Tag Archives: Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative

Hawaiian Electric Transformers

BY DENNIS HOLLIER

     From left: Lynne Unemori, Darcy Endo-Omoto, 
     Tayne Sekimura and Dave Waller 
     Photos: Rae Huo

“You can’t run an operational company like this without leadership that’s experienced in operational issues,” says Robbie Alm, executive vice president for Hawaiian Electric Co. “That’s not me. That was never going to be me.”

Alm isn’t being modest. He’s trying to explain the origins of the Clean Energy Team, a small cadre of company engineers, planners and policy wonks who are behind the greatest corporate transformation the Islands have seen in decades. The changes began two years ago, Alm says. That’s when the utility signed the historic Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) with the governor, and agreed to some audacious goals, including a legal commitment that, by 2030, 40 percent of its power generation would come from renewable energy.

It was the technological, structural and regulatory challenges of meeting these goals that gave birth to the Clean Energy Team. But Alm believes that the leaders of this group, 10 mid-level managers and young vice presidents, will lead the company far into the future. He also believes one of them is likely to be its next CEO.

A Top 250 Leader

Hawaiian Electric Industries – parent company of the electric utilities HECO, MECO and HELCO, and American Savings Bank – has been in the first, second or third spot on the Top 250 since 1990. In the 1980s, the parent company always ranked fourth or fifth.

 How it Started

In the years leading up to the Clean Energy Initiative, HECO (along with its Neighbor Island partners, MECO and HELCO) found itself increasingly beleaguered. Its public image had been battered by a series of highly publicized conflicts over issues like the construction of transmission lines on Waahila Ridge and the expansion of power plants at Kahe and Keahole. There was also a sense among the public that the company’s existing clean-energy programs were just empty gestures. “The company found itself in fairly unhappy straits,” Alm says. “The editorial writers were against us, the Legislature wasn’t happy about us, and the environmental and historic preservation groups were against us.”

The company also had built-in financial problems. As HECO chair Connie Lau points out, the company’s efficiency programs and changes in technology meant that even when the economy was expanding, and costs increasing, sales declined steadily. In fact, net revenues have declined in each of the last six years. And, as Lau notes, although the company is allowed by statute to earn 10 percent profits, by 2008 they had fallen below 4 percent.

“If you look at the late 1990s,” says Alm, “we were kind of booming. By the 2000s, though, the economy’s not doing so well. The stock market took that tech dive, interest rates went way down, and we hadn’t been in for a rate case in quite awhile. Financially, the company was challenged. And we weren’t helped at all by being so unpopular with the public. People used words like ‘arrogant,’ ‘monolithic’ and ‘oil-addicted’ to describe us.

“And then, Linda Lingle comes in,” Alm adds, “and she clearly doesn’t like us. If you go back and read her speeches, particularly those leading up to the 2006 legislative session, we were sort of public enemy No. 1. Again, it was our addiction to oil and unwillingness to change.” It wasn’t just idle complaining; the Lingle administration was clearly taking Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels seriously. “So, in the 2006 legislative session,” Alm says, “she had those big bills to alter the playing field. And a lot of it passed.”

Maurice Kaya, the former state energy administrator and one of the original authors of the HCEI, points out that some of those laws were transformational. “One,” he says, “was the recognition that the efficiency programs, which were run by the electric utility, were sort of the fox guarding the henhouse. So that was taken away from them. In that same context, we were able to convince the Legislature that there was really no business motivation for the utility to change their ways and get off oil.” In short, Kaya paints a picture of a company financially and structurally unprepared for a clean energy future. It was hard to avoid the perception that the 109-year-old utility was in decline.

So in 2007, when Kaya and Bill Parks, the Department of Energy official who helped write the HCEI, came to Alm with a proposal to radically transform the state’s energy system, it’s not surprising that the utility was interested. In the fall of 2008, after its due diligence, Hawaiian Electric signed on. All that was left was the execution.

     Dan Giovanni (left) and Robert YoungOperations Team

Operations Team

The nuts and bolts of utility work are in operations. That’s what happens in the big power plants, on the vast networks of transmission lines, on the distribution grids that feed electricity to the customer, and in the master control room that oversees it all. Operations is also usually the lair of the most conservative, risk-averse engineers.

At HECO, though, operations is a hotbed of experimentation. It’s the crucible for the schemes and analyses of planners. It’s where the formulations of policy makers and regulators are put to the test. It’s also the site of a remarkable little research and development program into the use of biofuels in traditional steam generators. It’s a good thing, too, because renewable biofuels are a critical part of the company’s clean-energy plans, and it’s hard to see any of those plans without the strong support of operations.

Dan Giovanni
Age:
 62
Title: Manager, Generation Department

 

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Conducting R&D and developing operational plans to convert HECO’s existing fleet of generators to use biofuels.

