(BIVN) – County officials got a detailed update from a Hawaiian Electric representative on Tuesday, as the Big Island braces for a forecasted increase in electricity costs.
Two weeks ago the utility company warned that residential bills for customers on Hawaiʻi island are estimated to rise by about 20%, due to the ban of Russian oil imports into the united States.
Last week, Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth asked Governor David Ige to declare an energy emergency due to the rising price of fuel.
During a meeting of the Hawaiʻi County Council Committee on Regenerative Agriculture, Water, Energy and Environmental Management, the elected officials heard from Jennifer Zelko of the Hawaiian Electric Company.
Although 60% percent of the energy generated on Hawaiʻi Island comes from renewable resources like wind, hydro and geothermal, Zelko said electricity bills are still forecast to increase.
“We are purchasing energy from four independent power producers, and part of the contract is tied to the avoided cost of oil,” said Zelko. “We have Hawi Renewable Development, it’s a wind farm up north. We have the Tawhiri Wind Farm down south. And the Wailuku River Hydro and Puna Geothermal Venture on the east side of Hawaiʻi island. But as the price of oil goes up, so does the amount we pay these four independent power producers.”
Zelko said the utility company is working on new contracts with several power producers that would not include avoided costs linked to oil. The current Tawhiri and Wailuku River Hydro contracts expire in 2027 and 2023, respectively. The Hawaiʻi Public Utilites Commission is now considering the Hale Kuawehi Solar and Waikoloa Solar projects, and has – as of March 16 – approved an expanded Power Purchase Agreement with Puna Geothermal Venture, pending the approval of all required environmental reviews.
On the same day as Zelko’s presentation to the council, Hawaiian Electric announced a Request for Proposals for shared solar projects that will serve low- and moderate-income customers. From Hawaiian Electric:
Shared solar aims to lower participants’ energy bills, while helping to reduce the use of imported fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions. The program provides a way for customers, such as renters, apartment residents, small business owners and organizations unable to install privately-owned rooftop solar, to benefit from solar electricity generated on their island.
As approved by the Public Utilities Commission, the CBRE LMI request for proposals for O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island is open until May 17, 2022, at 2 p.m. HST. Developers, companies, organizations, or groups authorized to do business in Hawai‘i can submit proposals to develop shared solar projects. The organization’s proposal then undergoes an evaluation process for its proposed project(s). Organizations whose proposals are selected are then considered a “subscriber organization”. Details are at hawaiianelectric.com. Information on applying to become a subscriber organization is available at hawaiianelectric.com/sharedsolar.
When a subscriber organization proposing a shared solar facility is approved, customers on the island where the project will be located may become “subscribers” to that facility by applying directly to the subscriber organization. Once the project is built and online, subscribers may receive credits on their monthly electricity bill based on the output of the project and their level of participation.
Development of the LMI shared solar RFP involved feedback from communities and stakeholders on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i Island. This included community meetings that resulted in Hawaiian Electric adding new criteria that gives higher scoring to projects proposed on land zoned commercial or industrial, prioritizing residential subscribers on a proximity basis to the shared solar project, and updating criteria to encourage subscriber organizations to use local labor and pay prevailing wages. Proposals must also include additional post-selection activities for any cultural resource impacts and requirements for continued community outreach and engagement.
A separate request for proposals for additional shared solar projects on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawaiʻi Island (Tranche 1) will be opened on April 14, 2022. Although low- and moderate-income components will not be required in Tranche 1, it will be incentivized. Updates will be available at hawaiianelectric.com.
“Although we don’t have a crystal ball, I think the hope was by summer we would see some relief,” Zelko said. “In some ways, last week, there was good news. We had seen oil go up to $120 a barrel, and then it was down under a hundred. So it really was a forecast that we put out. We weren’t really sure what we were going to be seeing. You generally purchase fuel 30 days out, which is why we didn’t see the impact sooner, even though you could kind of see gas creep up higher.”