Hawaii Looks To 100% Renewables

Hawaii is the first US state to set a 100% renewable target for the electricity sector.
Published: Tue 30 Jun 2015

Earlier this month Hawaii became the first US state to enact into law a 100% renewable requirement, which is to be achieved no later than 2045.

“As the most oil dependent state in the nation, Hawaii spends roughly $5 billion a year on foreign oil to meet its energy needs,” commented Governor David Ige. “Making the transition to renewable, indigenous resources for power generation will allow us to keep more of that money at home, thereby improving our economy, environment and energy security.”

Bill HB623 sets 100% renewables

Previously Hawaii’s target was 40% renewable generation by 2030 and currently the state is ahead of the timeline to reach this goal, according to the preamble of the Bill, HB623.

Other intermediate targets introduced in the bill include 30% renewables generation by 2020 and 70% by 2040.

According to the latest figures from the state Energy Office, in 2014 approximately 21.3% of Hawaii’s energy generation was from renewables, and primarily from bioenergy, wind and geothermal, with solar, especially distributed photovoltaics, increasing rapidly.

The bill also requires the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to include the impact of renewable portfolio standards on the energy prices offered by renewable energy developers and the cost of fossil fuel volatility in its renewable portfolio standards study and report to the Legislature.

Utility response

The 100% target has been welcomed by Hawaiian utilities.

“Reducing our dependence on imported oil and increasing our use of renewable energy is critical to our state’s future. It’s the clean energy transformation we all want for Hawaii,” said Alan Oshima, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric. “Reaching this goal will require a diverse portfolio of renewable energy resources and strong, upgraded electric grids, and that’s exactly what we’re working toward.”

The Hawaiian Electric companies include Hawaiian Electric (HECO), Maui Electric (MECO) and Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) and account for 96% of the state’s electricity production. With their merger with NextEra Energy, North America’s top wind and solar energy producer, which has been approved by shareholders but is still subject to PUC approval, additional resources are expected to become available to help meet the new targets.

Hawaii’s statewide renewable potential is estimated at approximately 14,000GWh, comprised primarily of geothermal (53%) as well as wind (20%), solar (14%), biomass (10%), hydro (2%) and ocean energy (<1%).

Community renewable energy

Alongside HB623 Governor Ige signed into law two other clean energy bills.

SB1050 creates a structure that will allow renters, condominium owners and others to establish a community-based renewable energy programme with an off-site facility, such as a large-scale solar farm. This bill is expected to be particularly valuable on O‘ahu where there is a high concentration of high-rise condominiums that lack sufficient roof space to support on-site solar panels. The law is also expected to provide relief to homeowners and businesses who are located on highly saturated circuits that cannot accommodate additional PV installations.

As of March 2015, there were approximately 56,000 solar PV systems on rooftops. However, 44% of Hawaii residents don’t own their homes, and many more are without roof space. Under SB1050 people are able to form a non-profit consortium, find a piece of land and purchase or lease however many PV panels they want, and then get a credit on their electricity bill for the energy they produce.

HB1509 sets the goal for the University of Hawaii system to become net-zero with respect to energy use by January 1, 2035. This should be achieved using financing mechanisms such as the green infrastructure loan programme, which contributes to the upfront costs of energy infrastructure retrofits and is repaid using the savings realized.

Further reading

Hawaii State Energy Office: Hawaii Energy Facts & Figures