“The devil’s in the details,” says Giovanni, explaining some of the difficulties of converting from fossil fuels to biofuel. “It means a lot more than asking: ‘What’s the price?’ ‘Does it meet sustainability criteria?’ ‘Can we get it here in time and in volume?’ Those are the simple questions.” The more important questions, at least for an operations guy like Giovanni, are the technical ones. “ ‘How will it behave once we commit to it operationally within our infrastructure?’ ”

Giovanni is leading the utility’s own little R&D program into that question. “We’re going to take one of our largest and most important generating units and operate it for a month on biofuels – 30 days, 24/7. It’s a $12 million test: $5 million worth of equipment, $5 million worth of biofuel, and about $2 million worth of experts from around the world to do the testing and analysis. They’ll look at the environmental impacts, the combustion impacts, the thermal and performance impacts, and the fuel stability question. There’s no shortage of technical questions. But I can tell you this: Six months from now, our team will be the most informed people in the world on how to use biofuels in a conventional steam power plant.”

Robert Young
Age: 
55
Title: Manager, Systems Operations

 

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Run the operations center so the grid can reliably incorporate the most renewable energy possible.

Part of the idea of the Clean Energy Team is the inclusion of operations guys like Young and Giovanni in the mix. Like all the engineers on the team, they have a fundamental grasp of the tension inherent between adding more and more intermittent energy sources, like wind and solar, and maintaining inexpensive, reliable power for customers.

“There’s this conflict,” Young says. “We have to protect the system, but we know that if we don’t do anything, eventually we’ll be subject to higher and higher fuel prices that will drive the cost of electricity up.” He points out that this tension chaffs the fundamental conservatism of engineers.

“Being in operations, I’d like to see more stable resources,” he says. Like Giovanni, he sees biofuels as a critical part of dealing with the intermittency of most renewables. “The fallback really is that some generation sources have to burn some form of fuel. Biofuel is a way to get off crude oil.” And Giovanni’s research program has provided him some hope for clean energy.

“In the beginning, there was a pretty high level of anxiety for us engineers,” he says. “The unknown is always daunting. But, from the operating side, as we’re working through things, the comfort level is getting better.”

The Planners

For nearly 100 years, the basic model of an electric-power utility has been relatively simple: Produce electricity in power plants and send it to customers through transmission and distribution lines owned by the utility. If customers need more electricity, fire up another generator. If demand drops, reduce production. This model fit well with the physics of electricity, which require that production and demand move in unison.

But the clean-energy future is less predictable. It’s going to include generation, like wind and solar power, that can’t be fired up at will, and won’t be controlled by the utility anyway. The same opacity will apply to customers as well, many of whom will generate some of their own power. This intermittent, unpredictable power is the bugbear for modern utility engineers, whose principal objective is to produce reliable, high-quality power for their customers.

Some of the key players on the Clean Energy Team are the planners who struggle to cope with this conundrum. It’s their job to design the systems and acquire the resources that will allow the company to integrate ever more renewable energy sources onto the grid without the customer – that’s you and me – even noticing.

Colton Ching
Age:
 43
Title: Manager, Corporate Planning

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Long-range planning to ensure the company has the generation, transmission and program resources to meet its renewable-energy goals and maintain reliability.

“My group has a hodge-podge of responsibilities,” Ching says. “Part if it is internally focused: We do strategic planning for the company. That includes a lot of internal reporting and risk assessment. But the other half of my department is externally focused: planning – we’re talking 20-year planning – related to long-term use of resources in the system. What are our future needs going to be for transmission? For new generation? What kinds of new demand-side management programs should be deployed? And, most important, how would those resources work together so that we can develop some long-range plans to serve our customers?”

Ching describes how the work of his group dovetails with the work of Leon Roose and Scott Seu, the other key planners on the Clean Energy Team. “I’m going to oversimplify this, but the real focus of Leon’s group is to look at the integration of these new resources on our grid, to look at the math, science and actual day-to-day, minute-to-minute, second-to-second type of solutions to answer the question of how you connect a large wind farm or a lot of PV (photovoltaic solar) power to the grid. How do you make use of their energy, but maintain reliability to the customer. It’s very technical, very focused on shorter time frames.

“My planners look at a broader time scale – from an hours perspective up to a multiyear perspective. And because our time frames are so different, the tools that we use and the analyses we perform are very different. But Leon and his folks and me and my folks, we’re literally joined at the hip. Because we have to look at all these time scales when we plan our system.”

Ching also notes that members of the Clean Energy Team have a responsibility to help change the culture within the company. “Aside from the technical, operational and planning things that all of us are tasked with, we have to affect that sort of change in the rest of the employees as well. We’re the saints that have to spread that gospel.”

Leon Roose
Age:
 44
Title: Manager, System Integration Department

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Analyzes the potential effects of integrating new renewable-energy sources into the grid, and develops implementation strategies using technologies like the interisland cable, smart grid and advanced metering systems.

Roose’s role on the Clean Energy Team is to figure out what it will take to add new, renewable generation to the system. That turns out to be much more complicated than it seems. “Some people think: ‘It’s a small island system; it must be simple,’ ” Roose says. “But it’s completely the opposite. When you’re a small grid, the physics of electricity are actually more complex, because it’s easier to upset the grid when a small disturbance happens.” It’s his job to make sure that doesn’t happen.

