Guest essay by Larry Hamlin

The government of the state of Hawaii lays claim to being one of the first states in the U.S. to have mandated that by 2045 its electricity will be generated from 100% renewable energy with this mandate highlighted in a Scientific American article from 2018 shown below which touts the state as “leading other states in almost every category” regarding generating renewable electricity.

Other articles hype claims made by the state that it is moving so rapidly in increasing renewable electricity that it not only achieved year 2020 renewable energy contributions to meet the 30% target set for electric utilities by December 31, 2020 it “blew past that” target as noted by Hawaiian Electric’s claim of 34.5% of renewable energy electricity in year 2020 as the state moves toward “a completely clean energy system.”

Hawaiian state law establishes the states renewable energy targets that are defined as the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for the state’s electric utilities as identified below from state law 269-92.

Under Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), each electric utility company that sells electricity for consumption in Hawaii must establish the following percentages of “renewable electrical energy” sales:

  • 10% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2010;
  • 15% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2015;
  • 30% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2020;
  • 40% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2030;
  • 70% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2040;
  • 100% of its net electricity sales by December 31, 2045

The eligible renewable energy resources include hydro, solar and wind as well as “other” emissions producing technologies whose electricity generation is included in the “renewable electrical energy” sales used to define the RPS standard and are identified as follows:     

Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Geothermal Electric, Solar Thermal Electric, Solar Thermal Process Heat, Solar Photovoltaics, Wind (All), Biomass, Hydroelectric, Hydrogen, Geothermal Heat Pumps, Municipal Solid Waste, Combined Heat & Power, Landfill Gas, Tidal, Wave, Ocean Thermal, Wind (Small), Anaerobic Digestion, Fuel Cells using Renewable Fuels

The Hawaiian Islands electric utility resources for which the RPS standards apply are shown by island group and identified below.

The state of Hawaii claims that it achieved an annual RPS of  29.8% for the year 2019 and as noted above exceeded the 30% RPS target for year 2020 with continuing gains claimed for the 1st quarter of 2021.

EIA electricity generation data for the state of Hawaii shows that in 2019 the amount of renewable energy used for producing the state’s electricity accounted for 16.3% of its electricity for year 2019 with about 9.2% of the state’s electricity from hydro, wind and solar and the remainder from the “other” eligible emissions producing renewable energy categories.

Fossil fuels including petroleum (70.4%) and coal (13.4%) provided a total of about 83.8% the islands total electricity in 2019.

EIA data for Hawaii shows that in year 2020 the amount of renewable energy used for producing the state’s electricity accounted for about 21.5% of the state’s electricity with petroleum and coal providing 78.5% of the state’s electricity.

In 2021 EIA data for the 1st quarter of the year shows that renewable energy provided about 23.2% of the state of Hawaii’s electricity and petroleum and coal provided about 76.8% of the state’s electricity.

EIA data showing the percentages of Hawaii’s total electricity generation being provided by renewable electricity is significantly lower in years 2019 (16.3% versus claims of 29.8%), 2020 (21.5% versus claims of 34.5%) and 1st quarter of 2021 (23.2% versus claims of greater than 35%) than highlighted by the state of Hawaii and as presented in headline news reports and articles touting the states leadership and progress in moving toward the 100% renewable electricity in 2045.   

The state of Hawaii’s total energy consumption in 2018 as listed in the EIA state energy consumption data base shows that Hawaii’s electricity sector represents only about 31% of the Hawaii’s total energy use.

Fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) accounted for 89.4% of Hawaii’s 2018 total energy consumption with all forms of renewable energy providing about 10.6% of the total energy consumption including wind and solar amounting to only about 6.3% of the state’s total energy consumption.

This EIA total energy data clearly establishes that Hawaii is extremely dependent on the use of fossil fuels (most predominantly petroleum) for its energy and economic requirements and survival.

