, Hawaii state and utility leaders could say, 'Great, let's capitalize on it,' and invest heavily (in renewables)."

The price of power

Here is a look at the states with the highest average residential electricity costs. The U.S average is 8.2 cents per kilowatt-hour:
>> Hawaii: 16.4 cents/kilowatt-hour
>> California: 15.6 cents/kwh
>> New York: 14.1
>> New Hampshire: 13.6
>> Vermont: 12.1
Source: U.S. Department of Energy year 2000 figures; except California, from California Public Utility Commission as of June 1, 2001

Breakdown of isle residential rates:
>> Big Island (HELCO): 22.8 cents/kwh
>> Kauai Electric: 22.3 cents/kwh
>> Maui (MECO): 19.2 cents/kwh
>> Oahu (HECO): 14.4 cents/kwh
Source: Utility companies

What's in a watt?

An average household uses about 3 kilowatts. If it uses that much for an hour, it's a kilowatt-hour, which is how electricity is billed. A kilowatt is 1,000 times more than a watt, which you know in terms of a 60-watt light bulb, etc.
A megawatt is a million watts (1,000 times more than a kilowatt). So 3 megawatts could power 1,000 "average" homes.
Source: Hawaiian Electric

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