It helps that over the years he’s held most of the planning positions in the company. Now, with systems integration, he is responsible for transmission planning and generation planning. “And I’ve added to those functions the planning for what we call our distribution grid,” he says. “Which means I’m responsible for system protection. That’s how we put in relays and other things on our lines so, when you have a problem, it protects the equipment as well as the public.” These kinds of devices and strategies are also going to be a big part of the smart grid, he says, and that’s the real future of integrating the dramatic amounts of renewables on the grid.

Scott Seu
Age: 44
Title: Manager, Resource Acquisition Department

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Using tools like power-purchase agreements and feed-in tariffs to negotiate and purchase as much renewable energy as possible.
 

If it’s Roose’s job to figure out how to integrate renewable energy sources onto the grid, it’s Seu’s to actually go out and buy it. That means everything from putting out the requests for proposals and negotiating the power-purchase agreements, to actually administering the contracts. It’s a remarkable commitment to clean energy. “People say ‘seamless,’ ” Seu jokes, “But we’ve still got a few seams to work on.”

In many ways, the leading edge of the clean-energy future is the relationship between the utility and the independent wind farms and photovoltaic arrays and other renewable-energy sources that the HCEI envisions. As Seu points out, feed-in tariffs will help to formalize that relationship, and he’s been a key member of the negotiations on the docket now before the PUC. “As we got into details,” he says, “it quickly became about much more than just distribution issues. It got into talking about all the details of how you develop contracts for renewable-energy resources.”

After all, one of the principal tenets of a feed-in tariff is that the price of these new sources should no longer be tied to the price of oil. “So what should be the appropriate price?” Seu asks. “We want to come up with a fare that will be fair to the developer and pay them a reasonable profit. Yet, at the same time, all that is going to be paid by our customers.”

His point, though, is clear: “I don’t think we’re ever going to build a brand new fossil-fuel power plant again.”

Ron Cox
Age: 53
Title: Manager, Energy Solutions Department

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Help customers minimize energy use and reduce their bills through programs like demand-side management and the application of advanced technologies.

 Although renewable-energy sources, like solar, wind and biofuels, may seem sexy, in the short term, conservation and greater efficiency will likely play a greater role in helping the state reach its clean-energy goals. It’s Cox’s role to expand and reinforce programs like Energy Scout that help customers reduce the energy they need from HECO.

But like many on the team, Cox brings a breadth of experience that’s invaluable in the group’s customary give and take. He came to the utility after a career in the nuclear Navy. “My first year with the company, I was in operations doing strategic planning,” he says. Then he moved into power purchasing and fuel contracts, including going through the regulatory approval process for critical issues, like biofuels. In fact, this expansion of responsibilities gets to the heart of the Clean Energy Team, Cox says. “This is just the recognition that we needed to make some organizational changes. Today, we literally have three managers doing what I used to do. One manager does nothing but buy biofuels, another manager does traditional fuels and another does power purchase contracts.”

According to Cox, this is a sign of the company’s commitment to clean energy “We’re out there on the leading – sometimes bleeding – edge of trying to implement change. For example, I don’t think any other state has set a target of 40 percent renewables as early as 2030.”

Public Face of Change

Of course, careful planning and resourceful operations are essential to the company meeting its clean-energy goals. But they’re not sufficient. The ambitions enshrined in the HCEI will require a partnership between the utility and the community. It means going out and engaging the public. It means accounting for people’s skepticism and managing their expectations. And it means focusing on customers and service as much as technology and policy.

In some ways, this perspective is built into all parts of the Clean Energy Team. Operations and planners, for example, are already obsessed with reliability and customer service programs. But the team also includes members whose principal focus is how the company’s clean-energy plans impact public and customer relations.

Lynne Unemori
Age: 50
Title: Vice President, Corporate Relations

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Communicate the company’s green objectives, to both employees and the public.

Unemori points out that there’s both an internal and external aspect to communicating the company’s clean energy goals. Internally, she says, it’s important that employees realize these goals aren’t just window dressing; they represent the utility’s future. “It’s critical to make sure they understand our mission, our vision of what the goals are, how we’re going to stay focused. Most important: making it clear that every employee has a role to play in our future.” Unemori also acknowledges that the company has to communicate that same sense of conviction and commitment to a skeptical public.

That public – the ratepayers and taxpayers who will ultimately underwrite the goals of the HCEI – has to know they have a stake in the process. “Another key message,” Unemori says, “One, I think isn’t always easy – is that we have to make investments in order to harvest this energy, to get the infrastructure in place, to be able to reliably include renewables. This investment will come with a price tag, too. But, if you look at it in a bigger context, it makes a lot of sense.”

Dave Waller
Age: 61
Title: Vice President, Customer Service

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Ensure that the company’s clean-energy programs, like demand-side management or net metering, operate seamlessly for customers.

