Solar Wind Bess

Hawaiian Electric, Operating in Hawaii’s Best Interests?

Energy Alarms

Hawaii Island residents awoke to alarming news in February, and then again in March. Hawaiian Electric (aka HELCO) warned customers that the utility’s electricity services (which most County residents take for granted) would be facing rolling service blackouts and potential service disruptions of one or more hours in duration – and to be prepared for a loss in service.

Hawaiian Electric’s combustion turbine CT-1 unexpectedly tripped offline kicking off a local power crisis in the making.  In the meantime, Hawaiian Electric’s Hill Plant Unit No. 5, Keahole CT-5, and Puna Steam Plant were unavailable due to maintenance and repairs – following a script for failure, the Feb-March service disruptions were one more example of a perfect storm, increasingly common within Hawaiian Electric’s service territories.

Local headlines followed; “Hawaiian Electric initiates rolling outages”, and in the following month, “Hawaiian Electric asking Big Island customers to conserve power due to down combustion power plants.”

The utility’s service reliability weaknesses are several, but it boils down to a primary dependency on combustion (firm) power plants designed to wastefully generate electricity at high-to-maximum energy levels around the clock, regardless of consumer demand.  These firm power plants are combustion-based, meaning they produce power by burning various polluting source fuels. Regardless of a “renewable energy” label some of the utility’s plant operators promote who are not directly burning fossil fuels, the fuels these plants typically burn is neither sustainable or clean energy, and has recent history indicates, proving increasingly unreliable.

Hawaii Island’s Utility Experience

In the February service disruption, the first domino to fall was independent power producer Hamakua Energy, which unexpectedly tripped offline late in the afternoon of the 13th.   The plant’s primary fuel is naphtha, considered the dirtiest of petrochemical fuels. Its composition and properties can vary significantly depending on its source and refining process. Naphtha’s higher content of aromatic and unsaturated hydrocarbons tends to produce more soot and emissions when burned, as is the case with Hamakua Energy.  Optimizing naphtha as a fuel requires extensive purification and treatment to remove contaminants through extensive processes of filtration and coalescence.

Hamakua Energy Bi 1

In 2019, Hamakua partnered with Pacific Biodiesel to start using locally sourced biodiesel fuel. In this 90/10 fuel mix, bio-diesel is used to top-off the plant’s primary fuel, naphtha.  The result is a slight reduction in the plant’s otherwise sole reliance on this imported and dirty fossil fuel.  The flimsy PR case for this arrangement was billed as Hawaii’s energy independence and sustainability goals being fulfilled by Hamakua Energy’s contribution and marginally cleaned up through a minor addition of locally-produced biodiesel designed to reduce furnace fouling, emissions, and maintenance costs.   The effectiveness of biodiesel added in this case has been described as lipstick-on-a-pig.  Hawaii’s dirty energy power brokers point to Hamakua as the poster child for state-funded clean power incentives, funded by both taxpayers and ratepayers.

Optimize naphtha, as is the case with Hamakua, requires extensive purification and treatment to remove contaminants through processes like filtration and coalescence, an extensive pre-burn process promoted to reduce furnace fouling, emissions, and maintenance costs for the Hamakua Energy combustion power plant.

The February 2024 Hamakua Energy plant failure was attributed to mechanical issues, common with combustion power plants. Hamakua Energy (owned by Pacific Current), exclusively sells its power to HELCO, and through a state sanctioned power purchase agreement that runs until 2030. Hamakua is an example of firm energy on shaky ground.

Firm Energy, a not so firm assumption

The myth of so-called “firm power” combustion plants is twofold; first, they are essential to the fulfillment of Hawaii’s 24×7 electricity needs, and such, they are considered “firm power” as in always available, always on.

Hawaii Island’s largest firm power utility supplier went offline due to “significant mechanical issues”.  Considering the operational complexity and costs to ratepayers and the planet, combustion power plants are subject to frequent operating failures and high maintenance cycles. As these power plants age, their complex operating designs become increasingly unreliable energy sources to operate. Their costly-to-maintain 24×7 operations are designed as essential grid power providers, but this role is threatened by improved and lower cost energy alternatives going well beyond the traditional operating role of firm combustion plants, and at lower cost. The trend is especially true for Hawaii as these plants approach the end of their operating life and are increasingly facing environmental and climate mitigation rules they are ill equipped to fulfill.

Hawaiian Electric’s overreliance on so-called “firm” energy suppliers are the by-product of last century grid power planning,  assumptions, technologies, and operating practices increasingly out of synch with today’s changing climate realities, clean energy technology alternatives and replacement opportunities. Presently, it is a house of cards as recent utility-connected events on Maui, Oahu, and Hawaii Island have demonstrated.

The traditional definition of Firm Energy is the combination of a combustion power generating plant continuously operating at high rates of steady state energy production. Hawaiian Electric’s fragile power infrastructure and primary reliance on outdated combustion power plants sets the stage for operating circumstances leading to the Big Island service disruptions of February and March.  In the case of the February 2024 Hamakua Energy plant failure, the plant normally generates 60 megawatts or nearly one-third of the typical peak demand of 180 megawatts on the entire island, further demonstrating the utilities’ over reliance on energy from a single supply point of potential failure.

Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) is another technology example of Firm Energy and where Geothermal power intersect.  The highly disruptive Kilauea eruption of 2018 put PGV out of the power generation business for several years. PGV not only failed to meet its original power reliability expectations, but the RPS power commitment it made to the utility, the PUC, and ratepayers. Over the following 5 five years (since 2018 and the Kilauea eruption) PGV has failed to meet production commitments to Hawaiian Electric. PGV’s highly-reduced power capacity today and since the eruption has peaked at 68% of its original agreement 25 megawatts of its earlier 38 MW power generation commitment to the utility.

PGV’s failings is one more bad bet example on this unique form of energy the utility has made on behalf of ratepayers. Utility energy choices are guided by a large and flexible plate of clean and dirty renewable combustion energy options which are served up by the state in what is increasing an outdated set of RPS rules guiding Hawaii’s energy future. While the utility’s poor power choices that rely on ratepayer bailouts of combustion options, also continue to produce rising energy costs.  Couple to these rising costs are an increasing track record of power disruptions and greater power insecurity for Hawaii.

Hawaii’s state PUC must reconcile its representation of the public’s interest with the state’s renewable energy 2045 mandate, and in doing so, may find itself in the role of helping guide the state’s largest utility towards better energy supply choices, more winners and less ratepayer-funded losers. It’s reasonable to assume the PUC’s role could be more proactive in the fulfillment of the utility’s fundiacary responsibilities to the public, and its operating role as a legally sanctioned energy monopoly.  The state’s present energy course, aside from good intentions, is one in which the utility decides, leaving most of Hawaii in a state of greater energy insecurity. Practice and policy which so far has failed to meet the state’s promised transition to clean energy economy.

Here Comes the Sun

Waikoloa Solar + Storage Community Energy Farm

Waikoloa Solar Storage Farm Bi

Clean (zero emissions energy) in the form of wind and solar energy plants and in combination with battery and other energy storage options are now presenting highly competitive firm energy market alternatives to traditional, and costly biomass, WTE, and / or fossil-fueled combustion grid power options plants.

Beyond the obvious climate and cost benefits, these newer clean power + energy storage offer the same on-demand power provisioning benefits of traditional combustion plants, without the overhead and operating risks traditionally associated with combustion plants.

An added benefit to utilities engaged in 21st-century power provisioning is challenging the entire idea of traditional firm energy operations, as energy-wasteful and highly inefficient.

Grid-scale battery power storage releases only the power needed instantly to load balance grid demands with power supplies. Combustion plants simply produce power around the clock at fixed levels and then dump excess power not required to meet fluctuating consumer demand.

On the mainland, and perhaps Hawaii in the near future, today’s evolving and the variable clean energy (Solar /Wind) landscape with 24×7 load balancing storage will increasingly be beyond competitive and the least costly energy option in comparison to 20th century grid-scale energy options employed today, as exemplified today by obsolete combustion energy power plants supporting Hawaiian Electric’s overweighted investments in yesterday’s power generation.

The recent service activation of Hawaiian Electric’s AES Solar power plant in Waikoloa is an exception to the utility’s operating norms.  The solar plant features a large array of panels connected to ample battery storage and represents a shining example of clean energy on-demand serving Hawaii Island ratepayers. The zero emissions energy power plant is also an excellent example of the benefits for 21st century clean power options at utility scale, and has proven to deliver to both ratepayers and the utility unprecedented energy operating savings.

With unsurpassed reliability and low operating cost, the AES plant produces (30 MW) for less cost to ratepayers, defying conventional ratepayer experience with an actual lowering of utility rates against a historic backdrop of ever increasing utility rates.   Although Hawaiian Electric is reluctant to admit it, the AES solar plant also mitigated the overall recent power failure impacts on customers of the utility’s two most recent combustion plant power supply failures.

Questions increasingly being asked

Why doesn’t Hawaiian Electric modernize its energy technology thinking, planning, and prioritize more effective and efficient AES-like solar-storage energy supply options?  Such planning would require the utility to consider retiring early some its costly and increasingly unreliable firm energy combustion supplier agreements, something unlikely based on the utility’s operating track record and priorities.  The short answer to this question is more or less that ratepayers are footing the bill, not the utility, which presently has little incentive in executing needed 21st century energy reforms.

The utility’s public talking points, mostly amplified by a few powerful political agents in the state Senate is simple enough; we need firm power plants because firm power is our only practical option exiting our fossil fuel grid dependencies.  The utility-inspired public misinformation campaign reasons that battery storage is only good for 2 and 4-hour durations (false), and that the wasteful status quo of 24×7 full-throttle firm power combustion power plants are the state’s only way forward.  These talking points supporting the utility present track record and trajectory are false assumptions and full of half-truths, but serve as convenient public talking points.

Utility grid-scale energy storage is not limited by today’s battery technology, but is actually dictated by scale and the utility’s RFP requirements. The more batteries, the greater storage capacity, and the greater power duration to load balance the grid, day or night – without pollution and with greater reliability.  Battery storage requirements and limitations are dictated by the utility, not limits in technology of performance.  Larger battery deployments equal longer on-demand power storage, available as needed day or night, and without technology limitations.

Utilities tend to limit the scale of RFP storage requests for a variety of reasons which have less to do with the technology transformation opportunities, more to do with business and profit priorities.  It is true requesting smaller battery storage deployments is cheaper, but that misses the point entirely in the larger cost and performance designed to serve ratepayers interests.

Clean, Low Cost Energy take a back seat to Hawaiian Electric’s energy priorities

Energy storage deployment in 2023 set a record globally and more than doubled in the U.S., according to Bloomberg NEF’s Energy Storage Market Outlook. The report credited the rapid growth in energy storage to government targets and incentives, as well as the growing need to shift energy from the time of generation to times of peak demand. In addition to improving overall grid reliability, using energy storage to “shave” peak demand can also help insulate utilities from volatility in the pricing of electricity. not necessarily a problem in Hawaii’s insulated energy market, but helpful nonetheless.

