Renewable energy advocate: Set high goals


Hawaii Island could be completely powered by renewable sources within 10 years, an advocate said Tuesday evening.

“We’re looking at 100 percent renewable electricity generation (for the entire state) by 2050,” said David Aquino, project specialist with the Blue Planet Foundation. “We think this is the critical next step for Hawaii.”

Aquino said it’s important to set high goals for renewable energy. He and other panelists at an energy forum at the West Hawaii Civic Center organized by Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, noted that statewide, much of the power is still generated by fossil fuels, which is costly and impacts the state’s economy.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. President Jay Ignacio said one of the top questions he hears from HELCO customers, though, is why electricity prices haven’t gone down as more energy here is generated by renewable sources. Part of the problem is the old contracts that tied the cost of energy to oil prices.

“All new contracts do not have a link to oil pricing,” Ignacio said.

HELCO is hoping to bring liquefied natural gas to Hawaii Island to replace oil for its steam generating power plants and other fossil-fuel burning plants by 2017, he added. The company is also trying to replace some of those steam and diesel units with renewable source-run power generation.

Andrea Gill, who works in the state’s energy office in Hilo, said as the new contracts have come into place, Hawaii Island residents have saved money — almost $7 million last year alone — compared with what they would have paid for the energy if it had all been created by oil.

Ignacio took the opportunity to address another concern he hears often from Big Island residents.

“One of the misperceptions is there’s a block (on photovoltaic systems),” he said. “We’re still continuing to connect customers.”

HELCO is connecting about 200 new customers a month and has about 6,000 customers with connected photovoltaic system, less than 10 percent of its total customer base, he said.

“Some areas have stopped,” he added. There are “about 200 customers in that situation. The concern is losing control of the voltage. … We are continually looking for the next set of technical solutions to allow more connections.”

Aquino said the foundation for which he works recently wrapped up a light bulb replacement project on Hawaii Island and Maui. The foundation partnered with 25 Big Island schools and ended up replacing 68,000 light bulbs on the two islands with more energy efficient ones. Just switching those light bulbs will save about $11 million over the life of the bulbs and avoid the use of 38,000 barrels of oil, he said.