Waller, who had an earlier career in the petroleum industry, brings a unique perspective to the team. Ultimately, he says, clean energy, like anything else the company does, has to benefit the customer. “Really, to affect all the change that we’re looking for, the customer plays a very important role in that process. What we really want to do is make sure that, in every product, every service, every interaction with the customer, we execute that with clean energy in mind.”

Although it’s tempting to envision the work of the Clean Energy Team in a technological or regulatory framework, Waller notes, “The effects and the work of clean energy really don’t happen until they happen in the customer’s place of business or at the customer’s home.”

Regulatory Dance

In large measure, the future of the utility is in the hands of the Public Utilities Commission. Its shape will be decided through an unprecedented welter of dockets before the commission. The most important – the feed-in tariff and decoupling – which the commission has already agreed to in principle, represent revolutionary changes in the way the company does business. The feed-in tariff will encourage the development of ever more renewable power by establishing in advance the price the utility will pay independent producers. Decoupling removes the perverse incentive to sell more, not less power. It does this by decoupling the company’s income from sales; instead, the company will be rewarded for encouraging conservation and adopting more renewable-energy sources.

Of course, that’s the theory. But figuring out the details of these regulatory changes is the primary responsibility of a couple of members of the Clean Energy Team. In fact, the regulatory framework is so important that almost every member of the team has participated in planning and negotiating the PUC’s final ruling.

Darcy Endo-Omoto
Age: 46
Title: Vice President, Government and Community Affairs

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Work with the Public Utilities Commission and Hawaii’s consumer advocate to develop a sound, clean-energy regulatory structure.

As a regulated utility, none of HECO’s ambitious plans can happen without the approval of the PUC. That’s the bailiwick of Endo-Omoto. “When you put the whole puzzle together, I have the regulatory part,” she says. “I’m also responsible for government relations, which is the liaison between us and the Legislature, the (state) administration, the City Council and the federal side. Also under my area: We do all community relations – neighborhood boards, etc.”

“I think we have to take these aggressive steps, not only because of what state law requires of us in terms of our renewable portfolio standards, but also because of what I can see happening on a national level with respect to climate change and global warming.”

Tayne Sekimura
Age: 48
Title: Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Clean-Energy Responsibilities: Ensure that clean-energy plans, especially decoupling and feed-in tariffs, leave the company on a sound financial footing.

For regulated industries like HECO, it’s sometimes easy to forget they’re publicly traded companies that still have to make a profit for their investors. As CFO, Sekimura’s role on the team is largely to ensure that, in the rush to meet the company’s clean-energy goals, they don’t lose sight of those basic corporate responsibilities. “I’ve still got to be able to recover costs,” she says. “I can’t give away the candy store.”

The clean-energy agreement inevitably will mean new structures, new financial models for the company. But, as Sekimura notes, they still have to make economic sense. “It’s my job, as financial steward of this company, to make sure, when we go down these paths, that it’s not devastating from a financial standpoint,” she says. It’s a perspective that colors how she negotiates issues like decoupling and feed-in tariffs. “These are not just financial instruments for the sake of increasing profits,” she says. “They’re really the underpinnings of a financially healthy utility that’s able to do these new things and, at the same time, be a supplier of reliable electric power.”

 

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Roadblocks on the Road to Hawaii’s Smart Grid

BY DENNIS HOLLIER

The Kaheawa wind farm is not being fully used because of 
limitations imposed by an aging power grid on Maui.
Photo: David Croxford

High on a ridge overlooking Maalaea Bay, a small group of students from the Horizons Academy scramble out of vans into the vast open space at the top of the Kaheawa wind farm. They gape for a moment in the brilliant morning light. It’s an impressive sight: the giant white turbines of Kaheawa – 20 in all – standing majestically along the ridge that slopes to the sea, as astonishing as the heads of Easter Island.

“Cool,” says one of the young students.

Noe Kalipi, a spokeswoman for First Wind, the company that built the wind farm, tells the students that each turbine is 168 feet tall. Taken together, the 20 turbines have a capacity of 30 megawatts, or more than 10 percent of Maui’s peak load. That combination of majesty and power capacity makes the Kaheawa wind farm a symbol of the state’s rush to meet the goals of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative: 70 percent clean energy and 40 percent renewables by 2030.

Cool, indeed.

But Kaheawa poses as many questions as it answers. How do you integrate variable electricity generation from wind farms and photovoltaic systems into the electrical grid without compromising reliability? How do we pay the enormous cost of modernizing the grid to accommodate these renewables? And how do we monitor and regulate these changes to make sure the grid is ready for the 21st century? Most experts believe that the answer to these questions lies in a collection of new technologies and practices known collectively as the “smart grid.” In fact, Maui Electric Co. (a division of Hawaiian Electric Industries) has joined the Hawaii Renewable Energy Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy, General Electric and a few other partners in a smart grid pilot project in Wailea. But it’s not clear that MECO (or the rest of the state) is fully ready for the smart grid.

