New renewable energy projects are short circuited, for now
To guarantee continued reliable service to its power grid, Maui Electric Company will suspend the development of any new solar energy systems in Kaunakakai.
It was in February that The Molokai News reported that Hawaiian Electric Company asked the state’s Public Utilities Commission to suspend the development of new photovoltaic systems on Maui, the Big Island, Lanai and Molokai. Hawaiian Electric, and its subsidiary Maui Electric Company, believe the number of renewable-energy systems poses a threat to the reliability and stability of its transmission system.
Now it appears that the PUC agrees with this assessment. The Kaunakakai circuit for the Molokai power grid has been closed off to any new alternative energy projects, including photovoltaic solar panels, until the system’s reliability can be improved.
Previously, the PUC had set a limit of 10 percent intermittent energy sources for any circuit on the grid. The percentage of energy coming from intermittent sources such as wind or solar, known as the feeder penetration limit, was increased to 15 percent by the PUC.
On Molokai, the power grid is served by a diesel fuel power plant, which provides constant energy as opposed to intermittent. If the percentage of power distributed by the diesel plant fluctuates because of an input of intermittent energy into the grid, the flow of energy and reliability of the system is compromised.
Now that Kaunakakai has reached the 15 percent limit, MECO is halting immediate approval of new systems. Hawaiian Electric Company spokesman Darren Pai resists calling it a moratorium.
“There is no suspension of new systems,” Pai said. “We are aggressively looking for ways to increase the levels of penetration,” he added.
But now, any business or residence in the Kaunakakai circuit interested in installing a photovoltaic system must first conduct a interconnectivity study to insure that reliable service is maintained across the grid.
Pai hesitated to say how much an interconnectivity study will cost. “It depends on different factors, such as size, but it might cost anywhere from $30,000 to $35,000 depending on the project,” Pai said. “We recognize this expense, that is why we are looking for technical solutions.”
Pai admitted that even after conducting this expensive study, it would not guarantee approval of a renewable energy system.
“The study looks at what types of interconnective systems might work and give you a better idea of what it will look like,” said Pai. To make a building more energy efficient may require a combination of different solutions, said Pai.
This new policy for alternative energy projects will not prevent Molokai General Hospital from installing solar panels, however. Apparently that project was taken into consideration when the 15 percent limit was calculated.
MECO will continue to study methods to increase alternative energy sources for Molokai in an effort to meet Governor Linda Lingle’s goal of having 70 percent of the state’s energy provided by renewable sources by the year 2030.