Frustrations grow as Hawaii Island customers asked to conserve power

Critics say the burden put on the community was 'totally preventable.'
Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 6:08 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 31, 2022 at 4:33 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Island residents and businesses are being asked to conserve power in the evening hours this week to avoid the possibility of rolling blackouts.

Hawaiian Electric said Hamakua Energy Partners, the island’s largest independent power producer, is currently unavailable. HECO said it is unclear when Hamakua Energy will come back online.

According to the Chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Leodoloff Asuncion, one of the factors include a shortage of ammonia.

Hamakua Energy Partners normally supplies 60 megawatts of powers.

In addition to this disruption, Hawaiian Electric also said one of its plants, which normally supplies 14 megawatts, is undergoing annual maintenance.

Officials said wind resources are forecast to be low.

Hawaiian Electric said if residents and businesses can voluntarily conserve power from 5 p.m. to 9 pm, they might be able to avoid rolling 30-minute outages.

“It is unfortunate, again, that we’re now here at this position, instead of you know, having solutions already put in place,” said Ian Hatch, operator of The Temple Bar in Hilo.

Hatch said they are shutting off their air conditioning to save electricity, but there’s not much more he can do.

“We have refrigeration products that can spoil,” said Hatch. “And these are our peak hours for restaurants and there’s a lot of concern.”

State Sen. Glenn Wakai, who is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy Economic Development and Tourism said the situation was “totally preventable.”

He adds that the trouble on the Big Island comes as the AES coal-fired station shuts down in Kapolei threatening to raise electricity costs into the fall.

“We didn’t put more renewable projects online, that would have been the backup plan,” said Wakai. “But because we didn’t plan ahead, now we’re saying, oh, no ammonia, oh no coal, oh no oil.”

“Therefore, you the public have to suffer through blackouts, that to me is just totally unacceptable.”

Another possible solution is the Honua Ola Bioenergy project. The wood-burning plant on the Hamakua Coast was blocked from operating by the PUC and now the case is mired in the state supreme court.

“We haven’t even had the hearing before the Supreme Court on that so it’s in its early stages,” said Asuncion. “We just wait for what the Supreme Court would want us to do and or write a return of an opinion back to the commission.”

More than a dozen other renewable energy projects are in the works, but the head of Blue Planet Research, Paul Ponthieux said the state also needs to invest in energy storage.

“It’s not just batteries, batteries aren’t going to be able to do it,” said Ponthieux. “It needs to incorporate hydrogen and hydrogen fuel cells as well as batteries.”

Big Island customers are specifically asked to turn off lights and air conditioners, delay showers and laundry and minimizing cooking.

“It’s super unfortunate considering our electric bill just went up by like 30% to 40% which to us is close to $2 a month in an industry that operates on slim margins already,” said Hatch.

HECO is also asking for maximum output from Puna Geothermal Venture, and accelerating repairs on its own equipment.

But right now, the focus for Big Island businesses is making it through the week without the lights going off.