HONOLULU (AP) - The public will get a chance to weigh in as Hawaiian Electric Co. goes forward with plans to buy liquid biofuel for power generation.
The utility's first proposal was rejected as being too costly for ratepayers. The public will have the opportunity to weigh in this week at several public hearings on the revised plan, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.
HECO and its Hawaiian Electric Light Co. subsidiary on Hawaii island are seeking approval from the Public Utilities Commission to buy 16 million gallons of liquid biofuel fuel per year for 20 years. The biofuel would be used to replace the diesel HELCO burns at its 81-megawatt Keahole power plant.
The liquid biofuel would be bought from Aina Koa Pono LLC at a fixed price. But even at the lower cost of the revised plan, it would be more expensive than generating power with diesel. It would require the utilities to impose a surcharge on ratepayers to make up the difference.
HECO officials did not disclose the price of the biofuel, but they said the cost would be $125 million less over the life of the contract than Aina Koa Pono originally proposed. That plan was denied in September 2011 because it was deemed too costly and not in the public interest.
If spread across ratepayers on Hawaii island and Oahu, the surcharge would be an estimated 84 cents to $1 per month for a typical family using 500 to 600 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, according to HECO.
As oil prices rise and the price of biofuel holds steady, it could save ratepayers $500 million over the lifetime of the contract, HECO said.
"We oppose any rate increase. Enough is enough," said Wallace Ishibashi, a member of the Big Island Community Coalition, a group formed in August to push for lower electricity rates on Hawaii island.
HELCO residential customers paid 40.4 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity in October, second only to the 44.9 cents per kilowatt-hour paid on Kauai, Ishibashi said.
Aina Koa Pono said it plans to spend $450 million to build a biofuel processing facility in Pahala. The operation initially would use invasive plant species, macadamia nut husks and coffee hulls. The company would later grow noninvasive perennial crops such as sweet sorghum and nonseeding Napier grass.
Company officials said they plan to use a process called microwave catalytic depolymerization to convert organic material into a liquid fuel.
The utility is required by law to have 40 percent of its electricity sales come from renewable sources by 2030.