There is an increasing drumbeat within our island communities, one which cherry-picks energy facts regarding Hawaii’s transition to clean energy vs. the status quo of burning fossil fuels, and one which favors complex and expensive combustion energy options in a variety of forms; organic and inorganic fuel options from green waste to food waste, to trees and to WTE toxic and non-toxic trash burning to produce  power. In all cases, these so-called renewable energy fuels must first be burned in a variety of steps to create steam, which in turn spins turbines, and then finally electricity destined for the grid.

Compared to solar (without any moving parts, zero air and climate pollution, and low maintenance) and a source of unparalleled clean energy source that is free-to-all (the Sun), and wind turbines which have few moving parts and a low level of periodic maintenance compared to the complexities of combustion plant operations with their extensive and expensive maintenance requirements it should be an easy choice for utilities seeking greater cost performance and reliability. In short, solar and wind in combination with today’s energy storage options offer ratepayers and utilities alike greater service reliability at a lower cost – period.

Today’s energy storage technologies serve a crucial role balancing electricity supply with demand

Sun Wind Storage

“Combustion is the problem – when you’re continuing to burn something, that’s not solving the problem,” says Prof Mark Jacobson.  The Stanford University academic has a compelling pitch: the world can rapidly get 100% of its energy from clean and renewable sources with “no miracles needed”.

Wind, water and solar can provide plentiful and cheap power, he argues, ending the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis, slashing deadly air pollution and ensuring energy security.

Expanding storage options are no longer limited to batteries and pumped hydroelectric, as compressed air, flywheels, and thermal storage systems enter various stages of commercialization.

Altogether, an expanding base of energy storage technology options are enabling innovative utilities to store low cost solar and wind excess electricity during periods of low demand and match peak production for later release in the fulfillment of on demand consumer power requirements. 

Utility scale battery storage technology is not limited by technology, rather by the scale of its application in augmenting and replacing higher cost and higher risk firm combustion energy options. 

Off Shore Wind Turbine 1

Blowin’ In The Wind

update: 05-31-23 HEADLINE: U.S. battery storage capacity increased by 52% year over year, to 10.8 GW by the end of Q1 -- source; S&P Global

When it comes to Hawaii’s wind power potential, Bob Dylan got it right …“the answer my friend is blowin in the wind…”


It’s no secret that increases in demand for electricity is being accelerated by the growing demand from the electrification of ground transportation. The benefits of this transition is the reduction of Hawaii’s dependency on imported fossil fuels and less vehicle emissions (air pollution) within the state. Mitigating future climate impacts is also a benefit to the state’s residents and economy.

This change in electricity demand has also placed Hawaii in the crosshairs between grand policy expectations and a necessity for rapid clean energy transformation. In no island community is this more apparent than in the state’s most populated island, Oahu, where more than 56% of the state’s population lives and third in size, behind Maui and Hawaii Island.

In 2015 Hawaii set a target to achieve a 100% Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) by 2045. Sinc e that time the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) was created as the framework for legislation that enables  this transition to a clean energy economy. The HCEI has stated objectives of developing infrastructure, fostering innovation, creating economic opportunity, sharing their approach with other island communities, and building a workforce with new skills (Hawai‘i State Energy Office 2018)

Hawai‘i is also well suited to become the first state to achieve a 100% RPS. It has a relatively small load, high current electricity prices, heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels, and favorable conditions for wind and solar energy production (Energy Information Agency 2021).

Oahu’s Energy Dilemma

Oahu’s nearly one million residential population, further inflated by visitor traffic, has a tremendous hunger for energy. This same hunger previously justified the creation of the state’s only coal-fired power plant recently retired, and to this day, the state’s only active trash-burning power plant, in which toxic trash emissions and ash are traded for electricity, not the barter system the ancient Hawaiians had in mind for their resident homeland.

In this digital world of everything is on all the time, electricity is the currency that drives the economy and modern life. But tell that to Sunny Unga, a self-proclaimed community activist fighting the good fight, or so she believes. Previously reported in Civil Beat, Sunny represents some of the North Shore community and residents located near a wind farm who believe wind power and the turbines that delivery clean power electricity to her home and community are, well; …not in my backyard.

Wind ProtesterHawaii’s activists pushing back against clean energy developments, in this case, have an audience that is listening, the Honolulu City Council. Presently the Council has three proposals being considered designed to protect communities from the placement of large wind energy projects too close to their backyards. The three bills range in project set back requirements from 2 to 5 miles from subdivisions, schools, and other populated developments. A reasonable solution, at least by some standards.

But for Oahu, any meaningful transition off its dirty energy addiction will take more than just project citing adjustments to advance its clean energy agenda, and wind power is a primary source solution for the state. While Maui and Hawaii Island have successfully adopted and welcomed wind power as part of the clean energy mix. limited land options coupled to population density and high energy demands, and limited clean power replacements translate into wind as one of two truly clean and zero polluting energy solutions for Oahu and the state of Hawaii which are blessed by being rich in clean, sustainable, and reliable natural energy options; wind and solar.

Hawaii’s Offshore Wind Resources Are Abundant 

Off Shore Wind Turbine 1Offshore wind has the potential to deliver large amounts of clean, renewable energy to fulfill the electrical needs of cities along U.S. coastlines and Hawaii’s mid-Pacific location. Under conditions that foster offshore wind utilization, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the technical resource potential for U.S. offshore wind is more than 4,200 gigawatts of capacity, or 13,500 terawatt-hours per year of generation.

Wind turbines can be anchored to the sea floor in ocean depths exceeding 2,000 feet or as floating platforms. Decades of citing oil platforms in a variety near and far off-shore ocean conditions has created a wealth of knowledge and technology applications for citing wind turbines.

There are variety of Wind energy options, and in the case Oahu, sea-based off-shore wind turbine installations would prove to be not only cost effective to ratepayers, but a reliable clean energy source with minimum environmental and social side effects; a world class zero emissions energy source. Offshore wind also has the potential to contribute significantly to the state’s RPS.  As series of island-based communities, Hawai‘i has a strong wind resource and a population (and corresponding electricity demand) concentrated along the coastline – a win-win energy opportunity for the state with off-shore wind.

Wind Power Map Hawaii

  • Offshore wind turbines are also proving to be more efficient than land-based alternatives. Higher ocean wind speeds and consistency in direction means offshore installations require fewer turbines to produce the same amount of energy as onshore wind farms. The wind at sea is stronger, more consistent and less turbulent than on land. This means more power can be generated more reliably.
  • Land-based battery storage will ensure these wind-powered energy sources are generating power for around the clock power grid and consumer demands.

The floating wind industry and its technology base continue to evolve rapidly. The progress in wind tech is driving greater costs reductions and operating efficiencies. Technology improvements continue to advance reductions in overall operating costs, already a cost effective alternative to fossil fueled power plants.

As stakeholders on Hawai‘i have strong cultural, social, and environmental ties to the land and surrounding ocean, collaborations between project developers and local community members will be required to identify the best technology choices for offshore wind. The results of these collabtive efforts could be regularly refined and updated to reflect the growth of the industry and ongoing collaborations with stakeholders on Hawai‘i.

Off-shore Wind Turbine installations – Cause and Effect

Off Shore Wind GrowthDeepwater wind turbine installations, more specifically, floating offshore wind energy facilities, also known as OWFs, and which are presently deployed are yielding more and more data that support previously assumptions of minimal effects on the marine environment from wind turbines. Off-shore wind turbine installations can also be installed beyond line-of-sight from the shoreline, aka over-the-Horizon installations which have no social impacts in terms of citing and view and minimal marine impact.

Using the available scientific literature from recent studies conducted, systematic reviews have estimated the potential environmental effects of deepwater, floating (wind platforms) OWFs during operation, as well as potential mitigation measures designed to mitigate operating effects on marine life with an emphasis on six areas of potential environmental effects from off-shore turbine operations.  A recent synthesis of 89 articles selected for the review suggests that many projected environmental concerns did not exist or could be mitigated to pose a low risk to the marine environment if developers adopt appropriate mitigation strategies and best-practice protocols.


Hawaii’s energy stakeholders, which includes everyone in the state, should embrace the possibilities that Wind Energy offers. Not only as a replacement for much more harmful and expensive combustion energy sources which continue to represent the major of energy generation in the state today, but also as a companion to Solar Energy, which together in combination with today’s energy storage technology represent a truly clean energy economy that is a part of the environment, and not at war with it.



Related NEWS: 05.26.23:

Bottom-Dwelling Marine Animals Thriving on Offshore Wind Farm Foundations


Solar Wind Bess

Hawaiian Electric; forward into the past

Solar Roof HonoluluFor the past 10 years, the utility’s transition decisions to renewable energy have been notable, not so much in terms of actions, but in overall inaction. The system has historically worked well, for the most part, but time, technology, and necessity have turned obsolete utility operating assumptions on their head.

Increased demand for electrical energy is now being accelerated by a growing demand from the electrification of ground transportation. Hawaii in the crosshairs between grand expectations of a clean and self-sustaining clean energy economy, and how best to address the opportunities for change.  Front and center is how the state’s largest utility will best address the dual challenges of climate change adaption, and the ever-increasing cost of electricity on household and business budgets. And ratepayers remain in the crosshairs of the state’s largest energy monopoly, Hawaiian Electric, and neverending rate hikes.

Life as a Energy Monopoly

The business, regulatory, and financial structure of public electricity services are by design unique from any other form of commerce.  The underlying elements of risk and reward in private sector business ventures are mostly absent for electric utilities like Hawaiian Electric, replaced by income and profit guarantees. Risk, innovation, and cost performance are framed inside a business operation serving as an energy monopoly with publicly guaranteed (by ratepayers) returns on investment in exchange utility guarantees on minimum levels of public service provisioning; electricity delivered on customer demand.  This system has worked well for the most part for the last 100 years, but time, technology, and necessity have turned these obsolete utility operating assumptions on their head.

A monopoly is generally defined as limiting available substitutes for its product, engaging in price fixing, and creating barriers of entry for competitors, and is generally illegal within the United States, except in the exceptional case of utilities offering essential public services. Public utilities are regulated by, yes, a state Public Utility Commission, but generally accountable to both state and federal (FERC) oversight, which is not the case for Hawaiian Electric solely bound by state regulation, and SEC regulation as a publicly-traded company.

The system of utility-driven checks and balances has worked well for the most part in the past. but in the case of Hawaii’s energy present and future, have increasingly been called into question. Change is the culprit, and it is evitable, with a looming global climate crisis now in progress, clean energy technology advances that have blurred the line between power consumers and power producers, and pardon the pun, empower consumers to take control of their power needs.

