Hawaiian Electric Companies has rolled out a statewide plan that sets a goal for Molokai of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. Over the next three years, the electric utility is proposing 1.4 megawatts (MW) of additional photovoltaic energy to be added to the island’s existing 2.3 MW of energy coming from rooftop solar panels, as well as 5 MW of wind energy. The plan also calls for a transition to biofuel for “some” of the island’s 12 MW of energy currently being generated from diesel fuel.
“Molokai will serve as a blueprint to increase the cost-effective use of renewables for the remainder of the state and help us obtain real–world experience in running an island grid with 100 percent renewable energy,” states the report, filed with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last December and recently presented at the fourth annual Maui Energy Conference.
However, that goal will come at a cost. An analysis on residential electric bills on Molokai currently shows families paying around $250 per month on average, according to a graph in the report. With the proposed changes allowing for 100 percent renewable energy, that number jumps to about $350 per month, peaking in 2020. Projected prices then drop over the next five years but show an incremental rise again starting in 2025. Similar increases are seen in projections across the state.
“Achieving the groundbreaking 100 percent goal will… take our entire community working together to make the difficult decisions needed to achieve this clean energy future for our state,” the report reads.
Wind energy has had a contentious history on Molokai, with many residents expressing strong opposition to proposed large-scale wind projects in the past. The report isn’t clear on where the 5 MW of wind energy generation would be located on the island, nor does it provide many other details on that portion of the project. The plan calls for it to be built in 2020.
Interisland transmission of energy through undersea cables or other grid connections – another issue of past contention on Molokai – is suggested in the plan, but would not include the Friendly Isle.
Along with additions to renewable energy generation, Maui Electric would implement a variety of factors to improve stability of the grid, which currently causes challenges with adding additional photovoltaic energy to the system. Various technologies would be added to the Pala`au Power Plant to stabilize the voltage generated and provide smoother transitions between the use of renewable energy and diesel or biofuel generators as backup.
The company projects a transition to biofuel for Molokai, but left the door open to explore other options.
“Although the analysis achieved 100 renewable renewable energy in 2020 through the use of biofuels to replace the diesel fuel consumed when the renewable energy is unavailable, we will continue to investigate other options, taking advantage of new and evolving technologies, and declining prices for renewable resources,” the report states.
The plan also calls for the incorporation of battery storage so energy generated from photovoltaic sources would be stored in the batteries rather than feeding directly into the grid.
Last December, Maui Electric states that it had submitted a grant application to the USDA, Rural Utilities Service, to install a proposed utility-owned 100 kilowatt photovoltaic system with a battery energy storage system. The report stated that at the time of the PUC filing, the awards had not yet been made for the grant.
In addition to new sources of renewable energy, the report calls for 0.3 MW in demand response energy, in which consumers are rewarded for using electricity during peak generation periods.
Overall, the new goal for Molokai in the near term would add 6.4 MW of renewable energy capacity to the the existing capacity of just over 2 MW, increasing the island’s total renewable energy to 8.5 MW.
To read the full proposal, visit hawaiianelectric.com/Documents/about_us/our_vision/dkt_2014_0183_20161223_companies_PSIP_update_report_1_of_4.pdf.
In the coming months, the Dispatch will provide updates on the plan and share more information as it becomes available.
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