HELCO mulling energy future


A handful of Hawaii Island residents brought suggestions for Hawaii Electric Light Co. to consider as the company pursues a state-mandated Integrated Resource Plan.

Former Honolulu City Councilman and energy analyst Steve Holmes offered a number of ways the state administration, counties and island residents can lower the state’s energy usage.

“The cheapest kilowatt is the one you don’t create,” Holmes said during a meeting Wednesday evening at Waikoloa Elementary School. “Part of the concept is not to grow new power. New power is always more expensive.”

In California, entire subdivisions are testing out virtual net metering — connecting every house in the subdivision to an array of solar panels, and dividing the energy savings among every home in the neighborhood, Holmes said. That works well for areas in which the houses’ roof lines aren’t well placed for individual solar panels.

Every county should be updating lighting codes and moving to energy efficient LED lights, like Hawaii County is testing out now, he said.

A power purchase agreement approach to solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems for individual houses, as well as multiunit developments, is also a good idea, Holmes said.

“A PPA is a way to lock in, have investors come in who can maximize tax credits and give homeowners the best deal, no upfront costs, and they get savings the first month,” he said. “That could be extended to harvest remaining homes that don’t have solar systems.”

The state’s energy loads are individual customer-driven because the state doesn’t have a large manufacturing industry using energy, so it makes sense to reduce those loads, he said.

The state’s energy code, which is a consensus standard, should also be updated, Holmes said.

Although he considers himself a geothermal supporter, Holmes cautioned HELCO about pursuing the renewable energy source too aggressively.

“I’m really concerned it’s a dangerous time,” he said.

Retired doctor Sharon Kaufman-Diamond said she would like to see HELCO look more at wave energy.

“We do have fabulous wave energy in the Alenuihaha Channel,” Kaufman-Diamond said. “The question of corrosion, how do you maintain these devices, it’s tricky. But it’s clean. If you can get the right equipment, it will be an enormous source of energy.”

Kaufman-Diamond and another speaker asked HELCO to focus on lowering electricity rates.

“One of the missions for HELCO should be not to have one of the highest rates in the country, but to have a much lower than average rate to try to help people deal with the environmental stressors that are being imposed on people,” Kaufman-Diamond said.

She was particularly concerned with people suffering from vog and the prohibitive cost of running air conditioners and air filters.

The Public Utilities Commission requires the utility to update the integrated resources plan every three years, HELCO officials said.

“It’s our process for figuring out what we’re going to do in the future,” HELCO President Jay Ignacio said. “The focus tonight is to hear from you.”

New to the process this round is scenario planning, HELCO officials said. In this case, the company is looking at four possible scenarios for which to plan. The first is significantly increasing oil prices, which results in an aggressive pursuit of clean energy resources. The second is oil prices that increase, but with the utility taking only a moderate stance on clean energy. Third is a decrease in oil prices and nominal pursuit of clean energy. The final potential scenario was moderately increasing oil prices with a continued commitment to clean energy.