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Biomass may replace oil at Puna plant

<p>Jay Ignacio</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Biomass fuel could eventually replace oil at one of Hawaii Electric Light Co.’s power plants, HELCO President Jay Ignacio said Tuesday.

Ignacio told about 25 people attending a meeting in Hilo on how the utility will meet the future energy needs of the Big Island that moving to biomass is an “option” for its power plant in Puna.

“Part of our strategy going forward is to convert those units that use oil,” he said while addressing the crowd. He said the utility has reconfigured its oil-burning plants to operate below capacity.

After the meeting, Ignacio said that option is still in the conceptual stage. The utility, he said, is waiting for Hu Honua Bioenergy to get off the ground before deciding whether to pursue it.

“We don’t want to go out and start to compete” with them for supply, he said.

HELCO and Hu Honua Bioenergy, to be located at the former Pepeekeo Sugar Mill, signed a 20-year contract for 21.5 megawatts earlier this year.

Determining what power sources HELCO should develop is part of its integrated resource planning report, the topic of the Tuesday meeting at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

The planning document will be filed with the state Public Utilities Commission on June 29.

HELCO will host another input meeting from 6-8 p.m. today at the Pahala Community Center, 96-1149 Kamani St., Pahala. A meeting was also held Wednesday in Waikoloa.

In Hilo on Tuesday, attendees offered as many questions as comments, with many focusing on geothermal power and renewable energy in general.

Richard Bidleman, who said he was speaking on behalf of state Sen. Russell Ruderman, said volcanologists should be consulted on the placement of future geothermal plants.

“We have a geothermal plant in one of the most hazardous lava zones in all of the islands,” he said, referring to Puna Geothermal Venture.

Roger Meeker asked if HELCO plans to develop more wind energy.

Ignacio said the utility needs to balance intermittent power sources, such as wind, with its more traditional power plants to provide energy to its customers.

“We have reached a point where reaching that balance is very difficult,” he said.

He didn’t offer plans for more wind, but said HELCO is testing battery technology at a wind farm in Kohala which allows it to store wind-produced power and transmit it when needed.

Some people came to deliver criticism of the island’s only electrical utility.

“There’s no statement on reducing cost to the customer,” said John Ota. “(HELCO) grows larger, and who suffers? You the customer.”

Richard Ha complemented HELCO on looking at ways to move off oil, and urged it to keep that focus.

“Our goal is to make (electrical) costs the lowest in the state,” he said. “If we’re competitive with Oahu, we have more jobs.”

Residual fuel oil and diesel are used to produce about 45 percent of HELCO’s power.

A draft plan will be available for public review around May, said Pat Moore, HELCO environmental services administrator.

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