Hawaii can get to 80% clean twice as fast — study

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 23, 2018

Hawaii can accelerate its switch from fossil fuels to renewables, hitting more than 80 percent clean in 2030, a study released today said.

The report from the Rhodium Group and Smart Growth America said that the most cost-effective pathway for Hawaii is 55 to 84 percent renewable penetration by 2030. The existing state target is 40 percent by 2030.

“The cheapest thing for ratepayers in Hawaii, and the smartest thing for the state’s energy security, and the best thing for the state’s economy, is for the state to go even faster,” said John Larsen, director at Rhodium Group.

If the state hit that 80 percent renewables target, it could generate up to $2.9 billion in new investment, up to $3.8 billion in energy system cost savings and a 70 percent cut in power-sector oil demand, he said. The effects of that reduction would be consistent with the goals of the Paris climate accord.

Elemental Excelerator, a nonprofit that funds energy, transportation, water and agriculture startups, commissioned the research.

Hawaii in 2015 passed a mandate to hit 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045. However, the Aloha State at the time had no blueprint for how to make it happen. Much of it remains in the planning stage, though leaders argue it’s achievable.

That mandate came after pitched battles between many Hawaii residents and the state’s major utility. Hawaiian Electric Co. provides power through subsidiaries on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island.

The state burns fuel oil to make electricity, and costs spiked after 2011’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan, when that country curbed nuclear power. That triggered a rooftop solar boom in Hawaii. Then the utility on Oahu severely limited new connections for many months.

The state later revised its rooftop solar benefits by eliminating net energy metering, where residents earn bill credits for excess power sent to the grid. That led to a new trend of people adding energy storage with solar.

Meanwhile, the state Public Utilities Commission repeatedly rejected power supply improvement plans from Hawaiian Electric. The PUC finally last summer accepted but did not approve a plan. That means renewables projects going forward must gain clearance.

Rhodium’s Larsen said keys to accelerating adoption of clean energy include more rooftop solar, more utility scale solar and a major increase in battery storage. There also now are caps on how much solar capacity can get added at one time, he said, and those need to go away.

“You have to be able to accommodate a much faster ramp up on the system,” he said.

In addition, the state needs to change the reward structure for both homeowners who add rooftop panels and for the utilities.

Ratepayers should get paid not just for the power their solar systems send to the grid but also for ancillary services. Utilities need to get paid for their coordinating role. The study advocates letting them “profit from cutting oil consumption.”

The state right now is looking at the right business model for the utility.

To help phase out fossil fuels, the state should put a price on carbon dioxide emissions, such as with a carbon tax, the study said. Hawaii also needs to change some transportation policies. The analysis advocated Hawaii adopt California’s zero-emissions vehicle standard, which nine other states have adopted. It requires auto manufacturers to sell increasing numbers of the vehicles.

It also suggested eliminating rules requiring certain amounts of parking in new developments, as they “add to housing costs and incentivize personal vehicle ownership.”