Nobody ever said change is easy, and in Hawaii’s case, isolation from mainland energy suppliers, has placed a decades-old 100% statewide renewable energy (electricity) mandate by 2045 on an uncertain course and outcome.

Hawaiian Electric, for reasons not generally known, now finds itself struggling to balance its past, present, and future operating priorities. And how best to balance those operating priorities firmly rooted in the past with a statewide clean energy mandate, and at the same time supporting traditional profit models, investor expectations, and internal operating priorities focused on extending the life of its legacy investments in old combustion polluting power plants. All this is in the background, while the company faces a new generation of clean energy options and greater customer expectations.

He Oahu Power PlantThe utility’s focus on preserving its past stranglehold on electricity production and delivery is already endangered as an increasing number of households and businesses who are taking control of their energy destiny by adopting rooftop solar and battery storage.   This consumer trend is driven by several factors beyond cost and energy savings, increasing energy security is a major factor in this transition, reducing grid power essentially to a backup energy source. Efficiency is another major factor favoring this cost-saving and energy-resiliency move by consumers.

The most efficient energy management outcome is the ability to produce, store, and deliver energy on-demand at the point of consumption, e.g., rooftop solar + storage.

Today’s utility model is not only obsolete; it is also unnecessarily outdated, costly, and energy inefficient.  The average loss of power between the power plant and consumers ranges between 5-15%, A challenging service topography, and fragmentation within Hawaiian Electric’s service territory, from transmission to plug, place power efficiency losses on the high end of the scale.

A transition to a clean and sustainable energy economy requires practical and equitable clean energy substitutes for Hawaii’s traditional and unsustainable dependence on dirty and imported fuels required to fuel the state’s outdated and inefficient grid-powered energy delivery system. — goals for the state and compliance with aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the proportion of their energy portfolio produced from renewable energy sources, loosely defined as dirty energy options other than fossil fuels, and clean energy options, e.g.; such as solar and wind and storage.

Hawaii Solar Radiation In The ZoneIn Hawaiian Electric’s own words… “In 2022, solar power provided about 17% of Hawaii’s total electricity, primarily from small-scale, customer-sited solar power generation that is the 10th-highest among the states.”

“In 2022, about 29% of the state’s total generation came from renewables.” That so-called renewable energy balance of 12%, was represented by burning toxic trash for power, cutting down trees, burning them to generate electricity, and continuing to engage and expand a geothermal plant, which has consistently failed to meet minimum power generation commitments since the 2018 Kilauea eruption, and advancing a highly questionable biofuel combustion plant agenda.

Nearly all the energy available on Earth is derived from solar radiation, especially in Hawaii. That includes the energy that drives natural processes from wind systems and the hydrological cycle to leaf photosynthesis.

Solar energy and its cousin wind energy have become the most important and cost-effective clean and zero-emissions sources for generating electricity and hot water systems.  Today’s battery and hydro-storage systems turn these variable clean energy sources into around-the-clock, reliable, and resilient. energy sources ready to serve all of Hawaii electricity needs.

The state’s largest utility is at a cross-roads, the opportunity for transformation has never been greater.  Holding onto an energy past neither serves its customers nor shareholders. It is a path to failure, one increasingly, which will not be subsidized by ratepayers or lost opportunities.

Hawaii Supreme Court Shield

The Hu Honua Saga Continues

Latest Hu Honua Hawaii Supreme Court Hearing

Since 2008, the Hu Honua biomass plant proposal has been bogged down in controversy and what seems as a forever and complex regulatory and legal fight over its proposed electricity costs, environmental, climate, and long term sustainability.

Hawaii Supreme CourtThe recent legal saga of Hu Honua versus Hawaii has been notable and was highlighted by insightful remarks during the hearing before the state Supreme Court.  Justice Mike Wilson noted that the Hawaii State Legislature has declared a Climate Emergency and has since enacted a decarbonization law with strict new targets, further complicating Hu Honua’s viability, and the state PUC, in presenting the public and ratepayer interests, is required to review power purchase agreements in light of the new legislative changes.

Justice Wilson further pointed out that the PUC has an affirmative duty to follow the Public Trust Doctrine which is written into Hawaii’s State Constitution. All government agencies have an affirmative duty to follow it. It protects Hawaii’s natural resources. Our coral reefs, for example, are under immediate threat from climate change impacts driven by rising global greenhouse emissions. The change in law sets a much higher bar of review for Hu Honua and other power plant proposals in the state.

We may see these elements included in the Supreme Court’s opinion expected in March. This could have significant precedent-setting value in linking the new Climate Emergency and Decarbonization law to projects coming before the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Attempts to backslide and do fuel-switching for instance to protect existing “firm” power plants must be reviewed by this new standard. An emergency declaration means business as usual is not acceptable.

The attorney for Hu Honua (aka Hu Honua Bioenergy, LLC ) tried to tell the high court that the PUC had no right to consider the cost of their project on remand after the HELCO II decision.

This did not go over well with justices.

In legal terms; the burden of proof is entirely on Hu Honua

The original HELCO I ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court also gave specific instructions on remanding back to the PUC. This went beyond just a GHG analysis, but also raised other legal responsibilities including the constitutional requirements. This was also true in the Hawaii Gas decision and the MECO opinion where the PUC also received clear directions from the high court. Hu Honua’s attorneys should have seen the clear direction of the court. Precedence had already been established in these other cases. The handwriting was on the wall.

Hu Honua 1The Hu Honua attorney went on to make a veiled (threat) reference to vested property rights, but pulled back when pressed by the Court, by simply replying “…that is a discussion for another day.” It was an ugly moment. The implication was clear to the Court, Hu Honua sees the case far from finished, and may initiate further litigation in what appears to many as a forever legal battle that Hu Honua has already lost.

During the hearing, Sandra Wong, attorney for Tawhiri (which operates a wind farm at South Point), pointed out that if Hu Honua is allowed to go forward with its required “10 MW minimum generation dispatch contract” with Hawaiian Electric, that will result in a projected 60% curtailment of cheaper and less polluting renewables available on the grid. This is a shocking number. Wong further raised significant issues over Hu Honua’s GHG analysis used to justify their operation – issues, and points specifically raised and addressed in earlier remands before the high court. HELCO only compares GHG emissions from Hu Honua to fossil plants, rather than cleaner and less expensive renewable energy.

Huhonua 2Hu Honua also failed to include emissions from harvesting, transporting, or chipping the fuel.  Even the Supreme Court justices picked up on Hu Honua taking credit for emissions after the 2045 deadline for 100% renewables which hugely cheats the numbers. Given the new state law on decarbonization, the PUC is required to go beyond such a flawed analysis.

The Hawaii Supreme Court will decide before Justice Wilson turns 70 and retires. It is not in the interest of the Court to keep hearing endless appeals just because an applicant doesn’t like the results of an agency ruling. It sets a horrible precedent. Instead, the Court will focus on whether the PUC met procedural steps on the latest remand, but more importantly. will always act in the public interest in their considerations. As Justice Wilson has pointed out, our Hawaii Constitution places an affirmative duty on the PUC that cannot be ignored. It is foundational to how they review all energy projects that come before them. The Climate Emergency declaration can not be ignored, the time for action is now.

H2 Jet Engine1

Hydrogen Fueled Commercial Flight – Cause and Effect

As Hawaii moves to a zero emissions, zero carbon economy, beginning with the electrification of ground in transportation, there is a much greater challenge ahead for the remote island state. Just how best to address aircraft emissions. One often cited answer, it will be the airlines, passenger jet and engine manufacturers who decide what and when hydrogen fuel planes become a reality, rather than lofty state ambitions that can be summed up in two words: hydrogen fuel.

H2 Jet Engine1

Today, jet fuel varies widely, but is based on a petroleum source, and in all cases pollutes the air and is a substantial contributor to climate change. EPA reports that commercial airplanes and large business jets contribute 10 percent of U.S. transportation emissions, and account for three percent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) production.

Experimental hydrogen-fueled aircraft so far have been in the form of liquid hydrogen (LH2), serving as a full replacement for conventional jet fuel, and with the goal of eliminating GHG emissions and pollution associated with today’s jet fuels.

Hydrogen-fueled aircraft emit emissions primarily comprised of water vapor (H2O), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and unburned hydrogen. If LH2 is produced in a climate and carbon-neutral manner, carbon dioxide does not have to be included when calculating the climate footprint.

Contrails 3

However, what happens when water vapor enters the atmosphere through hydrogen-fueled aircraft engines, rather than through natural evaporation from rivers, lakes, and oceans? Science is discovering that it directly contributes to anthropogenic global warming in the same way that carbon dioxide (CO2) does—especially if it forms long-lasting contrail cirrus clouds at high altitudes.

So do Hydrogen-fueled aircraft create and add to climate problems already out of control, and accelerate climate change?

Early data indicates the answer may be yes.

Unlike most small and private passenger aircraft, commercial aircraft fly at high altitudes both long and short distances.  Experimental aircraft at the commercial scale employing fuel cells and engines that burn hydrogen and release large amounts of water in the form of vapor contribute to the problem of contrails.

A study that looked at aviation’s contribution to climate change between 2000 and 2018 concluded that contrails create 57% of the sector’s warming impact, significantly more than the CO2 emissions from burning fuel. They do so by trapping heat that would otherwise be released into space.


Already recognized as a significant climate contributor associated with commercial jet traffic, contrails – short for condensation trails, form when water vapor condenses into ice crystals around the small particles emitted by jet engines – require cold and humid atmospheric conditions, and don’t always stay around for long.

Researchers say that by targeting specific flights that have a high chance of producing contrails and varying their flight path ever so slightly believe much of the damage could be prevented.

Recent scientific data suggests commercial flight contrails’ contribute to climate impacts and are associated with 10% of all flights.  Simply redirecting a small proportion of flights could make a substantial dent in contrail climate impact. However, this finding is limited to conventionally-fueled aircraft and does not consider the added climate effects off high altitude and jet-induced water emissions through a switch to hydrogen fuel. Whether the rerouting of flights will have any effect on the problem of added water vapor from hydrogen emissions, only further compounds the unknowns an already assoicated with today’s climate problems associated mostly with commercial flights.

H2O Ground Transportation – promise or a road not taken

Ground transportation’s migration off fossil fuels has recently taken several forms.  The most successful and promising has been zero emissions BEV’s (battery electric vehicles), and with the most notable and innovative being Tesla – a company now being chased by most of the auto industry.

Hydrogen-fueled semi-trucks, buses, and trains are for the most part at the nascent stage of development and are often cited by their promoters as the answer to the question of how zero emissions and hydrogen-fueled large-scale ground transportation applications can best address the limits of today’s battery-powered vehicle technology.  But, even that statement is debated, considering an industry-wide battery technology rush also being led by Tesla’s all-battery 600 mile range Semi truck, with its 80,000-pound commercial towing capacity, now competitive with conventional diesel commercial trucks.

