Column: PGV, HELCO can develop hydrogen use
It is critical that both PGV and HELCO understand their roles in enabling a hydrogen economy.
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In preparation for the reopening of Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), which shut down in May 2018 when lava from the Leilani Estates eruption threatened the facility, PGV and Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO) are preparing to renegotiate their power purchase agreement (PPA) “which would, among other things, de-link the existing PPA from the cost of fossil-fuel and potentially lower costs to customers.”
That is exactly the direction to go.
It’s a huge opportunity to reposition Hawaii to have cheap, stable, green energy. It also lets us address two very serious problems: climate change and declining fossil fuels.
Here’s how: We can repurpose “curtailed” (unused and discarded) electricity and convert it to hydrogen at the geothermal production site. That would be the catalyst for the start of a hydrogen economy here on the Big Island, and possibly, eventually, the state.
On the U.S. mainland, and elsewhere, hydrogen is generally made from cheap natural gas — a finite resource — which must be purchased. In Hawaii, though, we can make it from geothermal energy, through hydrolysis, and it is basically free.
For the first time, Hawaii would have an energy-cost advantage compared to the rest of the world. Think of the possibilities! Cheap, stable, green energy would position Hawaii very positively for the next generations. Greta Thunberg would be proud of us.
We can have green, hydrogen fuel-celled vehicles. We can also make ammonia fertilizer for our farmers, and export it if the economics make sense. This move alone could propel Hawaii away from economic dependence on tourism and the military.
Hawaii is already recognized as having the country’s highest solar rooftop penetration. Increasing our use of geothermal electricity for base power is our next positive move.
We can’t let intermittents such as wind, solar and hydroelectric, which are not available 24/7, make up too much of our base power. Geothermal — always available, and the cheapest form of indigenous, green energy — will create a stable grid and let us lead in new, innovative technologies.
I have studied this topic extensively. For instance, I have attended several Association for the Study of Peak Oil conferences since 2007. We attendees have known since 2009 how fast shale oil wells are being depleted. Back then, we removed 90% of the average shale well in just four years, so a new well had to be drilled every four years just to stay even. Now, with more modern technology, it’s every three years. That doesn’t mean we are increasing total shale oil production — it means we are emptying the resource more quickly. We need an alternative.
As leader of the Big Island Community Coalition opposition to the proposed Ka‘u biofuel project Aina Koa Pono, I was very aware of the strategic redactions that misled the public.
It is critical that both PGV and HELCO understand their roles in enabling a hydrogen economy. The process must be transparent. I am especially wary of a non-disclosure agreement that hides what happens behind the scenes. What’s important at this point is that we maneuver through this transition arm-in-arm.
Although I’m also a founding member and president of the Hawai‘i Island Energy Cooperative, my priority is that we look forward and set up our power system the best way for our future generations. They — and we — will all benefit greatly.