HECO energy plan under fire

HECO energy plan under fire

8 January 2007

published by www.honoluluadvertiser.com

Hawaii — Hawaiian Electric Co. hopes to run a new Campbell Industrial Parkpower plant on renewable biofuels — ethanol or biodiesel — but some energyadvocates say those fuels will come from plantations burned and bulldozed out ofnative forests, and that the utility should follow other avenues.

The utility, on the other hand, says the community desperately needs theextra generating capacity now, and that many of the alternatives are stillunproven technologies.

HECO proposes to build a 110-megawatt single-cycle combustion turbinegenerator at Campbell Industrial Park. The unit would be operational by themiddle of 2009. It is designed to be able to start up quickly to meet loaddemands, and to be fuel-flexible. It would not only be able to burn ethanol andbiodiesel, but also fossil fuels such as diesel and naphtha.

The arguments about the need for and alternatives to the plant have beenplayed out before the state Public Utilities Commission, and HECO is waiting forthe commission’s approval of the plant as well as an air pollution permit fromthe state Department of Health.

HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said the utility is committed to using biofuelsto run the plant.

“The Campbell Industrial Park unit will be the first commercial plant torun ‘green,’ entirely on renewable biofuel,” he said. HECO senior vicepresident for operations Tom Joaquin said that to the utility’s knowledge,”there is not another utility combustion turbine electricity generatorusing or planning to use biofuels in the United States, and probably the world.”

The citizens group Life of the Land has opposed HECO’s plan, arguing thatbiofuels imported from abroad are often from plantations cut out of nativejungle, and that other technologies using local resources should be emphasizedfor the future of Hawai’i’s power grid.

“Right now Indonesia is third in the world in greenhouse gas emissions.They are mowing down rain forest and burning peat forests, releasing enormousamounts of carbon dioxide so that oil palms can be mono-cropped to producebiodiesel,” said Henry Curtis, Life of the Land executive director.

Rosegg said biofuels have broad support from environmental groups across thenation, but he concedes that some worry about things like the loss of rainforests and competition between food crops and fuel crops.

“There are clearly some concerns, caveats and hurdles that need to beovercome,” Rosegg said.

Curtis argues that there are three big resources that HECO should emphasizebefore building another combustion power plant.

One is aggressive conservation measures to reduce demand, as well as changesin power costs at different times of the day, to get people to shift powerconsumption to times when consumption is low. That can level out demand andminimize the peak loads that require the utility to have far more capacity thanits average demand.

“Conservation is the thing you do first,” Curtis said.

Rosegg said the utility supports a number of conservation programs and thismonth is presenting the Public Utilities Commission a proposal for a test ofvariable rate structures. It would provide customers with a lower rate foroff-peak power use. That would tentatively be periods like 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. onweekdays and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays. And there would be apremium for peak-time use, from 5 to 9 p.m. weekdays.

Seawater air conditioning, of which the first system for downtown Honolulu isunder way, is capable of replacing a dramatic proportion of O’ahu’s energy use,Curtis said. It would use cold deep-ocean water to chill O’ahu office buildings,rather than electricity from imported fuel. The system cools buildings for lesscost than electricity-produced air conditioning, and Hawai’i is a world leaderin developing the technology, he said.

Makapu’u’s Makai Ocean Engineering has consulted with numerous internationalsites and has designed systems for Cornell University, the city of Toronto, ahotel in Bora Bora and others. The firm’s vice president, Reb Bellinger, saidthere is considerable potential in the technology for Hawai’i, including atWaikiki and West Beach.

“We did a study for the state in the early ’90s, and the best locationon O’ahu is West Beach, where deep cold seawater is closest to shore,”Bellinger said. Seawater air conditioning can stabilize the cost for airconditioning, which he said is “probably the largest single operating costfor offices.”

Rosegg said that Hawaiian Electric supports seawater air conditioning and hascommitted that its downtown office structure will be one of the first buildingson the new Honolulu system, but he said the utility believes that the technologywon’t supplant enough power soon enough to avoid the need for new utilitygeneration.

Curtis said a third major power source is one that was largely developed inthe Hawaiian Islands — ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC. This involvesgenerating power from the difference in temperature between the sun-warmed oceansurface and the chilly water from the deep ocean.

Curtis said a Hawai’i company, OCEES International, is prepared to install asystem off Kahe Point if Hawaiian Electric will agree to purchase power from it.But Rosegg said his firm is being cautious with a technology that has not beenfully implemented anywhere.

“We are monitoring installation of a small OTEC unit for the military atDiego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. To our knowledge no commercial ocean thermalenergy conversion plant is operating anywhere in the world … We believe it isnot good use of ratepayers’ or shareholders’ money to chase a technology thatcould take unknown years to develop and get permits for,” he said.

Curtis said that seawater air conditioning and OTEC are “real, 24/7resources” produced from local resources.

“We’re talking about a total switch to homegrown power. Ocean, wind andsolar appear to be the way to go,” but HECO seems to be dragging its feet,he said.

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