Most railroads have for over 50 years successfully employed diesel-electric engines (hybrid) technology for short and long haul freight traffic.  US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) recently made the case for diesel-electric trains in the United States to be retrofitted with batteries, and in a way that is more than cost-competitive with today’s diesel-hybrid engines. Doing so would also decrease adverse health impacts and premature deaths linked to air pollution, and eliminate CO2 and other GHG emissions.

Hydrogen fuel holds great promise for future transportation applications in general, but as other clean fuel transportation technologies now take center stage (with battery- electrics leading the way) questions of efficiency, cost, performance, and in the case of flight climate impacts from this fuel alternative require further study and experimentation before the promise of this fossil fuel alternative, and the expectations that accompany it, are validated or dismissed.

Federal Funding

Deploy, Deploy, Deploy

This year will see the beginning of massive Federal dollars being applied to the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history.

Follow the money

Within its energy and climate provisions, IRA appropriates approximately $11.7 billion in total for the Loan Programs Office (LPO) to support issuing new loans. These amounts increase loan authority in LPO’s existing loan programs by approximately $100 billion, and $5 billion for a new loan program, the Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment (EIR) Program (section 1706), designed to enable the retooling, repower, repurpose, or replacement of energy infrastructure assets that have ceased operations, while improving the efficiency of the power infrastructure that is currently operating.

Ira GraphThe Inflation Reduction Act is more than another Federal economic assistance program. It represents a sweeping national policy change that recognizes and seeks to address the realities of human-caused global heating consequences on America and the world.  It is the fulfillment of what has been in the political arena, decades of climate denial and unfilled mitigation measures.

What does this mean for Hawaii? The short answer is a lot.

The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) directs new federal spending toward reducing carbon emissions, fueling explosive growth in both renewables and energy efficiency. The commercial and industrial space will also see large deployments in electric vehicles and solar with new federal incentives. These are being matched with large investments in private capital thanks to tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Hawaii has established incentives of its own including battery storage and time of use rates where the commercial sector can greatly benefit. This provides load shifting and increases the efficiency of the grid as a result. Less reliance on expensive peak generation. Hawaiian Electric’s Power Move program and Battery Bonus program along with Hawaii Energy rebates for energy efficiency upgrades that shed loads like lighting, pumps and motors, smart controls, and energy management systems.

Battery storage is also benefitting from the Defense Production Act and prices will fall as new factories are built. We will see a lot more commercial fleets converting to electric vehicles with incentives for charging infrastructure driving the market. EVs greatly reduce fleet maintenance as well as fuel savings that are so high in Hawaii. Rental car companies could be a big player as Hertz and others are already making these investments.

Another powerful tool is energy-saving performance contracts which self-finance based on energy savings created. Many Hawaii state agencies have leveraged this third-party financing approach to retrofit buildings like the Honolulu Airport which combined traditional energy conservation retrofits like LED lighting with solar arrays. No upfront cost to taxpayers and it leverages taxable depreciation on assets unavailable to the government, and directly resulting in even more savings.

Energy activists and legislators need to take notice of the potential in the commercial and industrial space and push government agencies to do their own fleet conversions and building retrofits. With federal incentives and third-party financing like energy-saving performance contracts, now is the time to ride the wave of private investments and create jobs in Hawaii.

Course Correction

One area that needs more public notice is the impact in the commercial and industrial sectors as these represent really big numbers. This includes a range of products like heat pumps, motors, refrigeration, fans, boilers, and distribution transformers. Under the Energy Act of 2020, energy efficiency standards continue to be ratcheted up, and rebate incentives established to encourage deployment.

Distribution transformers are key to energy resilience and President Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act to address domestic production in the face of supply chain issues.

Climate change impacts have added to the urgency as utilities struggle to replace grid infrastructure caused by storms. This creates an opportunity to boost the deployment of new more efficient transformers. As all energy goes through distribution transformers, the savings potential is enormous. U.S. DOE estimates $15 billion plus the greenhouse gas emission reductions that would result.

The influx of essential and timely arrival of investment capital in the form of IRA funding, is just what the doctor ordered for Hawaii’s own transition to a clean and lower cost clean energy economy.

Steve Holmes – Contributing Editor

  • U.S Department of Energy National Energy Champion
  • Energy & Sustainability Coordinator for Honolulu
  • Honolulu City Councilmember (12 years)
  • Hawaii State Energy Office analyst
  • Rebuild America Partnership Leader of the Year
Solar Wind Bess

At a Crossroads, Hawaii’s Energy Future – II

Solar, Wind, Water, and Battery storage

Solar Person Graphic

When and if the day ever comes when the sun stops shining, the wind stops blowing, and all the rivers and waterfalls dry up — well, we will all be in serious trouble.  Until that time we humans have an inexhaustible supply of power from sources as natural to the planet as life itself.

Solar radiation, wind, ocean tidal currents and hydro in various forms are all natural and zero emissions energy sources available to power commerce, transportation, and buildings without the added costs of damaging climate and pollution by-products, supply-chain disruptions, and a pathway for humanity to forego future engagements in the form of energy-resource wars.

As to the question of Hawaii’s energy future, one thing is clear; the state’s two electric utilities are facing transitional decisions as to their energy options and solutions towards a statewide clean energy economy.

In terms of a statewide energy transformation, the twenty-two years remaining on the RPS utility clock can easily pass in the blink of an eye.  So far, the state’s two electricity utilities have performed reasonable well in meeting their RPS obligations, but closing the remaining 40% energy gap in order to fulfill those obligations will prove the most challenging.  This is especially true for Hawaiian Electric which serves over 95% of the state’s grid-dependent electricity customers, yet continues to be heavily invested in yesterday’s power production solutions and assets.

If Hawaiian Electric’s train wreak response to a long anticipated shut down of the former AES coal-fired power plant in Oahu is an example of allowing utilities to set the RPS agenda and bypass public accountability, it could prove to be a prescription for failure.

Hawaiian Electric may be unwilling or incapable or both to make the needed and timely transformation to clean energy, and if so, then a corrective process of legislative reforms is now needed — and this forthcoming 2023 state legislative session is a good time to begin that process.

Such legislative reforms of the state’s utilities should be driven by the public’s interest, not HE shareholders.  In Hawaiian Electric’s case, that will include acquiring or partnering with available, cost-efficient, and market proven clean energy replacements and new business partnerships. One obstacle HE faces is the replacement of their combustion-based dirty power production assets which continue to power the utility’s energy deliveries — and which they remain primarily dependent.

Hawaiian Electric, as with much of the rest of utility sector, now finds themselves in a world rapidly accelerating on the path in the completion of a journey to electrification which began 150 years ago.   The biggest energy change drivers today are; 1) addressing the over-arching state of climate impacts and,  2) the electrification of transportation.  More specifically ground transportation in the form of electric cars, trucks, commercial vehicles, and beyond that, in the near future limited-range all-electric passenger aircraft.

This is a truly a great time to be in the business of producing and selling all things tied to electricity and utilities like Hawaiian Electric already own a good share of this growing marketplace. However, these same historic and monopolistic positions utilities hold are increasingly threatened by many new forms of energy innovation, many increasingly independent of traditional grid power dependencies.

Hawaiian Electric is far from being locked out of the most effective clean energy alternatives.  Rather its executions on emerging grid energy and distributed power opportunities are seen as clean energy options, but so far have produced a mix bag of energy choices with varying ratepayers consequences. The company’s fulfillment of their state-regulated renewable energy mandates remains in question at the half point to 2045. This is a weakness in the both the state statues governing the RPS energy rules, and the utility’s execution of its obligations.

If its a matter of money, well then, there is no time like the present. Certainly the opportunity for Federal economic assistance has never been greater in the form of Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). But like most Federal programs, financial assistance can be fleeting when financial opportunities are ignored and become lost opportunities.

Microgrids will play an increasingly essential role in Hawaii’s 21st century power transformation

On the bright side, Hawaiian Electric announced last month that the company was engaged in no less than seven smaller scale solar projects, six will include battery storage.

Jhei Solar Porjects 2023 25

The projects are not of Hawaiian Electric’s energy design for the state, that credit goes to Nexamp in the fulfillment of the company’s self-described mission “…our seven new Nexamp projects in Hawai‘i will help the state move toward its decarbonization goals”.

The company’s business model is all about delivering lower cost clean energy solutions to lower income communities in what it calls to “… democratize clean energy and support U.S. energy independence.”  The Nexamp business model may also offer just exactly what utilities’ like Hawaiian Electric need, but historically have been slow to change and may now be struggling in the present energy landscape.

Partnering with companies like Nexamp could also be a win-win for both companies in what is leveraging Nexamp’s unique business model of incorporating Clean Energy Deployment, Customer Acquisition and on-going project Management.

“Solar power belongs everywhere. By decentralizing the energy system and offering our subscribers savings on their electricity costs, we’re building a future of energy that’s clean, simple, and accessible,”  Zaid Ashai, Nexamp CEO.

Addressing not only the state’s fossil fuel dependencies is tied to the challenges and growing threats to energy resiliency. It is an ever increasingly climate by-product of more frequent and extreme weather events.  Add in he arrival of mass market vehicle electrification and the corresponding charging demands, and altogether, the need for energy security at various points of consumption which independent of a fragile sole source the grid-powered infrastructure is a problem with many solutions.  The issue is accentuated for Hawaii’s energy consumers with island-specific power delivery challenges under all conditions.

Microgrid 1

Microgrids are generally defined or referred to as community or shared electricity generation and storage facility. They can be interdependent and connected to the grid for power sharing purposes or fully grid independent.

Microgrids represent a small network of electricity users linked to a local energy source which can be independent and interdependent or both with the utility’s centralized power grid. Microgrids can operate fully independent of the grid in an emergency and in extended utility power outages. Recent examples of the success of microgrids can be found after major storm events from California to Puerto Rico. 

The smallest and individual (residential) form of a microgrid can be found in the form of a rooftop solar with a battery back-up system installation; connected to and independent of the grid; either building specific or neighborhood scale.

Batteries are Better

Zero emissions and pollution free (solar and wind) energy sources are increasingly being coupled to battery storage systems containing highly intelligent and fully-automated power management systems to not only even-out power generation intermittency when connected to the grid, but also store excess power for use later and/or load balance power needs with the grid; in effect function as a firm power asset for a utility.

Battery capacity continues to increase, along with performance as prices drop.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration said that when it totaled the numbers for 2021, they showed that battery storage capacity grew by 4.5 GW, or 300%.  EIA cited the reasons for battery adoption and market share growth in the utility energy sector and attributed it to ...“declining cost for battery storage applications, favorable economics when deployed with renewable energy (predominantly wind and solar PV), and value-added additions in regional transmission organization (RTO) markets have helped drive the expansion of battery storage.”

