The Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) submitted a long-term energy plan to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission that includes a target goal of hitting 92% renewable electricity by the year 2030. So, if this goal is reached, the big island would be almost energy independent in just sixteen years.
Where is the island currently in their energy mix? About 40% of its electricity was generated by renewable sources in 2013 from solar, wind, hydro, geothermal.
Adding another 50% from renewables in 16 years, means a yearly increase of a little over 3 percent. It appears that HELCO could definitely achieve its goal of near energy independence.
Currently, the big island gets its geothermal power from the 38 MW Puna Geothermal Venture plant. HELCO has spent some time investigating the feasiblity of constructing a new 50 MW geothermal plant, but there has been some criticism that the process has taken too long. For example, Senator Malama Solomon wrote a letter to the Public Utilities Commission expressing disappointment over the delay, “For the past several years consumers on Hawaii Island have sought to expedite the production of affordable renewable geothermal energy…geothermal development has not progressed because HELCO/HECO have refused to retire their old fossil fuel plants in order to integrate cheaper renewable energy, including geothermal energy, onto the grid.”
Governor Neil Ambercrombie is for geothermal power, “If there is anything on Earth, or in Earth, that says to us as a species, as stewards of this planet, that here is a resource for your utilization and for your proper regard, and to be a steward of, it’s geothermal. And the Big Island could not be better situated for it.”
The big island is the renewable energy leader among the Hawaiian islands. About 24% of its electricity comes from geothermal power. Wind power supplies about 13%, and hyro about 3%. The island’s main source of power, at a little over 59%, is oil. Importing oil is costly though and one of the reasons that Hawaii’s electricity is very expensive. HELCO has estimated that switching to mostly renewables could save about 27% on the average residential energy bill. Burning oil also contributes to climate change and produces air pollution.
Solar power is in last place for electricity generation on the big island, but solar power costs have decreased so much over the last six years, that adding more solar might be a very good way to go. In fact, if a utility publicly states the intention to develop more renewable electricity, but drags its feet, then individual homeowners and business owners can take the situation into their own hands by investing in their own solar power systems, and in some cases save a lot money while generating their own power.
Rooftop solar does have a kind of citizen empowerment aspect to it because people that have their own method of generating renewable energy, are less dependent upon utilities.