Senate Bill 2510 is a blueprint for Hawaii’s energy independence

The louder the voices get, the more obvious this becomes. All talented energy developers – including residential and commercial solar – understandably want their technology to be a dominant presence on Hawaii’s power grid.

I don’t blame them. They have worked hard to integrate renewable technologies into our homes and businesses, and federal and state tax incentives have provided once nascent and expensive applications with the ability to compete with subsidized fossil fuel production.

Renewable energy has transformed our energy supply pipeline and paved the way to our clean energy future. We need many cost-effective alternatives to replace our aging oil production infrastructure.

The thing is, it’s not enough. It was easy to pick the fruits within reach. Now comes the challenge and it will spark debate.

If it were easy, the world would already be 100% renewable. We need a plan to make sure we have both intermittent renewable power and firm power on the grid so we can completely end our reliance on fossil fuels while providing Hawaii with a stable and reliable network.

Do not mistake yourself; we desperately need all the solar and wind power we can get. In Hawaii’s unique environment, wind and solar are clearly vital, but even here they cannot guarantee on-demand power 24/7/365. With current four to six hour battery storage technology, wind and solar are intermittent power solutions – essential to meet some demand but not sufficient to ensure power will be available to meet demand. at one point.

HEI HECO Superintendent of Waiau, William Evans stands in the 7/8 control room.  Turbine of the HEI HECO Waiau power station without a building.  April 14, 2016
The transformation of renewable energy in Hawaii will not happen overnight. Corporate power must be part of the state portfolio. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

And the industry doesn’t know when there will be major breakthroughs that will improve this technology. What if it only happens after 2045?

Sudden drops in supply due to cloud cover, Kona winds, or even oversupply call into question the ability to maintain a stable energy supply. We need a firm generation to cushion these abrupt changes to keep the lights on. Defined as a power source that can guarantee 24/7 power under all conditions, firm power must be present even in sleep mode.

Today’s firm electricity generation comes primarily from imported carbon-emitting petroleum. It must be replaced by our various natural and self-sufficient resources such as geothermal energy, bioenergy and pumped hydroelectricity. Some predict it may also come from 24×7 batteries when the technology can become affordable.

Obsolete blueprints

Over the summer, members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee were invited to visit energy projects throughout the state, and we convened key state energy stakeholders – the Commission Utilities, the State Bureau of Energy, Hawaiian Electric, and the Island of Kauai Utilities Cooperative. It became alarming that there was no strategic energy plan developed by the state to transition Hawaii to a reliable, carbon-free future.

The latest plan, created by the Office of Planning in 1996, aimed to free itself from the stronghold of imported oil. The world has changed in 26 years, but our dependence on oil has not.

The bright spot from these meetings was the taxpayer-owned cooperative, KIUC, where its well-thought-out sustainable plan that includes firm and diverse renewable technologies has enabled it to achieve levels as high as 100% renewable generation. Those who say it can’t be done are simply wrong, no matter how important and valuable the energy source chosen for our complete energy solution.

The world has changed in 26 years, but our dependence on oil has not.

Senate Bill 2510 is not a mandate and does not choose the favorites among the various resources. In fact, it’s the opposite. It is a roadmap to guide Hawaii toward an abundant mix of intermittent power and firm renewable energy solutions so that our grid can meet the growing demand it plans to generate electricity without fossil fuel by 2045.

Every state in the country is considering the real possibility that demand will soon exceed grid capacity, especially with the mantra of electrifying everything, wreaking havoc on large swathes of the country with grid outages and blackouts. Here in Hawaii, we don’t have the luxury of sharing resources with neighboring networks. We are alone, which makes it imperative to get it right.

Three years ago, lawmakers were reassured by regulators that decommissioning Oahu’s reliable and affordable coal-fired power plant would be safe because it would be replaced by a single type of renewable energy source, solar and battery. It is reported by Hawaiian Electric that of these 19 projects initially promised, only one will be delivered on time and the other 18 delayed or canceled.

No contingency plan has been created. And no plan has been made for Maui knowing that they have to retire two firm installations in three years.

Time is running out and we can’t keep crossing our fingers that these delayed, interrupted and troubled efforts will somehow save the day. It is irresponsible to continue to put our entire energy future into one technology basket and expect it to provide a stable grid.

SB 2510 looks to the future, offering a plan to bring firm and intermittent sources to our grid, setting goals and recommendations to guide the process and lead our energy partners to collectively ensure we can end our dependency to fossil fuels. This is what we promised, and this is what we must do.

Ignoring the elephant in the room will not make it disappear. And if we don’t act, we could end up in the dark.

Norman D. Briggs