The EIA expects 10 GW of battery storage capacity to come online in the US in 2023, with more than 60% of it paired with solar generation facilities.

Hawaiian Electric announced three days ago (Dec. 29th) its participation status and update in the AES Waikoloa energy project, Hawai‘i Island’s largest solar and battery storage project to date, and which is scheduled to begin full operations by April 2023, or earlier under a 25-year power purchase agreement with the utility.

Waikoloa Solar Farm 1The Waikoloa project broke ground in April 2021, with photovoltaic solar panels and battery storage system installations began in late 2021, with solar panels and batteries now fully installed and under ongoing testing of the facility. The AES Waikoloa Solar + Storage project is presently being tested up to 85% of its capacity,

The power production agreement for the clean (solar) energy plant will translate into a major economic and environmental benefit for both Hawaiian Electric and the Hawai‘i Island ratepayers as electricity produce will be delivered on-demand at 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, one of the lowest rates for energy in the entire state. 

When fully operational, the Waikoloa solar project will generate 42.2 megawatts (DC) of renewable energy supported by a 120 MWh containerized lithium-ion battery energy storage system.   The solar farm is located near Waikoloa Village.

What’s Missing in Today’s Energy Conversation?

In terms of Hawaii’s energy future that can be answered in a single word; opportunity.

Opportunity can be defined as many things.  In the case of Hawaii’s electricity future the missing element in todays’ island-by-island transformation may have less to do a utility’s grid priorities and more to do the advancing case for microgrids and rooftop solar, each coupled to on-site energy storage with onboard power management capabilities, independent and interactive with today’s utility’s power systems.

In the case of the Waikoloa solar project it represents for Hawaii County and the state, a major step forward in advancing the state’s clean energy possibilities from talk-to-reality. It is also a road less taken by Hawaiian Electric, better know for its misfires with the ill-fated Hu Honua biomass plant, and the PGV geothermal plant now still recovering the 2018 Kilauea eruption.  What the Waikoloa solar project does do is represent an important step forward for the Utility. It is also an example of market and technology-driven energy solutions now arriving in Hawaii, just in time in the face of an escalating global climate crisis.

At point into the foreseeable future unproven, currently impractical and uneconomical energy alternatives may deliver on their promised benefits, and they will be market-ready to serve as net energy solutions without polluting and climate side effects, e.g.; fusion, hydrogen, second generation nuclear power. But that time is decades-to-forever away from meaningful and cost effective energy substitutes that fully address the damaging effects of our present fossil fuel addiction.

The clean energy opportunity before us extends from one end of Hawaii to the other.  At the far end of Hawaii’s chain of island communities rely on Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), which so far by example, has taken the lead towards in the adoption of battery storage (BESS) technology and in combination with utility scale solar installations.

One notable example is the recently added solar-battery farm of the Lāwai Solar and Energy Storage facility, now serving in its new role as solar peaker-plant plus-battery storage; delivering reliable and readily dispatchable firm energy (on-demand) to island residents.

Kauai’s cooperative-owned utility’s does not face the financial legacy investments and liabilities Hawaiian Electric has built up in over a century of operation and with its utility-owned combustion boiler power plant assets.  The differences between the state’s two electric utilities is more than just size and ownership, Hawaiian Electric operates in a multi-grid and multi-island service territory, unlike Kauai’s KIUC single island service territory, and can afford a more progressive management style, than the publicly-traded Hawaiian Electric.

Yet, will all its assets and access to financial markets, Hawaiian Electric continues to operate with an eye on preserving yesterday’s decades old boiler-based generation plants owned by HE, funded by ratepayers, and primarily fueled by oil and diesel to produce electricity.

These older and expensive plants operate serve as combustion-fueled energy plants with not only outdated operating technology, but with energy limitations and liabilities to match. They are further supported by regulatory guidelines equally outdated, which remain costly to ratepayers and enable the business-as-usual business practices accountable to the company’s shareholders, not HE ratepayers. These legacy boiler plants are simply too expensive to continue to be operated with ratepayer subsidies and with unaccounted costs to the state’s environment and public health.  In short, HE combustion-based powerplants, and their ongoing operation, represent obstacles to the state’s climate plans and goals, and needed energy reforms.

Solar Wind BessA popular, but ill-informed political argument during this past legislative session against utility-scale solar, wind with batteries serving in the role of firm energy is that they intermittent energy sources with batteries are limited to four (4) hours energy reserves. This statement has become the mantra of some ill-informed Hawaii state lawmakers.  The statement is half right, and all wrong at the same time. The plain truth is battery storage limitations in the form of firm energy applications are defined by scale and cost, not technology limitations. Like your cell phone or electric vehicle, the bigger the battery the greater the stored energy and the longer the charge.

This outdated battery argument is too often recalled to justify the need for firm energy in a form that can be only satisfied by burning one thing or another as fuel in order to justify the forever operation of the utility’s last century combustion-boiler power plants. Which continue to operate with the company assurance they will “eventually” stop burning imported fossil fuels.

A well-known Hawaii-based energy pundit correctly described the present role of solar energy plus battery storage in the state as “… Batteries blur the line but do not remove the line: batteries make variable power more firm (firmer) but not fully firm.”   The comment may be accurate at some previous moment in time, but no longer. On-demand firm power performance, especially at utility scale today finds  battery systems technology continuing to defy yesterday’s arguments against the technology that is rapidly transforming the grid through clean energy replacements.

Grid-delivered power over long distances is the state’s largest utility’s bread and butter profit center.  For that reason ahead of all others, the utility’s perspective continues to drive the state’s conversation on energy policy from the utility’s perspective – naturally.    It is more than a weakness of imagination or a purposeful ignorance of opportunity, it is intent on preserving energy policies designed to serve the primary interests of the state’s largest shareholder utility.

Battery Cost Reduction QuoteChange is in the Air

Once comfortable in their fossil fueled domain of business as usual, electric utilities increasingly face market and regulatory forces challenging their historic monopoly-driven energy business practices.  But a quickly evolving market pace based on  economic-electrification is now coupled (willingly or otherwise) to the national transformation of ground transportation off fossil fuels and to electrification.

These changes add more challenges to preserving the traditional utility’s use of  business-as usual arguments. When weighed against the profit opportunities for traditional electric utilities and others willing to think and act outside the box, energy market changes are inevitable.  These are macro changes in energy opportunities which are pushing aside past and increasingly obsolete power assumptions that combustion-based electricity production (which pollutes and emits GHG emissions) are a necessary part of the default energy matrix comprising today’s electrical grid.

Up until our recent past, power industry stakeholders saw the world of electricity production neatly roll-up into a package comprised mostly of fossil fuels, with nuclear and hydroelectric energy sources included for good measure. Just 15-20 years ago, it was assumed fossil fuels would have a forever role in generating power for the power’s sake.

Prior to that time, nuclear was held up as the future and be all energy source. Nuclear power’s history changed that assumption, as did the economics of the most expensive power option ever invented by humans which is tied to massive forever waste management obligations, and costly environmental and security implications.

When solar and wind energy generation options plus arrived on the scene they were viewed as showpieces to a clean energy future that may never be needed or realized. But as this article finds, even our friends at Hawaiian Electric may be seeing the (sun) light. The AES solar BESS project on the Big Island will most likely prove, even to the skeptics through direct operating evidence.  The good old days when no utility questions were asked or answered, these are times which have finally passed.

At the present rate technological and cost reduction advances,  battery technology is already viewed as an essential component of the grid energy matrix and increasingly rooftop solar systems.  In effect, today’s power assumptions are changing fast, and the state’s regulations which govern them are overdue for an update.

One Final thought, Let the sun shine in… 

In 2015 HECO joined mainland utilities in what proved to be a coordinated industry-wide campaign designed to kill the highly successful national transition to rooftop solar, fueled by net metering (NEM) rate allowances. Between 2012-16, Hawaii experienced it’s fastest economic growth in the state’s recent history. An economic renaissance completely disconnected from tourism; the solar boom years. Hawaii’s clean energy economy had arrived.  And along with it, good paying and diversified solar jobs throughout the four counties.

Hawaii Rooftop Solar InstallThe state’s largest power monopoly reasoned (to this day) took the popular utility view to this day that its customers who generate their own electricity are competitors not customers and that they represent a threat to profits when they operate in the role of power producer rather simply surrendering themselves to being fully indentured power consumers.

Across the power sector, utilities successfully lobbied their respective state PUC’s and  Federal gov’t energy friends that these pioneering solar customers were endangering the grid with their unscheduled and solar-powered contributions back to the grid.  The argument fell upon (then sympathetic) Hawaii PUC ears, and later proved to be the death knell of the most highly equitable ratepayer program designed to advance clean energy in the state. By the end 2016 Hawaii’s homegrown solar energy economy was in free fall.

Backup History1That was then, energy technology advances today, especially those coupled to commercialization have since delivered a range of intelligent battery management systems options to rooftop solar homeowners and businesses which did not exist just 4 years earlier.   This same battery storage tech also developed into utility-scale solutions from Hawaii Island-to-Kauai, and represent an ever increasing component in new utility deployments of renewable energy projects. And the role for battery options does not end there, but also as firm energy augmentation to the grid.

By 2019, with the introduction of Tesla’s Powerwall battery management system to the world ripped through utility arguments against rooftop solar.  Tesla Energy’s leadership also led to other manufactures offering similar home and commercial energy battery management storage products to augment rooftop solar installations. But this accomplishments were not limited to rooftop energy applications, but as utility-scale energy production and power management examples now ongoing online around the world.

Solar homeowners with battery management systems are today, in effect, functioning as their own scaled down power plants. This distributed version of utility firm power plants is powered by the sun, not the grid or fossil fuels. The technological arrival of home battery systems, those coupled with rooftop solar not only lower consumer’s energy bills (Hawaii being the highest in the country), but provided an equally important benefit: energy security aka resiliency.

There were other benefits as well for these power consumers turned energy producers.

Most power outages are generally thought of in terms of long term power outages. Get out the candles and flashlights, don’t open the refrigerator unless absolutely necessary, etc. Beyond the question of grid power reliability and resiliency, there are the hidden power consequences associated with grid delivered power in the form of hidden damage costs for consumers, the result of frequent short term utility outages. This type power outage can produce varying levels of power surges too often to be noticed and costly to ratepayers in terms of damaged equipment and components of customer appliances and electronics. Too often this type of subtle cause and effect electrical damage comes in the form of shortening the electronic life of your equipment and appliances, extremely difficult to track back to the cause or event.

Many people employ consumer power strips for protection from grid power surges. Power strips are little more than a multi-plug outlet. Even more sophisticated power protection equipment after one or more surge protection events fail in terms of future protection against power surges, generally accompanied by the loss and restoration of power by the utility. The events can also be the direct result of other utilities accessing the power lines for their own various purposes, and creating short term outages, and generally without notice to consumers..

