Gov. David Ige blew a hole in the plans of Hawaii utilities to burn liquefied natural gas to generate electricity, saying it would only delay the state’s eventual switch to renewable energy.
Speaking Monday at the Asia Pacific Resilience Innovation Summits & Expo, a three-day conference on energy strategies at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, Ige said he was against the use of LNG because it distracted from investment in renewable energy resources.
“Any time and money spent on LNG is time and money not spent on renewable energy,” said Ige, who in June signed into law a bill setting a goal for the state to get to 100 percent renewable electric power generation by 2045.
Hawaiian Electric Co. and Hawaii Gas announced plans last year to import more liquefied natural gas, arguing it would be cheaper and cleaner than burning oil and also could be imported from the mainland instead of from foreign producers. HECO said it would cost roughly $187 million to modify its generation units for natural gas. Hawaii Gas estimated it would spend $150 million to $250 million on harbor improvements to bring LNG into the state.
Ige said his administration will actively oppose the construction of any future LNG receiving stations in Hawaii because it would cost too much money.
“LNG will no longer save us money,” Ige said. “The capital plans of those wishing to import LNG are anything but small. LNG is a fossil fuel. LNG is imported.”
After Ige’s comments, both utilities said they remain committed to their LNG plans, while renewable-energy advocates applauded Ige’s effort to stop them.
HECO has been considering LNG as a potential fuel source since at least mid-2012, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie asked utility officials to look into the feasibility of using natural gas as a replacement for fuel oil during the utility’s transition to renewable energy.
HECO said in a statement that the company is committed to the state’s 100 percent renewable goal and that LNG will help the utility get there.
“We agree with Gov. Ige that any use of LNG should not result in development of major costly infrastructure that will impede our renewable energy progress,” said Darren Pai, HECO spokesman. “We are evaluating delivering LNG in (special shipping) containers to our generating stations on a transitional basis, an approach that requires minimal island infrastructure.”
LNG can provide a cost-effective, cleaner alternative to oil to maintain reliability for customers and will help the state connect more intermittent renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, Pai said. Last year 90 percent of HECO’s power on Oahu came from burning oil and coal.
“As more and more renewables come online in the coming years, we would reduce the amount of LNG purchased,” he said.
Ige said he is not opposed to Hawaii Gas using LNG as an alternative to the propane and synthetic natural gas it sells now, but he doesn’t want the company to provide LNG to HECO for electricity generation.
Alicia Moy, president and CEO of Hawaii Gas, said the company is still considering using LNG for its 70,000 customers.
“We continue to view LNG as part of the solution to lower costs and emissions for our own customers with a more reliable fuel source than what we are using today. We understand that in his statement, the governor indicated his preference that LNG should not be used to supply HECO,” Moy said.
While saying she supports Ige’s commitment to 100 percent renewable power generation by 2045, Moy said Hawaii Gas is still considering selling LNG to HECO.
“We embarked on a process several years ago to explore solutions to lower the high cost of energy and emissions, while we transition from decades of oil dependency to a more sustainable clean energy future,” Moy said.
Former Public Utilities Commission Chairwoman Mina Morita, a speaker at the conference, said she disagreed with Ige’s stance.
“Having this kind of announcement come out at this time throws cold water on the investment climate in Hawaii,” Morita said.
“It (LNG) has a really important role as a transition fuel to get to 100 percent,” Morita said. “I am very concerned with this kind of announcement because we do want to get to our goal, but now it is a whole lot harder and, I believe, much more expensive (without LNG).”
Renewable-energy advocates praised the governor’s announcement.
Jeff Mikulina, executive director of Blue Planet Foundation, said the clean-energy organization appreciates the governor’s decision.
“This is exactly the leadership we need for Hawaii’s energy future,” Mikulina said. “It is a new era in Hawaii with our 100 percent renewable mandate. All of our energy should go toward achieving that.”
Through his announcement the governor is putting the public interest first, Earthjustice attorney Isaac Moriwake said on behalf of the Sierra Club and Earthjustice.
“HECO and NextEra (Energy Inc., the Florida-based company proposing to purchase HECO) want to make a quick buck off of huge LNG investments and get us hooked on another imported fossil fuel,” Moriwake said in a news release. “That’s exactly the kind of shortsighted, profit-driven thinking that gave us the highest electric rates in the nation. We support Gov. Ige’s ‘sanity check,’ which puts the public interest before private profits and keeps Hawaii on the right track to a 100 percent clean energy future.”