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HECO to add new renewable power source

A "gasification" plant eventually could supply electricity to 12,000 homes on Oahu

By Alan Yonan Jr.

LAST UPDATED: 1:53 a.m. HST, Jan 26, 2011

Regulators have approved Hawaiian Electric Co.'s request to buy electricity from a company planning to produce power out of construction debris and other waste products.

The "gasification" plant — fired by synthetic gas made from waste — is a first for HECO, which has seen its portfolio of renewable energy generation expand on Oahu in recent years to include power plants fueled by a variety of sources, including solar, wind and biodiesel.

The Public Utilities Commission approved a power purchase agreement last week under which HECO will buy electricity from Honua Power at a price ranging from 18 cents per kilowatt-hour for off-peak hours to 22 cents per kilowatt-hour for on-peak hours. The 20-year agreement will be adjusted annually for inflation. The price is comparable to the 19.9 cents per kilowatt-hour HECO will pay the developer of a wind farm in Kahuku that is scheduled to go online in the coming months.

The first phase of the Honua facility in Campbell Industrial Park will have a generating capacity of 6.6 megawatts. When the second and final phase is completed, the plant will be able to produce 12 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 12,000 Oahu homes, the company said.

"We're certainly very pleased to get the PUC approval for the power purchase agreement. That's a big milestone for any energy project," said Tim Mobley, president of Honua Power.

Honua can now focus on construction of the facility, which is expected to begin in the next 2 1/2 years, he said.

Honua will initially fuel the plant with 200 tons a day of construction and demolition debris, most of which is currently being dumped in the Nanakuli Landfill operated by PVT Land Co. In Phase II of the project, Honua would take in an additional 200 tons a day of other waste products, such as used tires, nonrecyclable plastic and paper, and green waste.

When fully operational, the plant will eliminate about 124,000 tons of waste annually that otherwise would have gone to a landfill, Honua said. Oahu generates about 1.9 million tons of solid waste a year, according to estimates by the City and County of Honolulu. About 35 percent of that is incinerated and converted to electricity at the HPOWER facility in Campbell Industrial Park.

In addition to reducing the amount of waste going into landfills, the project is "expected to provide long-term value to ratepayers by acting as a renewable-energy hedge against the uncertainty of future fossil fuel costs," HECO said in the power purchase agreement.

Oahu and Kauai lag Maui and the Big Island in the percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources. The gasification plant and a host of other renewable projects planned for Oahu will allow the island to narrow the gap.

HECO has been buying electricity from the HPOWER 46-megawatt plant since the early 1990s. HECO's recently launched 110-megawatt biofuel generating plant in Campbell Industrial Park is the biggest renewable energy project on Oahu to date. HECO also will soon be buying power from First Wind's 30-megawatt wind farm in Kahuku.

Other projects in the pipeline include a 20-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm in Mililani and two 5-megawatt solar farms in Kalaeloa. One will feature PV panels, and the other, concentrated solar power technology that uses sunlight and mirrors to heat a fluid that is converted to useful energy.

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