Multiple power surges and short term grid power outages occur unnoticed but can easily be more damaging, as well inconvenient. Hawaii residents who have installed batteries at their homes and businesses find the satisfaction of a continuous and reliable power supply worth the investment with built-in power surge protection. One example is from a single home solar-battery management which typically provides embedded power surge protection by design. On Dec 19, 2022, as the power exhibit in the article demonstrates, a big island home owner recorded no less than six successive utility power interruptions, but notice no power changes within his home as the battery system covered all power drops, while protecting his electronics from possible and accompanying power surges.

The reluctant acknowledgement by utility executives of the role batteries now play in modern utility design and operation, regardless of their location or ownership, can be summed as a lost opportunity for all concerned. As long as ratepayers are ready and willing to bail them out, any real public accountability from your electric utility will remain elusive…

Biomass Plantjpg

At the Crossroads, Hawaii’s Energy Future – Part I

The subject of “firm energy” is not often discussed outside of Hawaii’s legislative chambers or activist circles. Nor does the general public generally follow state energy policy decisions, but the public does pay attention to the forever rising costs of their electricity bills, driven in part by a statewide journey to a fossil fuel off-ramp by 2045.

Recently, however, so-called firm energy, and the need for it, came up in this past legislative session. This was one of the most closely watched session topics and legislation for environmentalists, energy wonks, and utility stakeholders vying for legislative attention.  With a new governor and other changes to state government from this past election, it is possible another firm energy passion play will appear for a repeat legislation performance in 2023.

Firm energy made its debut on Oahu’s political landscape in the form of the low-key introduction of two (companion) senate bills introduced as SB 2510 and SB2511. Both bills had the backing and political push of two of Hawaii’s top enabling senate power brokers, and both whom hold key committee chair positions.

SB 2510 and SB2511 were created without much public discussion or justification. The bills appeared late in the session, a legislative tactic, and were “quickly pushed” through the state legislature  obstacle course at warp speed.  Once the bills became public knowledge they were as quickly challenged by environmental and citizen advocacy groups.

One of the two senate leadership authors made sweeping statements loaded with false assumptions and misinformation to justify the bills. Ignoring public criticism of the bills, the bill’s sponsors were not deterred, and quickly forced through the passage of the two firm energy bills with tactics best described by one key house representative chair as … “political blackmail”.

One thing was sure about SB 2510 and 2511, if these two bills passed the combined House and Senate chambers and became law they would come at the expense of Hawaii’s ratepayers and taxpayers.  It was not difficult to understand why former Governor Ige vetoed both bills as one of his end-of-term priorities before leaving office.

Both bills were a product of one utility, one union, and firm energy lobbyists whose goals were specifically fulfilled within SB 2510 and designed to carve out a substantial portion of all energy-for-electricity produced in Hawaii in the form of combustion-based “firm energy” mandates ranging from burning trees to trash.

The firm power mandates ignore today’s clean energy technology options and market realities. Worse yet, the legislation would have “gifted” to the state’s biomass energy lobby as much or more than 1/3 of the total grid energy produced and delivered to the state’s two electric utilities — forcing them to burn their way through utility power demands and off fossil fuels by stifling far better and competitive clean energy options available to the state.

Legislation of this type would also lock-in Hawaii’s on-going air pollution problems for residents and visitors, and equally troublesome, lock-out clean and cost effective energy options. The bill further guaranteed Hawaii’s greenhouse gas power plant emissions would increase, not decrease, in face of a growing global climate crisis in which Hawaii cannot escape.

Firm energy power is a utility industry term often used to represent power-producing capacity available at all times as guaranteed through a power provider commitment to deliver electricity to the grid, even under adverse conditions.  The likes of a series of super storms that visited Hawaii last week knocking out power from Kauai to the Big Island is the most recent example of today’s firm energy failing assumptions, an unconditional power guarantee to utilities, and by extension to ratepayers.

In the end, the two firm energy-biomass energy bills were written to expressly serve energy interests pushing biomass fuels at the expense of market-competitive solar, wind, and battery storage energy options superior to other fossil fuel energy replacements available to Hawaii today and by legislative fiat that ignore competing clean energy opportunities and social impacts.

The effect of this political malfeasance would had been denying lower cost clean energy options to ratepayers, while blocking a sustainable energy path forward to Hawaii.  It’s difficult to fathom how bypassing considerations of economics, social, and environmental-climate benefits in the form of mandated energy-combustion choices is in the public interest and that of ratepayers.

Biomass as Usual with Unusual Consequences

Biomass Plantjpg (biomass powerplant, trees as fuel example)

Energy subsidies, obvious and hidden, come in many forms.  The World Bank and IMF studies of 2016 found that global taxpayers funded the fossil fuel industrial energy sector to the tune of $6.6 trillion USD annually (adjusted to 2022 dollars), and that alone, without any other considerations, is by definition unsustainable.

The Environmental and Energy Study Institute found that the US government alone spends $20 billion every year on direct fossil fuel subsidies. Of that figure, around $16 billion went to oil and gas interests, while the remaining $4 billion benefited the coal energy sector. These hard dollar tax subsidies do not include the added social, environmental, and public climate costs for these dirty energy sources – measured in healthcare costs tied to pollution, climate costs linked to public and personal costs as in rising infrastructure taxes, rising P&C insurance costs, added healthcare expenses, and the list goes on.

Biomass is a form of combustion-based energy and is far from a liability-free form of energy in its role as an energy replacement for fossil fuels used to produced electricity.  As with fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) all these sources of energy require a continuing and unpredictable supply-chain of combustible fuels and chemicals which must be sourced, transported, and finally burned to produce electricity at their power plant destinations.

Smokestack Emissions GraphBiomass was originally sold as a source of renewable energy that could help improve U.S. energy security, spur rural economic development, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The industry was intended to increase energy production from non-food feedstocks such as municipal solid waste, perennial grasses, and forest and agriculture residues such as corn stalks and leaves.

Biomass fuels also vary (from trees-to-trash) but have several things in common with their fossil fuel cousins: 1) they are burned to produce electricity with smokestack emissions toxic to humans and the surrounding environment and, 2) they both add GHG (greenhouse) emissions to the atmosphere now driving rising global temperatures with disastrous global side effects to all living things.

Federal mandates and subsidies were meant to help get the biomass industry off the ground. However, in practice, U.S. financial support for subsidized biofuels and heat/power facilities using feedstocks has done more harm than good for the climate. Biomass-promoted government programs have also subsidized wood pellet manufacturing not only for domestic but also international use, adding one more environmental cost element what is a net-negative return on energy when electricity is produced from biomass.

Despite decades of billions of dollars in bioenergy subsidies – including those for biomass feedstocks used in biofuels production – the industry has failed to mitigate climate risks while spurring unintended public health consequences, and market distortions.

Biomass, along with oil, gas, and coal are considered firm energy when generally defined as combustion-based power sources operating full-tilt and around the clock to produce a steady state of energy output ready in a minute’s (seconds) notice to be added to electric grid, and as power demand dictate. This type of of grid operation is often referred to as “load balancing” electricity demand with supply, and it goes back nearly a hundred years as an essential element of electric utility grid operations.  Grid power demands are dictated by local energy requirements and/or influenced by events over great distances, as is often the case with the interconnected and continental mainland electricity grid. Hawaii today operates island-specific grids which are not interconnected.

When grid operators, utilities, e.g. Hawaii Electric are permitted to operate as energy monopolies with profits guaranteed, it is not difficult to understand their reluctance to operationally transform themselves from over a century-old set of proven and profitable business practices and into a 21st century provisioner of clean and sustainable energy customer services, and certainly not in the form of an operating model which is fully cost competitive and customer performance-oriented.

Biomass energy, as an envisioned in SB 2510 and SB 2511 and sold by their promoters as the best firm energy options for Hawaii via legislative mandate, amounts to little more than telling Hawaii to burn its our way out of its fossil fuel dependency, thus trading one set of costs for another with equal or greater consequences to that of the state’s grid dependency on fossil fuels.

In the second half of this article series, BeyondKona will explore clean energy options available to Hawaii’s transition off fossil fuels, and the energy options for lower utility bills for residents and businesses.


Big Oil

A Titan Battle: Oil versus Climate

Originally published May 14,2022

New oil and gas projects would produce 646 GtCOemissions, swallowing up the world’s entire carbon budget

Oil and gas majors are planning scores of vast projects that threaten to shatter the 1.5C climate goal. If governments do not act, these firms will continue to cash in as the world burns.

Biomass Ghg Air Pollution 1The world’s biggest fossil fuel firms are quietly planning scores of “carbon bomb” oil and gas projects that would drive the climate past internationally agreed temperature limits with catastrophic global impacts for all humanity.

An in-depth Guardian report finds global oil and gas firms are placing multibillion-dollar bets against humanity halting global heating.  The exclusive data shows ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and state-run fossil fuel giants Gazprom (Russia) and China’s National Petroleum Corporation are actively placing multibillion-dollar bets against humanity halting global heating. Their huge investments in new fossil fuel production could pay off only if countries fail to rapidly slash carbon emissions, which scientists say is vital.

The oil and gas industry is extremely volatile but extraordinarily profitable, particularly when prices are high, as they are at present. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron have made almost $2tn in profits in the past three decades, while recent price rises led BP’s boss to describe the company as a “cash machine”.

The lure of colossal payouts in the years to come appears to be irresistible to the oil companies, despite the world’s climate scientists stating in February that further delay in cutting fossil fuel use would mean missing our last chance “to secure a livable and sustainable future for all”.

Experts have been warning since at least 2011 that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves could not be burned without causing catastrophic global heating.

UN secretary general, António Guterres, warned world leaders in April: “Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”

The fossil fuel industry’s short-term expansion plans involve the start of oil and gas projects that will produce greenhouse gases equivalent to a decade of CO2 emissions from China, the world’s biggest polluter.

These plans include 195 carbon bombs, gigantic oil and gas projects that would each result in at least a billion tons of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to about 18 years of current global CO2 emissions. About 60% of these new oil and gas projects have already started pumping.

The guardian reported that the 12 biggest oil companies are on track to spend over $1oo million every day for the rest of the decade on fossil fuel expansion.

Big Oil Carbon BombsThe world’s scientists agree the planet is in deep trouble. In August, Guterres reacted strongly to a stark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on climate science. “The IPCC report is a code red for humanity,” he said.

The IPCC states carbon emissions must fall by half by 2030 to preserve the chance of a livable future, yet they show no sign of declining.

In May 2021, a report from the International Energy Agency, previously seen as a conservative body, concluded there could be no new oil or gas fields or coalmines if the world was to reach net zero by 2050.

In April, shocked by the latest IPCC report that said it was “now or never” to start slashing emissions, Guterres launched an outspoken attack on companies and governments whose climate actions did not match their words.

“Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic,” Guterres said. “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness”.  “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels.”

The Russia Factor

The reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine has pushed oil and gas prices even higher, further incentivizing bets on new fields and infrastructure that would last decades.

The failure of countries to “build back greener” after the Covid-19 pandemic or the 2008 financial crash was not a good omen, and Guterres said: “Fossil fuel interests are now cynically using the war in Ukraine to lock in a high-carbon future.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin decreed on May 3 that no Russian entity would be allowed to make deals with those on the sanctions list, or even fulfil its obligations under existing deals.

Moscow has imposed sanctions on the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal pipeline that carries Russian gas to Europe, as well as the former German unit of the Russian gas producer Gazprom, whose subsidiaries service Europe’s gas consumption, impacting 29 Gazprom subsidiaries in Switzerland, Hungary, Britain, France, Bulgaria, the Benelux region, the United States, Switzerland, Romania and Singapore.

The United States, and the rest of the world

The U.S. is the leading source of potential emissions. Its 22 carbon bombs include conventional drilling and fracking, and span the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado to the Permian basin.

Together, new US project gas and oil projects have the potential to emit 140bn tons of CO2, almost four times more than the entire world emits each year.

Saudi Arabia is the second biggest potential emitter after the US, with 107bn tons, followed by Russia, Qatar, Iraq, Canada, China and Brazil.  Australia, widely condemned by international leaders as a laggard in addressing the climate crisis, ranks 16th.

Carbon bombs

The term carbon bomb has been widely used in climate circles for the past decade to describe large fossil fuel projects or other big sources of carbon. The new research sets a specific definition: projects capable of pumping at least 1bn tons of CO2 emissions over their lifetimes.

The journal, Energy Policy, found that just a few months after many of the world’s politicians positioned themselves as climate leaders during the Cop26 conference in Glasgow, they were giving the green light to a massive global expansion of oil and gas production that scientists warn would push civilization to the brink, adding that 40% of planned gas and oil projects projects that had not yet started production must be stopped if the world was to avoid sliding ever more quickly towards catastrophe, adding they should be a prominent focus of the global climate protest movement in the months and years ahead.

Tyndall Centre of Climate Research, University of Manchester and Uppsala University, Sweden, said the scale of planned production in the face of all the evidence suggested big oil and its political supporters either did not believe the climate science or thought their extreme wealth could somehow protect them and their children from the devastating consequences.

“Either the scientists have spent 30 years working on this issue and have got it all wrong – the big oil CEOs know better – or, behind a veil of concern, they have complete disregard for the more climate vulnerable communities, typically poor, people of color and far away from their lives. Equally worrying, they are disinterested in their own children’s future.”

The Oil industry, awash with cash

BP’s chief financial officer, Murray Auchincloss, described things this way… “Certainly, it’s possible that we’re getting more cash than we know what to do with. For now, I’m going to be conservative and manage the company as if it’s $40 [a barrel] oil. Anything we could get above that just helps, obviously.” At the time, the oil price exceeded $90; today it is $106.”

Ff Subsidies 2Data obtained by the Guardian from the think tank Carbon Tracker shows a dozen of the world’s biggest companies are on track to commit a collective $387 million dollars a day of capital expenditure to exploiting oil and gas fields through to 2030.  A significant portion of this capital outlay is for maintaining existing projects – some oil and gas will still be needed as the world weans itself off fossil fuels –the exact amount is not publicly available.

Nonetheless, it is clear that at least a quarter of this investment – $103m a day – is for oil and gas that cannot be burned if the worst impacts of the climate crisis are to be avoided, money that could instead be spent ramping up clean energy.

Even more worryingly, the companies have developed further project options that might lead them to spend an additional $84m a day that would not even be compatible with a devastating 2.7C of global heating.

“Companies that continue to develop projects based on business-as-usual demand are betting on the failure of policy action on climate and underestimating the disruptive potential of new technologies, such as renewables and battery storage,” said Mike Coffin at Carbon Tracker. “Such projects are either not needed or they lead to warming well in excess of Paris goals.”

A separate  analysis based on Rystad Energy data from April, and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, found that 20 of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies remained on course to spend huge sums – $932bn – by the end of 2030 developing new oil and gas fields.

A Costly Free Ride … just got more expensive

Freeing the world from the grip of fossil fuels is made far harder by huge ongoing subsidies for the fuels, making them far cheaper than their true cost when the damage they cause is included – especially air pollution, which kills 7 million people a year.

  • The G20 group of leading economies pledged in 2009 to phase out the subsidies but little has been achieved.
  • Hundreds of billions of dollars in direct financial support is received by the producers and consumers of fossil fuels every yearbut they benefit from far larger subsidies by not paying for the harm burning fossil fuels causes.
  • When the damage from the climate crisis and air pollution is accounted for, the fossil fuel subsidies reach $6tn a year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • The Guardian analysis shows oil and gas subsidies equivalent to $11m a minute globally, more than $1 million a minute in the United States — and American drivers complain about the high cost of fuel.
  • The US is also high on the list of the biggest per capita subsidies for all fossil fuels with $2,000 a year, behind only Saudi Arabia ($4,550) and Russia ($3,560). After these countries, only Iran ($1815) is ahead of Australia ($1730) and Canada ($1690).
  • “Taking the Paris agreement seriously requires a rapid shift away from fossil fuels,” said Simon Black, a climate economist at the IMF. “Getting fossil fuel prices right will help enormously in accelerating this transition.”

“The world is in a race against time,” said UN’s Guterres. “It’s time to end fossil fuel subsidies and stop the expansion of oil and gas exploration.”



Hu Honua Plant 1

Hu Honua: Fourteen Facts You Should Know; and more

Hawaii’s Public Utility Commission is scheduled to render a decision on Hu Honua before June 30th, a decision that will likely set the course for this now idle power plant’s unsustainable and uneconomic future.

BeyondKona has provided our readers in depth coverage and expert analysis on Hu Honua; spanning three years and 17 articles (available through a site search: “Hu Honua”).  This idle, highly subsidized, and certainly controversial biomass powerplant is located in Pepeekeo, Hawaii Island.

We are fortunate to have one of our island’s community elders, Tawn Keeney MD, a notable physician and who has served his community of Honokaa for over 36 years,  share with BeyondKona and its readers his research and insights into Hu Honua: Fourteen Facts You Should Know, and more... one the most important and locally divisive issues in Hawaii Island’s recent energy history.

Hu Honua is a ‘Bioenergy’ facility, almost built, in Pepeekeo built to burn chipped whole green trees and in turn generate electricity.  Those trees are the Eucalyptus plantation in Hamakua owned by Kamehameha Schools, Parker Ranch, and the State and County managed forests in upper Waiakea and Pahala.

In the Hu Honua Power Purchase Agreement testimony before the PUC, September 2021, Hawaii’s Consumer Advocate, representing the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, concluded (see excerpts) the following, “…approval of the (Hu Honua) A&R PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) does not seem reasonable or in the public interest at this time.”  and  “Otherwise, without additional justification, there are GHG emissions, environmental, health, and customer impact concerns that do not support a favorable ruling by the Commission”.

The PUC process to date has illuminated the issues and conclusions specific to Hu Honua:

1.  Burning wood (green trees) for generation of electricity is climate and environmentally destructive.

2.  The cost of electricity to the Hawaii Island ratepayer will increase significantly if Hu Honua is authorized to sell electricity to Hawaiian Electric.

3.  Authorization of Hu Honua will not add to Hawaii’s energy security or self sufficiency as after the initial timber 7 year harvest cycle, the great majority of the wood supply will be imported from Asia or the American continent — trading one of Hawaii’s imported energy fuel production dependencies for another.

4.  Bioenergy (burning green forests for electricity) is scientifically discredited and such energy stations will close due to governmental withdrawal of subsidies and support as the climate crisis overtakes the convenience of considering burning trees for ENERGY desirable.

What you need to know about Hu Honua

Fact #1 GHG Emissions:   Contrary to Hu Honua’s advertising, this facility’s energy is not ‘clean’.  Hu Honua’s Clean Air Permit from the State Department of Health designates that the facility will emit 293,000 tons of Greenhouse Gas per year.  This is approaching 1000 tons GHG per day.


Fact #2 Fuel Inefficiencies –  It is well known that burning chipped or pelletized green trees as fuel for generating electricity releases 1.5x more greenhouse gas than burning coal for each KWh of electricity produced.  The IPCC Greenhouse Gas Inventory (2006) identifies 1.25x greater GHG ‘in the smokestack’ emissions burning wood than coal (the dirtiest of all conventional fossil fuels) The ‘efficiency’ of burning wood is 26% and the efficiency of coal is 33% in generating electricity, thus calculating the 1.5x factor.

<Global Change Biology: Bioenergy 2017 Volume 9 page 361 >


Fact #3 Dirty Fuel – Burning wood for electricity releases 1.5x more Greenhouse Gas than burning Coal, 2.2x more GHG than burning oil, and 3x more GHG than burning natural gas, per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.

The Greenhouse Gas Analysis presented to the PUC by Hu Honua in 2019 calculates  their GHG emissions to be 1.95 tons CO2(e) per KWh electricity generated, compared with 0.91 tons for the fossil fuel stations they would be replacing, or more than twice the level of GHG emissions and pollutants Hu Honua was intended to replace in Hawaii Island fossil fuel power sources.


Fact #4 Trees, Not Sustainable – Hu Honua has proposed that regrowth of the trees that it has harvested will eventually re-sequester the Carbon released into the atmosphere and thereby achieve carbon neutrality.  Contemporary research (8 minute Youtube video) suggests that, following clear cut harvest of forested lands (the harvest method that would be employed by Hu Honua), in addition to the emissions of burning the trees, those harvested lands will continue to be a net emitter of CO2 into the atmosphere, resulting from release of stored soil carbon, for as long as 20 years.  Hu Honua proposes a 7 year re-harvest cycle.

In a Star Advertiser editorial, Hu Honua’s forestry contractor argued that the stumps will regrow trees as coppice and soil carbon will be preserved.  However, Kamehameha Schools, owning the majority of Hu Honua’s trees has publicly stated they will not regrow their forests.  No public commitment has been made by Parker Ranch to regrow its trees.


Fact #5  Emissions Impacts, not Rewards – The Government of Canada’s website < Bioenergy Greenhouse Gas Calculator > is the only internet site found which calculates the accumulated greenhouse gas over time from burning green trees for power in relation to burning coal, oil and natural gas.  It factors into its results the re-sequestration of CO2 from regrowth of harvested trees or planting new trees.

Hu Honua Vs. CoalThe Canadian government website allows designation of speed of growth of the trees and the distance of transport of harvested trees to the power generating facility. Factoring ‘fast growing trees’ and 50 kilometers (30 miles) average transport (Pahala, Waiakea Mauka and Waipio rim to Pepe’ekeo) this Calculator shows that, for Hu Honua, the accumulated Greenhouse gas from burning trees for power (including the sequestration from regrowth of trees) will be greater than burning Coal for at least 70 years (best case scenario).


