The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ordered last Thursday that Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) restart the bidding process for 200 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy. The decision opens up other companies and islands to replace the energy that could be generated by a wind farm on Molokai.
This means wind company Pattern Energy, which has been in discussions with the community and land owner Molokai Ranch to develop the project, would have to enter the bidding process to move forward.
The decision gives HECO 90 days to submit to PUC a new draft request for proposals (RFP) for the 200 MW. Bidders could propose projects of any renewable energy types – such as wind, solar or geothermal – on any Hawaiian island “that can reasonably reach Oahu via an inter-island cable,” according to a PUC press release last week.
Pattern recently teamed with developer Bio-Logical Capital to form Molokai Renewables and pursue the local wind farm. Molokai Renewables “will continue to work with the community and other stakeholders to progress the wind farm project,” according to a statement to The Dispatch released via Keiki-Pua Dancil, vice president of Hawaii Business Development and Strategy at Bio-Logical.
Dancil did not confirm whether the company will submit a bid.
In a separate decision last week, the PUC approved Maui County and Hawaiian-based environmental group Life of the Land as interveners in HECO’s case seeking to charge ratepayers for studies assessing Big Wind’s potential undersea cable. Interveners can be accepted by the PUC to offer more information during controversial proceedings.
PUC Chief Counsel Catherine Awakuni stressed that neither decision is an approval nor denial of the 400-MW project in part or whole.
“There are still a number of different review processes that need to take place,” she said.
In 2008, PUC approved Castle & Cooke to develop a 400 MW wind farm on Lanai, and a year later, approved wind company First Wind to split the project by building a 200 MW project on Molokai. PUC waived the normal competitive bidding process for the project. Under the agreement, if the Molokai project fell through, Castle & Cooke could build the entire 400 MW on Lanai.
However, when First Wind missed the deadline to move forward on Molokai, Castle & Cooke attempted to assign the Molokai portion of the project to Pattern Energy. The PUC determined its original agreement “neither allowed for such an assignment nor contemplated Castle & Cooke ever building a wind project on Molokai,” according to its press release.
The decision was greeted by a mix of excitement and caution from groups opposing the so-called Big Wind project.
“I think the people on Molokai should be dancing in the street,” said Maui County Energy Commissioner Doug McLeod, adding there is “no reason that anyone has to propose anything on Molokai now.”
After PUC approves HECO’s RFP, it will likely allow “months, not weeks” for new bidders to come forward, McLeod said. However, he added that “if there is not a proposal out of Molokai in response to the RFP, I would expect that would close the window on connecting to the cable.”
Anti-wind group I Aloha Molokai (IAM) organizer Kanoho Helm was cautious about celebrating the decision, saying IAM will not stop spreading its anti-wind message until it’s “written on paper” that wind farms will not be built on Molokai.
“We’re gonna continue to push and educate people,” Helm said. “We don’t think that [Pattern Energy] is gonna stop either.”
HECO is seeking to charge ratepayers $3.9 million for studying the feasibility of an undersea cable transmitting power generated on neighbor islands to Oahu. PUC approved Maui County and Life of the Land as interveners in the case.
Mayor Alan Arakawa felt that neither the proposed projects on Molokai and Lanai had “adequate community benefits,” according to McLeod.
“We got involved because there was a genuine level of distrust in the community about what was happening,” he said.
PUC’s Awakuni said the interveners are allowed only to discuss “whether the costs of studies are appropriate” and whether they may be recouped.
“[HECO will] have to show that they looked at the alternatives, that these are not one-sided studies being rammed through to justify their project,” said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land.
Both decisions are available at the PUC’s website, puc.hawaii.gov. The order to restart the bidding process is found in docket 2009-0327. The decision to allow interveners in HECO’s attempts to charge ratepayers for studies is found in docket 2011-0112.
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