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Utility seeks OK to burn natural gas

Hawaiian Electric wants to link a deal for use of liquid natural gas in its power plants with its proposed sale to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

The company, which owns Hawaii Electric Light Co., says burning natural gas would be cheaper and cleaner than using oil to generate electricity.

But it also notes in a press release that the deal is contingent on the Public Utilities Commission approving the sale.

“This project requires substantial upfront financial support and expertise that NextEra Energy can provide,” the utility said. If the merger isn’t approved, it said it would still pursue importing natural gas, but a new contract would need to be negotiated.

Gov. David Ige has said he is against switching to natural gas because it distracts from investments in renewable energy.

“Any time and money spent on LNG is time and money not spent on renewable energy,” Ige said last August.

The 20-year contract would be with Fortis Hawaii Energy Inc., an apparent subsidiary of Canada-based Fortis, assuming the PUC approves the deal. Importation of natural gas would begin in 2021.

Ron Cox, Hawaiian Electric vice president for power supply, said in the statement that natural gas would be used as a “cleaner-burning alternative” as the state moves to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

“LNG is a superior fuel for the firm generation needed to keep electric service reliable as we increase our use of variable renewables like solar and wind,” he said.

Natural gas is liquefied to make it easier and safer to transport.

As soon as 2021, the company said oil imports would reduce by 80 percent, or 8 million barrels.

On the Big Island, where oil is used to produce about 62 percent of its energy, natural gas would be used at the Keahole and Hamakua Energy Partners power plants.

HELCO submitted an application with the PUC in February to purchase Hamakua Energy, an independent power producer, for $86.2 million.

Hawaiian Electric estimates customers would save $100 a year on the island following the transition.

The natural gas would be shipped from British Columbia, where it would be liquefied.

Fortis says it would provide 800,000 metric tons of liquefied natural gas per year.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune- herald.com.

 

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