 Fact #6 EPA on Trees for Power – Twice (in 2012 and 2019) the EPA has asked its Science Advisory Board for endorsement of its bioenergy GHG neutrality policy. The SAB on both occasions refused the request, stating the “feedstock and timeframe for carbon neutrality must be specified”. Burning harvested invasive species or wood waste from industrial processes would be carbon neutral, as otherwise the wood would decompose.

Hu Honua will be clear cutting whole Big Island green forests in an unsustainable mission to  burn trees for power. Burning green trees could, over a time frame of several decades to a century or more, be carbon neutral depending on the time to regenerate the woody mass, plus harvest and transport emissions.

Though it is not official policy, references have suggested that EPA’s timeframe reference for carbon neutrality of bioenergy is one typical life-cycle of forest trees, or approximately one hundred years. In respect to the current Climate Crisis, this timeframe reference is inappropriate.


Fact #7Not Carbon or Renewable – In order to call Bioenergy ‘renewable’ or ‘carbon neutral’ federal statute and EPA directive requires that any forest harvested for that purpose must be regrown.  It does not allow that forest can be grown someplace else, or other forested lands can be purchased to compensate for harvested forest.  Kamehameha Schools has publicly stated that the 12,000 acres of forests on their lands will not be regrown.

Thus, Hu Honua should stop calling it’s bioenergy ‘renewable’ or ‘carbon neutral’. As quoted in Pacific Business news, Warren Lee, President and CEO of Hu Honua seems to acknowledge that Hu Honua should not be considered as sourcing renewable energy.  “The plant’s purpose was to replace fossil fuel generation, not renewable energy.”, Lee recently told PBN, noting that it is not an either/or situation and both bioenergy and renewables can each play a part in diversifying the state’s overall energy portfolio mix.”


Fact #8:  Local Tree Sources Unsustainable – Kamehameha Schools, Hu Honua’s largest source of trees, will not regrow trees after the initial harvest, the first of 7-year harvest cycles for the 30 year contract.  No public commitment has been made to regrowth from Parker Ranch, the other large source.  No other large scale Hawaiian Islands fuel source has been identified.

DLNR has stated they will plant or ‘protect’ 100 million trees by 2030 for carbon sequestration or environmental restoration.  They will not allow harvest.  Hu Honua’s wood will come as pellets from the Americas or Asia.   ‘Bioenergy’ will not contribute to Hawaii’s ‘energy self-sufficiency’ or security.  A forest industry will not emerge.


Fact #9 Ratepayers Get A Raw Deal –  Hu Honua has designated that it will sell electricity to Hawaiian Electric at $0.22 per KWh, increasing gradually to above $0.30 per KWh over the 30 year contract.  Hawaii Island’s planned and already begun large solar (with storage) installations will sell their power to Hawaiian Electric at $0.08 per KWh, approximately one third of what Hu Honua will charge.  As a result of Hu Honua, the Hawaii Island ratepayer will pay more for their electricity.


Fact #10Hawaii’s Consumer Advocate Agrees – The Consumer Advocate, representing the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, testified to the PUC in September 2021 that over the 30 year life of the Hu Honua project, 58% of the electricity generation at Hu Honua would replace zero-emission renewable sources (wind, solar or geothermal) and 42% would be fossil fuels.


Fact #11Polluting Supply Chain – Hu Honua will send 5 to 6 logging trucks per hour each way from Hamakua to Pepe’ekeo or from Pahala and Waiakea through Hilo to Pepe’ekeo. That is approximately one truck (approaching 40 tons) will be sent every 11 minutes for burning trees (a truck, loaded or empty, will pass an observer every 5 to 6  minutes).  Traffic problems, road and bridge deterioration, and probably accidents will arise.


Fact #12:  Water Wasted or Waste Water – Hu Honua’s engineering designated that 21 million gallons per day of cooling water would be withdrawn from Hakalau Aquifer, heated to 88 degrees F, various chemicals added (primarily 45 gallons per day of descaling agent) and re-injected into the aquifer 90 ft. from the shoreline, and that transit to the ocean would take 50 days.  This calculates to 1 billion gallons (15,000 Olympic swimming pools) of heated contaminated water in the aquifer at steady state.

Because of failure of the injection wells to perform as anticipated, the depth of the wells was increased from 400 to 800 ft.

At that time the Department of Water Supply wrote a letter to the Health Department Safe Drinking Water Branch stating, “The Department of Water Supply (DWS) has concerns with respect to the Pumping and UIC permits that would allow Hu Honua to proceed with large scale (21.6 Million Gallons per day) pumping of groundwater and reinjection of that water back into the groundwater with select chemicals near DWS’ potable groundwater wells.” “DWS requests that Hu Honua be required to provide, at their expense:  1)  Groundwater modeling that includes DWS’ Pepe’ekeo groundwater sources.  2)  A determination that Hu Honua’s pumping and UIC process will not have adverse impacts on the quantity and quality of DWS’ nearby sources.  3)  A Monitoring plan for tracking water level and detecting select contaminants at DWS’ nearby sources.”  A subsequent letter reiterated those concerns and broadened stipulations.

Though Hu Honua has deepened their wells, first to 800 ft. and now to 1200 ft, no public presentation of engineering plans or the above requested modeling have been made available to the public.  Still 21 million gpd (equivalent to the basal outflow of Waipio Valley) will be pumped and heated through this facility and re-injected. The above stipulations from DWS  must be enforced and made public. The Maui Wastewater US Supreme Court ruling demands that an NPDES study be performed to ensure no deterioration of the nearshore marine environment.


Fact #13Trading Trees-for-Power Fails Original Expectations – The current drift in biomass policy and media discussions suggests, because of the reasons pointed out by the 500 scientists, that within the next several years all subsidies and RPS considerations of biomass as carbon neutral will be withdrawn.

From National Geographic, November, 2021, we find the following statement under the Tagline:  “As world leaders pledge more action on climate change, one so-called solution—burning trees for electricity—could undermine progress.”  That statement:  “In the European Union’s “Fit for 55” framework for reducing emissions by 55 percent by 2030, biomass energy is still labeled as carbon neutral. But in a report published in 2018, the U.K.’s (the world’s largest per capita user of bioenergy) Committee on Climate Change said biomass energy should be limited. The country has contracts extending subsidies through 2027, but when they end, the committee discouraged further use.”

The unfolding realities of the climate crisis will overtake the convenient economic considerations of bioenergy as Greenhouse Gas neutral.  Subsidies will be withdrawn.  This will lead to closure of most, if not all, bioenergy stations.


Fact #14:  A Community United in its Opposition to Hu Honua – The following public organizations are in opposition to Hawaii’s first proposed Bioenergy (green tree burning) facility, Hu Honua.

In stated opposition are

  • Sierra Club (Hawaii Chapter), Sierra Club (Moku Loa Group),
  • Surfrider Foundation, Olohana Foundation,
  • Partnership for Policy Integrity,
  • Pepeekeo Fisherman’s Association,
  • North Hawaii Action Network,
  • Na Kupuna O Moku O Keawe,
  • Life of the Land,
  • 350Hawaii,
  • Hawaii Island Citizen’s Climate Lobby,
  • Hui Aloha Aina,
  • Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action,
  • Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hamakua, Environmental Caucus (Democratic Party of Hawaii),
  • Climate Reality Project,
  • Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, Division of Consumer Advocacy (‘Consumer Advocate’),
  • the Democratic Party of Hawaii and more.

In May, 2018 the State Democratic Party overwhelmingly passed Resolution ENV: 2018-08: “Resolved, That The Democratic Party of Hawai’i urges the Public Utilities Commission, all elected and appointed officials of the State of Hawai’i and its various counties to withdraw support for Hu Honua Bioenergy, and any successors, which will have irreversible and deleterious consequences for the state’s coastal waters and the planet’s atmosphere;”

After years of litigation, public testimony and lawsuits… it isn’t over yet…

The Hu Honua story has been a long and winding road and exemplified by propositions, applications, questionable agreements, and certainly accompanied by a contentious multi-year history of lawsuits and hearings before Hawaii’s PUC and the state’s court system.

Life of Land’s recent intervenor submission before the PUC summed up Hu Honua’s application-to-proceed this way:

“The long and litigious history of the Hu Honua project is characterized by the competing interests of a mysterious and powerful corporate entity and those of the ratepayers and people of Hawai‘i. On one hand, Hu Honua is seeking to force through the approval of an expensive power-purchase agreement (“PPA”) for a 19th century-era wood-burning technology that will deplete and pollute Hawai‘i’s natural resources and increase the cost of electricity for the people of Hawai‘i Island, all in the name of corporate profits.

On the other hand, the HELCO ratepayers and the public interest of the people of Hawai‘i are being protected by a robust framework of environmental laws and the reasoned analysis of the Hawai‘i Public Utilities Commission. As Hawai‘i (and the world) confront the escalating climate emergency, these laws, and the agencies and entities that wield them, represent the main arbiter tasked with balancing the complex and often competing needs that constitute the “public interest.”  

We live at a time when there is no room for compromise in our fight to preserve our environment and our species.  Climate Change has become ‘Code Red’.  It is the judgment of science, our environmentalists and, slowly, leadership that burning green trees for generation of electricity is climate and environmentally destructive.

The problems of burning trees-for-power are not confined to Hawaii

The following are excerpts from a letter signed by 500 expert scientists in Feb. 2021 to leaders of the US, EU, Japan and Korea regarding Bioenergy:  See letter here.

(Please access the above link to see this entire letter and the impressive credentials of the signatories,  which includes a former chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, US National medal of Science winner, President of the European Academies of Science, Lead author of 5 IPCC technical reports on bioenergy, etc.)

“The undersigned scientists and economists commend each of you for the ambitious goals you have announced for the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Forest preservation and restoration should be key tools for achieving this goal and simultaneously helping to address our global biodiversity crisis. We urge you not to undermine both climate goals and the world’s biodiversity by shifting from burning fossil fuels to burning trees to generate energy.”

“In recent years, there has been a misguided move to cut down whole trees or to divert large portions of stem wood for bioenergy, releasing carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests.”

“The result of this additional wood harvest is a large initial increase in carbon emissions ….  As numerous studies have shown, this burning of wood will increase warming for decades to centuries. That is true even when the wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.”

“Overall, for each kilowatt hour of heat or electricity produced, using wood initially is likely to add two to three times as much carbon to the air as using fossil fuels.”

“Government subsidies for burning wood create a double climate problem because this false solution is replacing real carbon reductions.  Companies are shifting fossil energy use to wood, which increases warming, as a substitute for shifting to solar and wind, which would truly decrease warming.”