How “Smart” Works

There are many definitions of a smart grid. “No two people can agree on what that means,” says Robbie Alm, senior vice president of HECO. But for the purposes of MECO and what they want out of the Wailea pilot project, the smart grid is all about communication. In some cases, that communication empowers consumers with smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure, which let utility customers monitor their energy use in real time. In combination with time-of-use rates, smart meters may reduce peak load on the grid by encouraging consumers to move some of their consumption to off-peak times, when rates are cheaper.

Probably more important is to have more data about the grid itself. “For example,” says Chris Reynolds, MECO’s superintendent of operations, “if we could see that power was being injected into the system from a PV (photovoltaic) system, then we’d know what was going on. Then we could find ways to mitigate that if it should drop off all of the sudden.”

Speaking to Power

It sounds easy enough. The problem is that even the traditional grid – a model that’s nearly 100 years old – is surprisingly complicated. Sure, its basic elements are familiar: a power plant that generates electricity, high-voltage transmission lines that carry the power long distances, substations and transformers that step the voltage down to useful levels, and a network of distribution lines to deliver electricity to the end user. This generic view of the electrical grid makes it seem almost mechanical: add fuel – oil, coal, bagasse – to the hoppers at one end, and 120-volt electricity comes out the wall sockets on the other. In its particulars, though, the grid is complex; more like an organism than a machine, it’s full of fidgets and sensitivity. The utility is constantly monitoring its vital signs, especially frequency and voltage.

Reynolds points out that the pulse of the modern grid throbs at the remarkably consistent frequency of 60 hertz. Maintaining this frequency depends upon a fairly steady balance of power generation and load. If MECO loses a generator, or the wind dies suddenly at Kaheawa, the frequency falters.

Most utilities handle these problems with what’s called “spinning reserve,” having extra generators up and running and ready to come online. “In place of spinning reserve, MECO uses load-shedding,” Reynolds says, basically cutting power to prearranged customers. “At 59.3 hertz, there are some pump leads at HC&S that will come off-line. Below 58.7 hertz, then we’ll start opening up distribution points on our customers.” In other words, a 2 percent drop in frequency can mean localized blackouts. It can also fry customers’ electronics.

The traditional grid has evolved tools to deal with normal fluctuations in load. MECO’s power plant at Maalaea, for example, isn’t just one generator; it’s 21 generators of various sizes and types. They range from small, “fast-start” generators to deal with sudden outages, to enormous combustion turbines that are much more efficient, but take longer to start. An automatic system controls the generators’ output based on variations in load.

These controls work fine for a grid dominated by consistent power, like diesel generators or hydroelectric, but they’re not responsive enough to handle Maui’s increasing suite of wind and PV power. Instead, MECO has to limit renewables.

For example, through a process known as curtailment, the utility routinely dials back power generation at Kaheawa. Sometimes curtailment at the wind farm is partial; sometimes it is 100 percent. Similarly, MECO restricts the installation of PV systems to less than 3 percent of the system’s peak load, or less than 10 percent of the load on any one circuit. Although these strategies run counter to the utility’s own preferences, probably nothing short of a smart grid will ease the restrictions.

Technical Problems

One of the challenges facing MECO’s smart-grid aspirations is an aging infrastructure. Over the past several years, the utility has modernized its systems, particularly by improving its SCADA, the supervisory control and data acquisition system it uses to control critical elements on the grid.

But the utility still has many substations that haven’t been integrated into its SCADA system, and the system has no means to see beyond the substations to monitor the load of its customers (or the production of most independent PV systems). Also, many of MECO’s generators are aging and inefficient – the oldest, a steam generator in the Kahului plant, was first put online in 1947 – meaning MECO’s high-voltage transmission lines carry 69,000 volts in some areas and 23,000 volts in others. These are all challenges on the journey from existing infrastructure to smart grid.

But the greatest technical challenge is isolation. On the Mainland, most local grids are linked to one another in a super-grid. It’s possible, for example, for a customer on the East Coast to buy electricity from a power provider in Texas or even Canada. That’s important because this interconnectedness makes it easier for utilities to provide some of the ancillary services that are essential to an effective electrical system. As Carl Freedman, one of Hawaii’s most respected experts on utility regulation, likes to point out, an electric company provides customers much more than kilowatt-hours of electricity.

“For example,” Freedman says, “they also have to provide reliability,” a quality that includes things like operational and spinning reserves. Operational reserves ensure the grid has the capacity to supply the maximum load. Freedman explains: “If somebody turns on a 1,000 horsepower motor or turns off a 1,000 horsepower motor, operational reserves mean it isn’t going to shut lights off and destabilize the grid.” Spinning reserves, on the other hand, represent the utility’s ability to handle the loss of a generator (or wind on a wind farm). “On Oahu,” he says, “they have a spinning reserve sufficient for the loss of their largest unit. In other words, they would have enough units up and spinning so that they could lose that unit without dropping load.

