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Hawaii Is Replacing Its Last Coal Plant With a ‘Giant Battery’—Powered by Oil
By Selected News Articles @ 8:13 PM :: 2143 Views :: Honolulu County, Energy, Cost of Living

Hawaii Is Replacing Its Last Coal Plant With a ‘Giant Battery’—Powered by Oil

The revelation that the Kapolei Energy Storage Facility will be powered with oil caused an uproar at a recent meeting, but the project is slated to continue.

by Jon Miltimore, FEE, Thursday, May 20, 2021

In 2015, Hawaii made history, becoming the first US state to mandate a full transition to renewable energy. The legislation, signed into law by Gov. David Ige, mandated that state utilities generate 100 percent of electricity sales from renewable fuels by 2045.

Green energy publications noted that the move positioned Hawaii as “a pioneer in the quest to move toward a future free of fossil fuels.” But some also offered a warning.

“Promises are easy to make,” noted GreenBiz, a media company focused on renewable energy. “Achieving them is another story.”

Leaders in the Aloha State are learning this the hard way.

‘Going from Cigarettes to Crack’

In May, news broke that the state’s largest supplier of electricity, Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO), was considering pulling the plug on development of a key new energy storage system.

The Kapolei Energy Storage Facility—basically an enormous battery—is being built to ensure a stable supply of electricity to the island of Oahu, which is preparing for the retirement of the AES coal plant—Hawaii’s last coal-fired power plant—which produces 15-20 percent of the island’s electricity.

The 185-megawatt storage facility was intended to make up for the loss of the 180 megawatt AES plant, which was no longer a viable option because of a recent ban on coal. But renewable energy projects have been beset by a number of problems, including delays in renewable projects.

One concern, as Pacific Business News reported in March, is that these delays “will leave Oahu with a very tight fuel reserve margin, opening up the possibility of rolling blackouts in the event of failure.”

Perhaps the greater concern, however, is the impact these delays will have on the giant battery.

“If there is not enough solar, wind, or battery storage energy to replace the AES plant, HECO would have to use oil instead to charge things like the upcoming 185-megawatt Kapolei Energy Storage Facility,” Pacific Business News reported.

It’s not a matter of “if,” however. The reality is there’s not enough wind, solar, or battery storage to replace the AES plant. Hawaiian Electric has made this quite clear in recent documents, noting that it would not be able to meet its year-two renewable target (75 percent) for “more than a decade.”

This means that to replace its soon-to-be retired coal plant, Hawaii Electric will soon be charging its giant battery … with oil. In other words, Hawaiians will be trading one fossil fuel (coal) for another, albeit one far more expensive.

This revelation caused the chair of PUC, Jay Griffin, to complain that Hawaiians are “going from cigarettes to crack.”

“Oil prices don’t have to be much higher for this to look like the highest increase people will have experienced,” Griffin said. “And it’s not acceptable. We have to do better.”

The dilemma reportedly had many at the meeting on edge.

One photovoltaic panel supplier told a reporter that he "had not witnessed an exchange like that at a normally staid PUC stakeholder meeting in his two decades in local energy."

A Result ‘Even Less Desirable Than the Previous State’

Using expensive oil to charge a giant battery might not be "acceptable," but that’s exactly what is going to happen.

Hawaiian Electric is of course not actually pulling the plug on its massive battery project, which is moving forward. The threat to spike the project stemmed from a slew of face-saving conditions (and harsh words) from the PUC, most of which the PUC rescinded once Hawaiian Electric threatened to bolt….

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