Princeton Energy Group has a plan to generate 100 percent of Molokai’s electricity via renewable sources and the San Francisco-based company wants the community’s support.
Molokai Ranch chose Princeton to develop an energy plan for the island after deciding earlier this year to not renew its agreement with Pattern Energy, which had committed to a 200-megawatt wind power project on the West End. Princeton’s plan fits better with the Ranch’s “four pillars” vision for the future, including its idea to make Molokai a predominately “green island.”
Princeton representative Steve Taber, along with Molokai Ranch CEO Clay Rumbao, presented its renewable energy project, called “Ikehu Moloka’i,” to I Aloha Molokai and those attending its Molokai Clean Energy Initiative meeting Oct. 29. The central ideas behind the Powerpoint presentation can be found at the website ikehumolokai.com.
In its plan, Princeton, a for-profit renewable energy development company, will lease land from Molokai Ranch to produce 80-90 percent of the island’s electricity with photovoltaic generation. As the island’s largest landowner, Molokai Ranch will be able to lease key parcels of land around the Maui Electric Company power plant in Pala’au and along transmission lines. Princeton will then sell the power back to MECO at a reduced rate through a power purchase agreement.
“We see some real benefit to the community,” said Princeton project leader Taber. “What we’re trying to do is get our costs down and pass the savings to the consumer. Rate relief is the driving force,” he added. “Rates (on Molokai) are ridiculous.”
Based on its filing for July 1-31, 2013, MECO is paying an on-peak rate of 28.305 cents per kilowatt hour and 25.634 cents for off-peak hours. This compares to an on-peak rate of 18.689 for Maui. The cost of purchasing and shipping diesel fuel to Molokai accounts for the higher price. Princeton is aiming to sell its electricity to MECO for 20 cents per Kwh.
“Diesel is an obsolete generating source,” said Taber. The system creates voltage drops, he said, which then trigger blackouts or brownouts. Taber said the “ancient generating equipment” also contributes to the unstable electric grid.
The Ikehu project takes advantage of the solar resources along Molokai’s south and west areas. Most of photovoltaic arrays will be located above Manila Camp.
According to Princeton: “A storage system will shift a portion of the solar production to nighttime, and it will also replace the grid stabilization function now provided by the diesel gensets. The storage will be provided by circulating water from existing reservoirs in the Molokai highlands, letting it flow downhill to capture its hydroelectric potential at night, then using the solar generation to pump the water back up to the reservoirs during the day.”
On cloudy days, the diesel generators will operate on 100 percent renewable biodiesel. This will only serve as a backup during extended periods of cloudy weather. “Since the storage system will replace the grid stabilization function of the current diesel gensets, the gensets will no longer have to throttle up and down to follow load. These measures will improve the efficiency of the gensets, reduce maintenance cost, and extend their service lives.”
Princeton now has 18 months to get approval from the Hawaii Public Utility Commission and all the necessary state and county permits. This needs to be done now so the company can take advantage of the tax credits that expire in 2016.
Princeton is also considering small-scale wind project to serve Molokai only that may help in reducing rates even further. Taber said the company is “agnostic” about the use of wind and will only consider it with the support of the community. “That’s up to residents,” he said.
Taber believes the Molokai community will be more accepting of this proposal than it was toward Big Wind, which planned to send 400 megawatts of electricity through undersea transmission cables from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu.
“Molokai is a special place to us,” said Taber, who added that one of the partners in Princeton owns land here. “The idea of 90-foot tall wind turbines was not good. This project is 100 percent consumed on Molokai. There is no Oahu in the project.”
“This is good for the island,” added Taber. “We want people to support it; I hope they’ll see and appreciate the merits of this. Community support is essential.”
More opportunities to review and discuss this preliminary plan are in the works. Taber said Princeton will be holding meetings in Maunaloa and Manila Camp on Dec. 14.