“Spinning reserves and operational reserves are both identifiable services,” Freedman says, as are basic utility functions like voltage regulation, transmission and power generation. “On the Mainland, there’s a huge market for all this stuff. If you don’t have something, you can go out and get it.” Freedman points out how this simplifies the way a utility operates. “Each utility, for example, needs to carry sufficient capacity – or contracts for capacity – to meet its loads. But they don’t need to provide the emergency capacity of the largest load like we do here, because they can buy that. In fact, they can buy it for free by having a bilateral agreement with somebody else, saying, ‘You cover me, and I’ll cover you.’ ”

This highlights the challenges facing MECO and HECO as they build their smart grids. Because they’re island grids, they’re completely isolated. Freedman notes: “Each one of these systems has to supply all the ancillary services: all the generators, all the reserve capacity, all the reliability. We have to do it all on each system. So, the job of a smart grid here is a tall order.”

Capital Problems

Not all the challenges facing the smart grid are technical. Rebuilding something as complex as the grid – even a small one like MECO – will be fabulously expensive. “As an example,” says Chris Reynolds, “the meter that’s on a typical home costs about $25. For the smart grid demonstration project in Wailea, we’re looking at a cost of about $400 per meter.” He adds that MECO has about 67,000 meters.

Freedman takes an even broader perspective. “According to DBEDT,” he says, “we’re about to spend $16 billion – that’s billion with a ‘B’ – on capitalization for this energy transition.” He notes that, although the goal is to reduce our $7 billion annual expenditure on fossil fuel, that’s still a fantastic upfront investment. “The question is how are we going to capitalize this. This is a major issue for the state that hasn’t been addressed by anyone, really.”

It’s certainly hard to see how the Hawaiian Electric companies can afford it. “I don’t know what we’re counting in the smart grid,” Freedman says, “but if you include the (undersea, interisland) cable, then you’re talking a billion dollars just to hook up Lanai and Molokai. If you’re talking, like the utilities, about hooking up Maui as well, then you’re talking several billion dollars. Well, the whole capitalization of all the electrical infrastructure right now is something on the order of $3 or $4 billion.” Even if, as now seems likely, the state decides to finance the construction of the cable, Freedman points out, ratepayers will have to repay the debt. It’s still a capital liability on the utilities books.

One of the ironies in this smart grid bagatelle is that many of the policy initiatives intended to promote more renewables further aggravate the capital problems for the utility. For example, the financial arrangements that underpin distributed generation – power-purchase agreements, net-energy metering, feed-in tariffs –all appear on the utility’s books as liabilities. Each, after all, is a commitment to purchase power from customers. The feed-in tariff, at least, also shows up on the income side of the books because the customer still buys the same amount of energy as before. With net metering, the customer’s PV output simply rolls his meter backwards, reducing his bill.

Also, most of the utility’s assets – and collateral – traditionally were in its physical plant: generators, power lines, substations. “Looking forward,” Freedman says, “it looks like they’re not going to be increasing generation anymore. The new generation is going to be in renewables, it’s going to be distributed, and loads are going to met by energy efficiency. And none of those things have the utility’s own capitalization.” Hawaiian Electric Industries is publicly traded; it’s hard to see how these changes in capitalization won’t affect the company’s market valuation. “In the long run,” Freedman says, “the utility’s business model is being challenged a little bit by the whole move to renewables.”

A local smart grid is thus far from inevitable, even with Hawaii’s incomparable resources for renewable energy; even with an ambitious agenda for reform in the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative; and even with a cadre of utilities and citizens committed to the idea of a clean, distributed power generation.

Up at the Kaheawa wind farm, the students from Horizons Academy gather in the scant shade of a giant turbine to pose for a group photograph. Squinting into the late morning sun, the children smile for the camera. It’s supposed to be a picture of Hawaii’s future – the children and the energy that will power their adult lives – but that future is not yet fully in focus.Kaheawa Wind Farm

• Minimum: As little as 6 mph of wind will turn the long, elegant blades of the Kaheawa turbines.

• Maximum: When the wind reaches 55 mph, the blades feather and each turbine stops spinning.

• RPMs: Regardless of the wind speed, the turbines top out at 21 rpm – slow enough for nene to fly through in formation.

• Best wind: At 23 knots, the optimum wind speed, each turbine produces 1.5 megawatts of electricity.

source: first wind inc.

 

P.A.C.E.: Supercharging the Solar-Energy Industry

Many homeowners and businesses want solar energy to lower their electric bills but can’t afford the upfront cost – as much as $25,000 for a standard residential installation. But a new form of funding called PACE – property-assessed clean energy – offers a nearly painless solution.

How PACE Works

People who want to purchase clean-energy technology, such as solar water heating or photovoltaic systems, for their homes or businesses will be able to borrow from a special revolving fund established by the state. In return, they agree to pay the money back (plus interest and administrative costs) through an added assessment on their property taxes. In most scenarios, PACE funding will have no effect on the availability of federal or state tax credits.

How It’s Funded

To establish the PACE revolving fund, the state would issue general-obligation bonds. These would be guaranteed by the incremental increase in property taxes. In theory, PACE shouldn’t add any costs to the state budget. It’s even possible that federal grants would pay for the administrative costs of setting up the program and establishing a certification process.

