Hawaii Still Committed to Clean Energy After Trump Win

The president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co. says that the utility is committed to 100 percent renewable-energy dependence no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

by Kathryn Mykleseth, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / November 23, 2016

(TNS) -- Hawaiian Electric Co. will move forward with its clean-energy goals, despite having a climate change denier as the nation’s incoming president.

Alan Oshima, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Co., said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he is concerned about President-elect Donald Trump’s victory but that the utility is committed to 100 percent renewable-energy dependence no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

“Our commitment is still intact,” Oshima said in an interview Thursday. “We are fully committed to 100 percent renewable (energy) with or without the federal policies, unless somehow they prevent us from doing it. We believe, for Hawaii, it is the right thing to do. For the earth it is the right thing to do, and so our resolve is still there.”

HECO has been working with the state to meet its goal of eliminating the use of fossil fuels for electric power by 2045. The state spent $5.4 billion on petroleum in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Approximately one-fourth of the state’s petroleum use goes to electricity.

One important partner for HECO’s transformation has been the U.S. Department of Defense.

HECO is partnering with the Navy on a solar energy facility that would send power to the grid at 9.54 cents a kilowatt-hour — the cheapest facility in HECO’s territories. The facility is to be built at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, West Loch Annex.

Also, HECO will develop and operate a 50 percent biofuel and 50 percent fossil fuel plant on an 8.13-acre lot it rents from the Army at Schofield Barracks.

Oshima said that because of how far along these projects are, with leases signed, he doesn’t see federal policy derailing them.

“The DOD is still committed to renewables,” Oshima said.

Oshima said it is still too early to know what affect the Trump presidency will have on the energy industry. Because of this, Oshima said he and HECO’s board of directors want to visit Washington to get a better understanding of what to expect.

“We don’t have our heads in the sand,” he said. “We are trying to arrange to visit Washington, D.C., and meet with our advisers and congressional delegation and staff, who might have a much better insight as the days pass.”

Oshima said the utility is capable of achieving the 100 percent renewable goal alone.

Four months since the state Public Utilities Commission rejected NextEra Energy Inc.’s $4.3 billion proposed purchase of Hawaiian Electric Industries, HECO’s parent company, Oshima said the electrical utility is not entertaining other suitors. No buyout offers are on the table, he said.

“We’re not for sale,” Oshima added. “We firmly believe we can get to our energy future for Hawaii on our own, and we always said that. We thought NextEra could accelerate it, but we can do this. We can do this on our own.”

HEI wasn’t for sale when NextEra CEO Jim Robo first approached HEI CEO Connie Lau about the $4.3 billion buyout.

After NextEra’s acquisition was rejected in July, some in Hawaii’s energy community said other suitors were lining up to buy HECO. One of those companies is Twenty First Century Utilities, a Washington, D.C.-based owner of moderate-size utilities.

“We’ve had conversations with them,” Oshima said. “We don’t have an offer from them or anything. Nice people, but frankly a lot of the things that they want to do, we’re doing, and we think we can do it on our own.”

HECO’s path to 100 percent renewables shifted slightly after NextEra’s buyout was rejected. One immediate change was that the electrical utility backed away from its plan to import liquefied natural gas. While the buyout was in the works, HECO said LNG would act as a bridge fuel to ease the state into the use of more renewables. The utility said the fuel would save electrical customers $850 million to $3.7 billion through 2045.

A few days after the PUC’s denial of the sale, HECO withdrew its LNG application. NextEra’s financial backing was necessary to bring in LNG and upgrade the power plants.

“The LNG that NextEra thought would be a benefit was in our plan to stabilize costs,” Oshima said. “We could not duplicate that on our own. Our balance sheet would not support the logistics that is needed to support something like that on that scale.”

HECO is not ruling out its use of LNG, Oshima said.

“It won’t happen in our five-year planning horizon, but we will continue to evaluate it, as well as any other option that gets us to a renewable future.”

Oshima said that even though the utility does not have NextEra’s bigger balance sheet for larger investments, being a small utility has its advantages.

“To get to 100 percent renewable, there are pluses and minuses to being who we are,” Oshima said. “The pluses are we are smaller and state policy supports that. … We are also more nimble because we are smaller.”


©2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.