EIA data shows Hawaii ranks 37th in use of petroleum fuel (trillion Btu) among the 50 U.S. states but ranks 6th in the U.S. in petroleum use per capita (million Btu) clearly indicating the critical importance of petroleum fossil fuels to the state.  

Hawaii has by far the highest residential electricity rates in the U.S. which as of February 2021 were 32.36 cents per kWh with its already highest rate in the U.S. having climbed by about 10% since 2015.

Hawaii’s total year 2018 CO2 emissions are among the very lowest of all U.S. states (ranked 44th) as shown below and account for about 18.7 million metric tons of CO2 annually with electricity emissions representing about 38% of Hawaii’s total CO2 emissions. Hawaii’s total energy CO2 emissions remain little changed from 2015 which was also 18.7 million metric tons. 

Hawaii’s CO2 emissions from electricity generation have remained in a range between about 7.1 to 7.3 million metric tons in the period 2015 (7.36 million metric tons) through 2019 (7.34 million metric tons). 

During the period between 2015 and 2019 CO2 emissions reductions have occurred in coal fuel CO2 emissions but increased CO2 emissions in the “other” emissions producing renewable energy category (“other” includes non-biogenic municipal solid waste, batteries, chemicals, hydrogen, pitch, purchased steam, sulfur, tire-derived fuels, and miscellaneous technologies) have increased off-setting the emissions reductions from coal. 

Hawaii’s CO2 emissions compare to the over 22 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions annually by the world’s developing nations led by China and India that have announced significantly increased coal fuel use growth this year and in the future. These nations emissions exceed by a factor of more than 1,000 the total emissions of Hawaii. Additionally, the developing nations since 2015 are increasing CO2 emissions at an average annual rate of about 60 times that of Hawaii’s present total annual electricity related emissions.

The world’s developing nations led by China and India are completely responsible for all global CO2 emissions increases since about 2005 with a growth of nearly 8.2 billion metric tons as depicted below with the incredibly sharp rise driven by China and India clearly apparent in the 2005 through 2019 time period. 

Hawaii has absolutely no role whatsoever in having any impact on issues relevant to global emissions. Thus, climate alarmism politicians in Hawaii can’t claim to be “fighting claimed change”.

The world’s developed nations led by the U.S. and EU have reduced CO2 emissions by about 1.7 billion metric tons from year 2005 through 2019 as clearly shown below with the significant reduction decline commencing at the start of that time period. 

U.S. CO2 reductions were primarily achieved by increased use of lower cost, higher efficiency and lower emission natural gas obtained through fracking to replace higher emission coal fuel.

According to EIA increased use of natural gas accounted for about 62% of the U.S. emission reductions since 2005. EIA data shows that between 2005 and 2019 U.S. cumulative CO2 reductions from fuel substitution of natural gas replacing high emission coal fuel resulted in 3.4 billion metric tons in CO2 reductions. 

Climate alarmists and renewable energy advocates never address (and in fact conceal) this huge natural gas driven CO2 emissions reduction benefit and endorse Biden’s and the Democratic Party’s ridiculous energy and emissions incompetent war against use of lower cost, higher efficiency and lower emission natural gas obtained through fracking technology.  

The huge CO2 emission reduction benefits of using natural gas are demonstrated by the EIA U.S. emissions reduction chart shown below. Even more significant is the fact that U.S. CO2 emissions reductions will be sustained well into the future because of increased use of natural gas with the U.S. having ceased increasing global emissions at all since 2005 while sustaining a reduction of nearly 1 billion metric tons from its peak CO2 emissions levels (a reduction more than 50 times greater than Hawaii’s total annual CO2 energy emissions). 

Hawaii has absolutely no role in reducing U.S. CO2 emissions which are driven predominantly by increased use of natural gas replacing coal fuel. Hawaii uses very little natural gas with higher emissions petroleum and coal fuel dominating its total energy use and as a consequence has no role in climate alarmist “fighting climate change” hype.   

