Thursday, September 3, 2015         

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HELCO considers producing more geothermal power

By Associated Press


KAILUA-KONA >> The potential for adding more geothermal power production on the Big Island is being considered by the island's utility company, according to the president of Hawaii Electric Light Co.

Jay Ignacio told a group of about three dozen residents on Tuesday that the company will investigate expanding geothermal energy to West Hawaii, in the Hualalai area.

Hawaii County already gets 31 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, the highest rate among the state's counties. Adding geothermal capacity would help HELCO decrease dependence on fossil fuels while raising the amount of energy that comes from renewables, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.

"Geothermal on Hualalai is one of the options we are considering," Ignacio said. "Hualalai actually does have an area of potential geothermal resources, so it might be a possibility we could have geothermal here on the west side."

HELCO doesn't have any concrete plans for new geothermal energy production. 

Ignacio said the company and interested parties have discussed geothermal projects, which would require investors willing to take on a financially risky undertaking and be able to reach an agreement with the community.

"There is a lot of potential, but no real project yet," he said.

With an abundance of renewable energy, state energy planners and Gov. Neil Abercrombie have said they hope a future undersea power cable could eventually reach from Oahu to the Big Island. Current plans for the cable call for it to connect power-hungry Oahu with proposed wind farms on Molokai and Lanai.

Of the power produced on the Big Island from renewable sources, 17 percent comes from geothermal, 12 percent from wind and 2 percent from hydrothermal.

Statewide, the Hawaiian islands only get about 9 percent of their power from sources other than fossil fuels.

"Right now, we have a heavy dependence on oil, and while that strategy was a good one, it no longer works because the price of oil is so volatile," Ignacio said. "We want to reduce that variability in price so that as fuel prices vary, electric prices will be more stable."

He said HELCO wants to change the way it pays independent power producers that feed renewable energy into the island's grid. Currently, HELCO's payments to power producers are linked to oil prices, which drives up costs when oil prices rise.

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