HILO — Hawaii Electric Light Co. filed with the state on Friday a first draft of its plan to include up to an additional 50 megawatts of geothermal energy to its potential output.
The plan was submitted to the state Public Utilities Commission as part of a request for developers to submit bids to supply geothermal technologies to HELCO “that provide renewable, dispatchable energy and firm capacity,” according to a press release issued by HELCO.
According to the request, the winning bidder must be able to “achieve a target date for commercial operations between 2018 to 2023, or earlier.”
The utility says it anticipates issuing a final geothermal request for proposals draft in December or January. Bids from developers must be submitted 60 days after the final draft is issued, explained a HELCO spokeswoman, with the final award group then being announced sometime in July or August 2013.
The final power purchase agreement would be submitted to the PUC for approval around March or April 2014. The length of the provider contract could be up to 20 years.
HELCO President Jay Ignacio said Friday that the request is part of the utility’s ongoing efforts to reduce the island’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“The primary goal is to lower rates for our customers through the use of a renewable energy source like geothermal,” Ignacio said.
Ignacio said that geothermal is an important part of HELCO’s plans for adding renewable energy to its grid because of its ability to be “base loaded.” Unlike wind or solar sources, which are available at Mother Nature’s whim, geothermal energy is constant.
“It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can be dispatchable. We can control its output and it can respond to grid needs,” he said.
According to HELCO, a single megawatt can power about 650 Hawaii Island homes. Already in operation on the Big Island is the 38-megawatt Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant at Pohoiki, the only geothermal plant in Hawaii. In March, HELCO increased its output from 30 megawatts.
PGV has been estimated to quench about 20 percent of the island’s electricity needs, with renewable sources as a whole accounting for 40 percent. However, residents continue to pay among the highest electricity rates in the state and nation.
Additionally, geothermal energy has been at the center of an ongoing debate among members of the community and the County Council over its merits and whether possible health and safety concerns exist. While any negative impacts from the plant have yet to be verified, critics of the operation say that the possibility of a blowout or other disaster cannot be ignored.
The County’s Planning Commission had been scheduled to discuss on Friday pursuing a study of the potential health effects linked to geothermal energy drilling.
In June 2011, HELCO issued a request for information to determine the best way to pursue geothermal development on Hawaii Island, the release states.
“It sought input from potential geothermal developers, interested land owners and others on next steps that take into account Hawaii’s renewable energy goals and clean energy policy in keeping with the state’s unique community, cultural, historical and environmental context. The company received 20 responses to that request.”
In January of this year, a state-commissioned Big Island panel released the results of a nearly two-year-long evaluation of geothermal’s potential to be the island’s main source of electricity.
In addition to being cheaper and cleaner than oil used to generate most of the island’s electricity, local geothermal development could produce 500-700 megawatts of power, according to the findings of the Geothermal Working Group.
This summer, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the Big Island would “lead the way” in setting the state’s energy policy, and hinted that Hawaii Island could provide energy to the rest of the state. Earlier this year, the Legislature developed the regulatory framework for the creation of an underwater power cable that would connect the islands, if a private developer decides to take it on.
However, Ignacio said Friday that HELCO’s draft plans do no include transmission of geothermal energy to other islands.
“This 50 megawatts is for on-island use,” he said.
HELCO plans to conduct a webinar in January to allow interested parties and prospective bidders to ask questions and provide comments on the draft.
More information on the RFP can be found at geothermalrfp.helcohi.com.