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Hawaii options for green energy abound

191 MW of utility-scale projects in the works for Maui

Strong trades have the turbine blades at Kaheawa Wind Power turning swiftly on the hillside above Maalaea in November 2017. As Hawaii makes its push toward 100 percent renewable energy, government agencies and energy experts are on the hunt for clean energy ideas, including the possibility of wind turbines offshore. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Energy experts are leaving no volcano unnoticed and no offshore wind possibility unexplored when it comes to Hawaii’s race to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

Maui has six renewable energy projects in the pipeline, and it’s not the only island making strides toward green energy.

“There’s a great acceleration going on right now throughout our state,” Maui County Energy Commissioner Alex de Roode said during the Hawaii Energy Conference on Thursday.

The annual conference gathers regional and national experts on energy policy, strategies, leadership and innovation to speak to hundreds of attendees across various industries.

This year’s virtual event was held Tuesday and Thursday.

The 2.87-megawatt South Maui Renewable Resources solar farm is shown during a blessing in November 2018. Even larger utility-scale solar projects are on the horizon for Maui. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Panelists on Thursday discussed untapped options, including geothermal expansion beyond Hawaii island to Maui and to Oahu, along with state and federal research into offshore wind energy harnessed via a floating platform anchored to the sea floor.

The global offshore wind industry is primarily “fixed bottom,” meaning turbines are connected to the sea floor. Fewer than 1 percent of turbines worldwide are floating, but Hawaii — due to its extremely deep waters — is looking into the option, according to offshore wind engineer Matthew Shields of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center.

Slated to be published later this year, the lab’s study, funded by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and conceptualized by the Hawaii State Energy Office, is looking at whether offshore wind can play a role in meeting Hawaii’s clean energy targets.

“It’s not picking a specific project and it’s not suggesting a location where a project would be built,” Shields said. “I was really comparing how costs and feasibility would look throughout the entire region surrounding Oahu.”

Shields said there are new technologies that allow for placing a wind turbine on a floating platform about 20 to 30 kilometers (12.4 to 18.6 miles) away from shore and anchoring it to the sea floor via mooring line and anchor.

Questions remain, though, over supply chains, logistics involved in building, impact on the environment, the view and other concerns. He emphasized that the biggest issues surrounding Hawaii’s approach would be properly understanding cultural and environmental impacts.

“That’s not something you can read in a book or understand from the Mainland different from overseas — it would be really important to have the Hawaiian voice at the table as the project is developed,” he said.

De Roode and Shields said there are many benefits to offshore wind power, especially because it is a nighttime complement to the daytime power of solar.

“The load profiles are really tailored to time of day when people are turning on lights,” Shields said. “The wind blows strong and consistently around these times, particularly around Hawaii.”

Although Puna Geothermal Venture is the only utility-scale geothermal project in the state, Mike Kaleikini, the company’s senior director of Hawaii affairs, said geothermal projects may expand beyond Hawaii island. However, location makes all the difference, of course, when it comes to geothermal energy.

“The further north that one goes on the Hawaiian Island chain, the less likely of finding a really viable resource,” he said. “And that’s why on the Big Island in Puna, at the southern part of the island, because of the very active volcano Kilauea and of course Mauna Loa, success or just the ability to have a viable resource, exists.”

The state has done surveys around Hawaii, and volcanoes in Oahu’s Waianae and Mokapu areas, along with options on Haleakala and on Molokai, are possibilities for geothermal projects.

“We’ve been here since 1993, and really some of the challenges in developing or looking for a resource on Oahu or Maui is finding folks that are willing to do that” because of time, costs, permitting, cultural protocol and other requirements, Kaleikini said.

“There is a potential, but it’s just that we’re looking for folks that are willing to go out there and explore,” he added.

After the conference, De Roode detailed planned, proposed and online renewable power projects for Maui.

“Maui island’s potential renewable power generating capacity by fourth quarter of 2023 if all currently proposed projects are approved by the Hawaii PUC (includes existing online projects) would be 395.67 MW of renewable power generating capacity coupled with 215 MW of utility-scale battery storage capacity,” he said via email. “There is currently 191 MW of planned utility-scale renewable energy (some proposed and some already approved) for Maui island. There is currently approximately 204.67 of renewable power on Maui island already online, including approximately 126.93 MW of distributed energy resources.”

Six of the pending projects, according to de Roode and project developer websites, include:

• AES Kuihelani Solar, a 60-MW solar, 240 megawatt-hour battery storage project on about 450 acres off Kuihelani Highway.

• Paeahu Solar, a 15-MW solar, 60-MWh battery storage project on 200 acres of Ulupalakua Ranch land mauka of Piilani Highway.

• Pulehu Solar, a 40-MW solar, 160-MWh battery project to be developed on 363 acres of Haleakala Ranch land makai of Pulehu Road.

• Kahana Solar, a 20-MW solar, 80 MWh battery project slated for 200 acres of Maui Land & Pineapple land mauka of the Kapalua Airport.

• Kamaole Solar, a 40-MW solar, 160-MWh battery project on 320 acres of Haleakala Ranch land mauka of Piilani Highway.

• Waena Generating Stations, a 40-MW, 160-MWh battery storage system on 1.8 acres of Hawaiian Electric-owned land off Pulehu Road.

Renewable energy sources already online, approved or out to bid include wind and solar projects like Kaheawa Wind Power, Auwahi Wind Energy, South Maui Renewable and Ku’ia Solar.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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