Who Would Be Eligible?

One of the charms about PACE funding is that it’s tied to the house, not the homeowner’s credit. As long as you can afford to keep up with the property taxes, you would be eligible to borrow money for any qualified clean-energy system. What’s more, when you sell your home or business, the obligation to pay goes with the property. That makes sense, because an investment like a PV system adds value to your home, but is worthless to you when you sell.

Will It Happen Here?

The Sierra Club and Blue Planet Foundation are advocating strongly for PACE. It also enjoys broad support in the Legislature and with Gov. Linda Lingle. Legislation introducing the program, HB 2643, has already passed unanimously in the state House, but it still faces challenges in the Senate and in conference. Advocates such as Sen. Kalani English warn that, given the state’s fiscal troubles, it may take more than one session to pass.

 

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Charging Ahead: Hawaii looks beyond oil

Better Place Announcement


On the sidewalk in front of the state Capitol, Gov. Linda Lingle climbs into the driver’s seat of a white and blue Nissan Rogue. But this is no ordinary Nissan. It’s an electric car, the demonstration vehicle for Better Place, a technology company with ambitious plans to persuade thousands of people that electric cars represent the future of Hawaii. A small crowd of press, politicians and energy buffs have come to see the Rogue and hear how it fits into the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI), the state’s bold new attempt to kick its oil habit. In the afternoon shade, they chat amongst themselves, slowly stepping aside as the governor executes an erratic loop around the statue of Father Damien. Because the car is completely noiseless, no doubt she hears her staff as they amiably disparage her driving. The governor smiles.



Somehow, the ordinariness of this gathering underscores the sense that we might be seeing history: that this normal-looking car — a basic crossover SUV, fit for a soccer mom (or a governor) — may be the missing link in the great quest to escape the tyranny of oil.

Of course, part of the vision for the HCEI has always been that it would be a magnet for companies like Better Place, making the state a kind of hot bed for energy high-tech. In fact, less than two weeks later, Phoenix Motorcars, a California-based electric car manufacturer, also showed up at the Capitol, touting another pilot project to test electric cars in the fleet operations of the Maui Electric Company. But, whether it is Better Place or Phoenix Motorcars or another company altogether, someone will eventually have to answer the question that haunts the noble but quixotic dreams of the HCEI: “What about fueling transportation?”

In short, for the HCEI to work, every business in the state will have to plan on a new model that looks at energy consumption as less of a simple cost and more of a bottom-line item that can contribute to, as well as take away, profits.

The problem that the HCEI seeks to address isn’t that hard to understand. As Jeff Mikulina likes to point out, “Hawaii is punch drunk on oil.” Mikulina is the executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation, an organization committed to weaning Hawaii from fossil fuels, so the sentiment might be expected. But the numbers bear him out. In fact, Hawaii depends upon fossil fuels — mostly oil —for more than 90 percent of its energy needs. The cost of this oil addiction is staggering. State energy administrator Ted Peck puts it in context, “Hawaii’s GDP is about $60 billion. We pay about 11 percent of that in energy costs.” That means Hawaii exports nearly $7 billion a year to buy oil. “That cost gets embedded in everything,” Peck says, which leaves the state disturbingly vulnerable to the rising cost of oil. “I’m not a fear-monger,” Peck says, “but I think that’s at least as compelling as global warming.”

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, with its laundry list of commitments to renewable, local energy — including 40 percent renewables by 2030 — is supposed to change everything. The most important element of the initiative is an effort to force businesses and consumers to change the way they think about energy. 

Consider: the easiest way to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels is to promote greater efficiency. In the old business model, the utility was paid based on the number of kilowatt-hours sold, which tends to encourage profligacy. The HCEI agreement, though, proposes to “decouple” HECO’s rates from how much energy is sold. Instead, the utility will be rewarded for improving customers’ efficiency.

Decoupling helps control demand; to improve the supply of renewable energy sources, the electric company agrees to post “feed-in” tariffs — essentially, the rates they’ll pay to purchase different kinds of renewable energy. Knowing the feed-in tariff gives companies what they need to decide whether they want to invest in Hawaii’s renewable energy market. Together, decoupling and feed-in tariffs will transform how the electric company — and their customers — do business. 

Not everyone is sanguine about the initiative’s prospects. Even some of its strongest supporters acknowledge the failure of similar programs and initiatives in the past. Mikulina, who has enthusiastically endorsed the HECO agreement, points to the electric company’s Kahuku wind project in the 1970s as a kind of cautionary tale. “When they put those turbines in, that was cutting edge,” Mikulina says. “Those were the largest wind turbines in the world at the time, and they should get credit for it.”

