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Solar, storage delays put Hawaii's energy transition to the test


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Solar, storage delays put Hawaii's energy transition to the test

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Renewable energy resources in Hawaii are helping to wean the state of imported fossil fuels. But project delays are creating challenges as aging coal and oil-fired facilities retire.
Source: simonkr/E+ via Getty Images

Global supply chain headwinds and pricing pressures have created widespread delays and some cancellations for solar and energy storage contracts in Hawaii, putting the state's energy transition to the test.

Of 18 renewable energy agreements inked by Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. utility subsidiaries in recent years, only two are on track to meet their guaranteed commercial operation dates, the company said in a May 20 filing to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. (Docket No. 2021-0024)

Two additional solar-plus-storage contracts were not included in the update after the developer backed out.

Most of the delays are on Oahu, where company subsidiary Hawaiian Electric Co. Inc. anticipates a tighter cushion of reserve capacity once AES Corp. retires its 180-MW coal-fired AES Hawaii facility on Sept. 1, according to Rebecca Dayhuff Matsushima, the utility's vice president for resource procurement.

The utility does not expect the lights to go out after its only coal resource retires, however.

With the help of energy conservation, customer-sited battery storage, adjustments to maintenance schedules for aging oil-fired generators and key renewable energy projects near completion, the utility does not anticipate shortfalls, Dayhuff Matsushima said in an email.

While the utility is "concerned with renewable energy project delays and cancellations," Dayhuff Matsushima pointed to Clearway Energy Inc.'s 39-MW Mililani I Solar Project, with a 39-MW four-hour battery storage system, as one important project that remains on track. The facility "is currently generating and storing power, and is expected to reach commercial operations by July," the executive said.

Clearway's 36-MW Waiawa Solar & Battery Storage Project, equipped with 36-MW/144 MWh of battery storage, while delayed, is "substantially completed and scheduled to come online later in the year," the executive added.

Hawaiian Electric also expects AES's 12.5-MW AES West Oahu Solar & Storage Project, including 50 MWh of storage, to be online by the end of this year.

Plus Power's 185-MW/565-MWh stand-alone Kapolei Energy Storage Project, previously anticipated to start commercial operations by the end of 2022, has been pushed out to March 2023, according to the filing. The developer, which has received force majeure notices from battery and inverter suppliers, does not know how long the battery supply delay will last, it said.

'Sharp cost increases'

Greater uncertainty surrounds Longroad Energy Holdings LLC's 120-MW Mahi Solar Project on Oahu, which includes a 120-MW/480-MWh battery station, and its 40-MW Pulehu Solar Project on Maui, with a 40-MW/160 MWh battery system.

The company recently withdrew from its power purchase agreements, citing "the global supply chain crisis and sharp cost increases in solar and battery equipment, as well as rising interest rates, making it no longer feasible to build the projects at the prices that were bid in 2019 and set in the [agreements]."

Longroad plans to rebid the projects in response to a forthcoming request for proposals.

Maui Electric Co. Ltd. is also struggling to find replacement parts for four 12.5-MW units at its Maalaea IC oil-fired generating station. That could force early retirement of the units and make the scheduled 2024 retirement of the 32.4-MW oil-fired Kahului plant "unlikely," Dayhuff Matsushima said.

To navigate challenges on Maui, the Hawaiian Electric affiliate is working with stakeholders to accelerate construction of approved renewable energy projects. The utility also is seeking new firm renewable energy capacity on the island and is exploring a new "traditional-style" generator that could run on diesel "or a range of alternative energy sources, such as biofuel, biomass or geothermal," Dayhuff Matsushima said.

On Hawaii island, affiliate Hawaii Electric Light Co. Inc. sought approval of a 30-MW power purchase agreement for the Hu Honua biomass facility. But the state's public utility commission rejected the proposal May 23 over concerns about the project's "potentially significant long-term environmental and public health impacts." (Docket No. 2017-0122)

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