HONOLULU (KHON2) – Oahu now has only one month left to shut down its Kabul coal power plant. It is the cheapest energy source on the island but dirtiest. The cost of electricity after coal is still up in the air.
Hawaii Electric said it will report to taxpayers sometime this month how much of an increase in electric bills could rise this fall. That’s because alternative solar and battery projects are not yet online, and expensive oil generators have to be used in the meantime.
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The final countdown begins, as the AES plant that burns coal to generate electricity will be closed for good by September 1.
“At least on Oahu, there are these five projects coming online in 2023, and one of them will probably be the largest solar and battery project on Oahu at least,” explained Public Utilities Commission Chairman Leo Asuncion.
While waiting for those to come online, HECO and PUC said the facility can still generate enough power after the end of coal.
“I haven’t seen anything that would make me lose sleep due to having any kind of drop below the minimum reserves,” Asuncion said.
But the cost is likely to be prohibitive because oil will have to replace much of what coal made at once so that more renewables will come into operation next year.
“I think in the near term, take a look at your home’s energy efficiency and things like that,” recommended Asuncion. “We have Hawaii Energy over there, their third-party energy efficiency officer, and they’re trying to take a look at what they can do more. Make sure — they (consumers) can afford this period of rising fuel prices and rising and rising energy costs and the like.”
“The AES power plant has served a valuable purpose in meeting the energy needs of Oahu for the past three decades,” said Sandra Larsen, Hawaiian market leader for AES. “Our dedicated and hard-working employees deserve all the credit for making it possible to provide homes and businesses with primary fuel and electricity at the lowest cost available.”
When Always investigate First reported by HECO about the upcoming price hike this fall, oil-generated power is expected to cost up to five times as much as 10% to 20% of the island’s energy that used to come from coal.
KHON2 requested a price update, and a HECO spokesperson said they were “still aware of this based on the recent downside oil price trend” and that they “will be rolling out something to clients in early August so they can be aware.”
After the Oahu coal plant shuts down, Maui is also set to reduce fossil fuel production at the oil-powered Kahului plant, and is discussing what to do at the Maalaea plant, which also runs oil.
“Withdrawing the old diesel generators, but upgrading the other two generators they have, could continue to sort of act as a standby,” Asuncion explained of Kahului’s plan.
AES last week began building a large solar power plant on Valley Isle, with other large-scale projects now allowed on Maui.
“So we kind of keep an eye on those, and hopefully they come, we can bring down the Kahului, and then we look at the next piece of the puzzle: what are we doing in Maalaea,” Asuncion said.
The investigation always asked: After the price of oil-based energy goes up, will the kilowatt-hour price for all this new clean energy go down?
Asuncion said Kauai’s more than a decade of experience switching to mostly renewables provides light at the end of the tunnel — with lower price per kilowatt-hour overall, and more stable and predictable energy.
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“Their rates are pretty stable, and they keep trying to push more and more lower,” Asuncion said. “They got a couple of projects online, pump storage, hydro power and the like. These are very difficult and expensive projects, but all of this will ultimately push them to the lowest possible level.”