Nevertheless, the project, which began in response to the oil crises of the 1970s, foundered when oil prices fell again in the 1980s. Mikulina says, “Recently, they’ve been right on target. But right now, it’s just on paper. And the devil’s in the details.”
Perhaps the most glaring detail missing has been a serious explanation of how we will pay for the major changes to our power infrastructure that the agreements promise. The No. 1 example is the undersea cable linking the proposed wind farms of Lanai and Molokai with the energy-strapped Oahu grid. Estimates for the cost of constructing such a cable range between $500 million and $1 billion.

Current plans suggest that the cable will be paid for and owned by the state, but operated by the utility. That is not, however, set in stone.

One thing is clear: the cable’s going to cost the consumer. Robbie Alm, HECO’s senior vice president for public affairs, says flatly, “I think we may be able to get some federal monies for it, but rate-payer and taxpayer money is going to pay for most of it.”



Perhaps the strongest critique of the state’s new initiatives has come from Fereidun Fesharaki, a well-regarded energy economist at the East-West Center. Fesharaki is not so sure that the rate-payers and taxpayers will welcome the high cost of investing in alternative energy. He acknowledges that the recent spike in oil prices to nearly $150 a barrel certainly made wind and solar seem more attractive, but he points out that the true price of oil is surprisingly elastic.

“The cost of production of oil today — conventional oil — is around $30 a barrel,” he says. “The rest is profit.” On the other hand, the cost of switching to alternatives is relatively high and inflexible, a fact highlighted by the need for tax credits and other subsidies to support them. Fesharaki notes, “It could be two or three times the price of oil. And while everybody becomes brave when oil prices are high, when the prices come down, people are going to ask, ‘Why am I paying all this extra?’”



The answer, of course, is straightforward: pay me now, or pay me later. Even Fesharaki acknowledges that the demand for oil will soon outstrip the supply. “I think, in two or three years, oil will probably be around $200 a barrel,” he says. So the question of whether to invest in renewables is really a political rather than a technical one, and most experts give the Lingle administration credit for its initiative in dealing with the problem now. Peck has a colorful way of putting it: “The question is very analogous to a tsunami; are we going to stay on the beaches, or are we going to go to high ground?” The price of oil may, indeed, fall in the short term, Peck says, “But that doesn’t mean the wave isn’t coming. It’s coming.”

Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI)

A Sampling of Goals and Projects
• A HECO commitment to purchase as much as 1,100 megawatts of already identified renewable energy

• Construction of an undersea transmission cable connecting Molokai, Lanai and Maui with the Oahu grid

• 70 percent “clean” energy by 2030

• Doubling the current Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to 40 percent by 2030

• Establishment of a “feed-in” tariff describing purchase power prices for renewables

• Deployment of Advanced Metering and time-of-use rates, allowing customers to better control their energy use

• “Decoupling” HECO’s compensation to encourage conservation and efficiency

• Retire older, dirty generation plants as Hawaii moves into a renewable future

• Convert existing generators to renewable biofuels

• Prohibit any new coal plants in Hawaii

One of the real problems with replacing fossil fuels with clean alternatives is simply, “How do we get there from here?” According to Fesharaki, it’s pretty clear that Hawaii will continue to depend upon fossil fuels for a large part of its energy needs well into the future. The reason is in your driveway.

Only about 30 percent of the fuel produced at Hawaii’s two refineries goes to power generation. The other 70 percent supplies the state’s seemingly insatiable transportation needs: jet fuel, bunker fuel, gasoline and diesel. If, indeed, through the use of renewables and higher efficiencies, HECO is able to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels for power by 70 percent, that still means the state will have to rely on oil for nearly 80 percent of its total needs.



Because of that, we will continue to depend upon the two local refineries to fuel our economy. Yet, Fesharaki notes, the state’s new energy policy may prove lethal to them. “It’s unlikely we can actually reach a 70 percent reduction,” he says, “but let’s assume, for the moment, that they’re actually able to reach a 30 percent reduction. Go ask the people at the Tesoro or the Chevron refinery if they can survive with a 30 percent decline in demand. I don’t think so. Maybe one of them would survive, but then you’d be relying on just one. What do you think they’re going to charge you?”



That’s why transportation remains the bugbear of the renewable energy landscape. It’s also why the successes of Better Place and the HCEI are so intertwined. Hawaii is the ideal venue for a company like Better Place to test its business model. The short driving distances and high fuel costs make electric cars practical, and Hawaii’s visibility as a major tourist destination makes it a powerful marketing tool. But Better Place is also the ideal test for the HCEI, an opportunity to see if this new energy paradigm is revolutionary enough to make real change possible.

Whatever doubts or skepticism the HCEI may provoke, in one respect, at least, it’s already achieved its goal. Its sheer ambition has clearly attracted the attention of companies like Better Place and others. For Alm, it’s all in the numbers. He points out that the 40 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard truly sets Hawaii apart. “Basically, we agree to be legally bound to that — 40 percent of the power we buy will be derived from renewables. That number is by far the highest in the United States.” Will this be enough to attract the investment and brainpower to make Hawaii a global model for energy high-tech? Alm certainly thinks so.

Fesharaki, always somewhat more circumspect, notes archly, “In the fullness of time, as the British say, everything is possible.”

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