Hawaii is now facing a major electricity energy and reliability dilemma as the state’s Legislative Act 23 which bans use of coal fuel by the end of year 2022 becomes effective which mandates the closure of the 180 MW AES coal plant in West Oahu that now provides about 20% of Oahu’s electricity and is the single largest electricity generation resource on Oahu.

EIA data shows that this Independent Power Producer (IPP) AES coal plant operated at capacity factors between 83 to 95 percent between 2015 and 2019.

This “brilliant” scheme by energy clueless Oahu renewable energy advocate climate alarmist politicians has the shutdown of this reliable and dispatchable AES firm capacity power plant replaced by a giant 185 MW battery storage facility that will supposedly be charged by increased numbers solar and wind energy facilities which operate at typical capacity factors of only 20 to 35 percent with these renewables also providing replacement capacity for the lost 180 MW firm capacity AES facility.

Hawaiian Electric faced with the energy reality that this battery storage project can’t possibly be charged by new solar and wind facilities that operate at typical capacity factors of only 20 to 35 percent while also replacing the shutdown AES plant firm capacity and has warned the state that it will likely have to charge this battery facility using its present oil-fired power plants.   

The article notes following absurd situation created by energy clueless Hawaiian politicians that have proposed this scheme: 

“The 185-megawatt storage facility was intended to make up for the loss of the 180 MW AES plant, which was no longer a viable option because of a recent ban on coal. But renewable energy projects have been beset by a number of problems, including delays in renewable projects.

One concern, as Pacific Business News reported in March, is that these delays “will leave Oahu with a very tight fuel reserve margin, opening up the possibility of rolling blackouts in the event of failure.”

Perhaps the greater concern, however, is the impact these delays will have on the giant battery.

“If there is not enough solar, wind, or battery storage energy to replace the AES plant, HECO would have to use oil instead to charge things like the upcoming 185-megawatt Kapolei Energy Storage Facility,” Pacific Business News reported.

It’s not a matter of “if,” however. The reality is there’s not enough wind, solar, or battery storage to replace the AES plant. Hawaiian Electric has made this quite clear in recent documents, noting that it would not be able to meet its year-two renewable target (75 percent) for “more than a decade.”

This means that to replace its soon-to-be retired coal plant, Hawaii Electric will soon be charging its giant battery … with oil. In other words, Hawaiians will be trading one fossil fuel (coal) for another, albeit one far more expensive.

This revelation caused the chair of PUC, Jay Griffin, to complain that Hawaiians are “going from cigarettes to crack.”

The costs of this project are unspecified but will clearly be staggering. 

The annual electricity produced from the AES coal fueled 180 MW capacity plant that is mandated by Hawaiian Law to be closed at the end of 2022 is over 1,500,000 megawatt hours per year. The amount of newly developed and installed renewables that would be required to replace this AES energy production is equivalent to duplicating all presently existing renewables generation located on all of the Hawaiian Islands and placing all those new renewables facilities on Oahu in less than 18 months.

To the extent that such a ridiculous scheme can’t create this amount of new generation capacity by the end of year 2022 to replace the AES firm capacity and charge the 185 MW battery system there will be capacity and reliability shortfalls requiring mandated power reductions, rotating blackouts and increased likelihood of electric system collapse. California’s rolling blackouts of August 2020 were caused solely by the states over reliance on government mandated unreliable and costly renewables with the state failing to retain sufficient amounts of dispatchable and reliable natural gas fueled power plants and its failure to secure firm capacity power purchase contracts from adjacent states.           

The costs associated with the AES shutdown and battery system efforts include the capital costs of new solar and wind facilities (which operate at very low-capacity factors compared to the existing coal plant, are non-dispatchable and unreliable) and “other” renewables. Based on IRENA most recent construction cost estimates this amount of solar and wind generation would amount to about $250 to $300 million dollars in new construction costs. The cost associated with the charging the 185 MW battery system for its 565 MWH capability would be about $300/KWH amounting to about $200 million dollars per charging cycle. The cost of the battery system project is estimated at $500 million dollars. Additionally, the highly geographically distributed renewables would require significant changes and upgrades to the transmission system on Oahu requiring yet more cost expenditures.  

