Amid green energy boom, HECO seeking more ‘firm’ renewable sources

Firm renewable sources such as biofuels, geothermal and trash-to-energy can produce power around the clock.
Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 5:51 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 9, 2023 at 11:22 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s green energy boom has largely been fueled by the solar power and wind farms.

But Hawaiian Electric Company is now seeking more “firm” renewable sources such as biofuels, geothermal and trash-to-energy.

Hawaiian Electric Vice President Jim Kelly said firm sources are less variable.

“(If) you end up with 40 days of rain like we had in 2006, you’re going to need that firm generation on the system to make sure that the lights stay on,” Kelly said.

Unlike wind and solar, firm renewable sources can produce power around the clock.

In a new request for proposals, Hawaiian Electric is calling for the construction of power plants that produce 500-to-700 megawatts of firm renewable energy by the year 2033.

That’s roughly the size of the company’s largest power plants.

Currently, HECO’s firm renewable energy sources on Oahu include the city’s HPower Plant at Campbell Industrial Park — which burns trash to generate electricity — and its power plants at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Schofield Barracks, which use biodiesel.

At Schofield, HECO and the Army are using biodiesel produced locally by Pacific Biodiesel to fuel the 50-megawatt plant, which produces power for the base and serves as a crucial back up for HECO’s system.

“Back in 2015, we had a situation around January where there was a dock strike threat and fuel wasn’t coming in and it looked like they were going to have to do rolling blackouts on Oahu,” said Kelly King, Pacific Biodiesel’s co-founder.

“We got them 400,000 gallons and we alleviated the ... rolling blackouts,” King added.

HECO’s requests for firm renewable generation represents 19 to 27% of the company’s overall generating capacity.

Last year, the state Senate approved a bill that would require 55% of the generating capacity on each island come from firm renewables. But that bill was vetoed by Gov. David Ige after Hawaii’s solar industry protested that it would kill jobs.

State Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, who backed the bill, said there’s a strong need for firm renewables.

“You need a diverse portfolio. And many people have said that we need at least 30% of the entire portfolio to be firm,” Dela Cruz said. “We have military bases here and we have tourism so you’re gonna need reliability.”

“If not, Hawaii could lose its competitive advantage.”

With the clock ticking for the state to become 100% independent of fossil fuels by the year 2045, even the biggest solar industry advocates see a need for more firm renewables ― along with even more wind and solar.

“We’ve got a long ways to go as a state to get that 100% mark by 2045,” said Marco Mangelsdorf of Provision Solar. “It’s really got to be all in, in terms of both firm renewables and intermittent.”

Proposals for HECO’s latest round of renewable projects are due next month.