Biofuel to power HECO plant
A pact with the state has the firm using renewable fuels like biodiesel and ethanol
HAWAIIAN Electric Co.'s proposed 110 megawatt power plant at Campbell Industrial Park would be run entirely on renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel under an agreement with the state's consumer advocate.
The commitment to power the plant completely on biofuels was finalized last week and submitted in writing to the Public Utilities Commission yesterday, at the opening of a weeklong series of public hearings about HECO's application to build the $137 million plant.
A look at Hawaiian Electric Co.'s proposed power plant expected to come online in July 2009:
Location: HECO's Barbers Point Tank Farm at Campbell Industrial Park.
Cost: $137 million, including associated improvements to related facilities.
Type: Simple-cycle, combustion turbine peaking unit, consisting of one combustion turbine generator and auxiliary systems.
Fuel: HECO has committed to powering the plant on 100 percent biofuel, such as biodiesel and ethanol.
Design: Includes two buildings up to 40 feet high, two 60-foot fuel tanks, three 60-foot water tanks and a 210-foot exhaust stack.
Transmission: An additional 138-kilovolt transmission line about two miles long within and adjacent to Campbell Industrial Park.
Construction time: 12 to 18 months.
A commitment to alternative fuels -- those made mostly from agricultural products such as corn, soybeans, sugar and their byproducts -- would reduce the amount of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, that account for an estimated 90 percent of the state's energy needs.
HECO originally had said it would initially use low-sulfur diesel and other more traditional fuels while pursuing a switch to alternatives and renewables as those fuels became more commercially available.
Robbie Alm, HECO's senior vice president for public affairs, said the state's promotion of alternative energy played a role in the company agreeing to the 100 percent commitment.
"After looking over what we believe is the reality of biofuels -- ethanol and biodiesel markets -- we felt we could make that commitment," Alm said.
As of April, 80 percent of all gasoline sold in Hawaii is required to be blended with 10 percent ethanol. Additionally, lawmakers this year passed a bipartisan package of bills aimed at lessening the state's dependence on imported fossil fuels through conservation and development of alternative fuels.
The first ethanol processing plants in Hawaii are expected to come online by 2007, while three of the state's largest landowners -- Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Grove Farm Co. and Kamehameha Schools -- in July announced the formation of a partnership to study the viability of a large-scale biofuels industry in the islands.
Meanwhile, biodiesel, a fuel made by converting used cooking oil into a fuel that can be used in any diesel engine, also has gained prominence in Hawaii and across the country. Pacific Biodiesel, among the industry's pioneers in Hawaii, has been making the fuel since 1996.
HECO's agreement with the consumer advocate sets out a plan by which the power company would solicit bids and contract with a biofuel provider by the end of 2007 to provide enough fuel to have the plant come online by July 2009.
"That's the key," Alm said. "Is it ready for us in 2009?"
HECO officials testified at yesterday's hearing that the new plant is needed to make up for a shortfall of 120 megawatts predicted for Oahu by 2009. That shortfall would grow to 130 megawatts by 2010.
Opponents of the plant include environmentalists and preservation groups, such as Life of the Land, which questioned HECO officials about the proposal for much of yesterday's first day of public hearings.
"We recognize there's a need," said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land. "We don't support either fossil fuels or biofuels, which are mostly fossil fuels as content."
He said his group would rather see HECO and the state invest in cleaner technologies, such as wind and wave power, geothermal energy systems and seawater air conditioning.
Some energy industry experts also have criticized biofuels and ethanol as only a partial solution to energy needs, because the fuel is not as efficient as traditional sources.
Corn-based ethanol is a frequent target of critics because of its low efficiency ratings. In some instances, companies trying to meet demand for ethanol have built processing plants that run on traditional fossil fuels.
Hawaii's ethanol industry aims to base itself on sugar, which studies have shown is more efficient than other agricultural sources, known as feed stocks.
Curtis contends that such goals are still problematic.
"The only thing you're gaining is water wars," he said. "To grow crops here means you have to ... find somewhere of stealing massive amounts of water to grow crops and that's not something they're going to be able to do by 2009."
Alm said HECO continues to study all sources of alternative energy as it looks to meet expected growth in demand, adding that it is hard to predict what societal changes -- such as an aircraft carrier getting based at Pearl Harbor or the building of a light rail system -- could have an impact on Oahu's energy needs.
"We're trying to work with everybody," he said. "Literally, we're looking at every possible alternative we have on Oahu."