All these huge cost increases will be imposed on top of the costs of an electric system that already has the highest electricity rates in the U.S.  

It seems very unlikely that the politically mandated scheme to foolishly force the closure of a reliable, dispatchable, cost effective and high capacity factor IPP power plant on Oahu and magically replace this facility with massive amounts of yet to be identified unreliable, non-dispatchable, low capacity factor and costly renewables in conjunction with a very large untried, unproven and hugely costly battery storage project along with the huge costs of the energy needed to charge this battery system project is at all feasible. 

Unlike California which leans on other adjacent states to provide 90% of its natural gas through interstate pipelines, foreign suppliers for more than 50% of its petroleum as well as imports from Alaska and southwest and northwest states providing for 25% of its electricity with all of these resources available to be called upon to save the state from its own incompetent energy folly whereas the Island of Oahu is isolated from outside help. If it screws up the electric power system based on mandates from politicians that are energy and emissions clueless the businesses and people of Oahu have no one to back them up and economic disaster will prevail.           

The RPS defined by state law addresses only the state’s electric utilities electricity sales. These electric utilities produced in 2019 about 53.9% of Hawaii’s electricity use with the remaining 46.1% of states electricity was provided by Independent Power Producers (IPP’s like AES that use coal fuel), Combined Heat and Power electricity producing facilities (CHP’s that use petroleum fuels) and additional facilities including hydro, solar, wind and emissions producing biomass and “other” categories of eligible renewables.

All of these energy facilities represent the total electric industry of the state of Hawaii. 

Spokespersons for the state government, the electric utilities and the media have chosen to present the RPS numbers as though they represent the amount of renewable energy providing the total electricity use in the state. This is not the case as the EIA data addressed earlier clearly establishes. Statements made, especially by media, which erroneously hype this misunderstanding that grossly overstates the amount of the state’s electricity provided by renewables are misleading as demonstrated in the articles addressed at the beginning of this essay.

This problem in understanding the meaning of the RPS numbers was identified early in the process of the state developing these programs as noted in the article below.

As the article notes:

“There’s been plenty of press about Hawaii’s first-in-the-nation policy of “100 percent renewable energy by 2045” but a lot less talk about what the law really means, especially its loopholes.

Let’s take a hypothetical example to start breaking down the math.

The state would actually meet its goal if half of the amount of electricity Hawaii consumed came from rooftop solar and the other half came from oil-burning power plants.

That doesn’t sound like “100 percent renewable energy,” but it would be under the law.”

“The numerator (top number) of the fraction is the amount of electricity the utility generates from its own renewable resources plus the amount of renewable energy coming from rooftop solar and other on-site customer sources.

The denominator (bottom number) in the equation is the utility’s sales from electricity it produces from renewables and fossil fuels.

The law requires the numerator be at least as high as the denominator (100 percent), but the denominator can include fossil fuel sources.

That’s how it’s possible to meet the 100 percent renewable goal with 50 percent rooftop solar and 50 percent fossil fuels.”

Hawaii’s leadership needs to clarify and correct these misrepresentations of the amount of Hawaii’s electricity that is being provided by renewables instead of continuing to promote and flaunt these misleading numbers that overstate the amount of Hawaii’s total electricity use obtained from renewables with these flawed claims being nothing but renewable energy political hype.   

The political leadership and people of Hawaii understandably want to address the huge dependency of the state on high-cost petroleum for its electricity. But instead of focusing their efforts on this legitimate issue they have gotten hopelessly lost in pursuing costly and unreliable green energy political fantasy schemes that have the potential to greatly exacerbate the state’s present energy, electricity and very high energy cost problems.                 

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June 21, 2021