In 'aggressive' step toward clean energy, Hawaii is closing its only coal power plant – USA TODAY

HONOLULU — Hawaii is getting ready to say goodbye to its only coal power plant on Sept. 1 as part of its “aggressive push to renewable energy,” according to the state’s top energy official.
The state received its final shipment of coal last week to the AES Hawaii power plant, located on the western side of Oahu, and is looking toward new solar and battery storage energy projects.
“It’s the first large fossil fuel power plant that we’re retiring,” said Scott Glenn, chief energy officer at Hawaii State Energy Office. “The rest of the country is also grappling with this and we don’t have the tools that the rest of the country does. … (As an island chain) we can’t reach out to others for help. It’s an important step for Hawaii, and I also think it’s going to be something that other states look to.”
In 2015, Hawaii became the first state to commit to 100% clean energy with a deadline of 2045 – and the plant’s closure marks a “very important milestone,” Glenn said. Now, 20 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have made clean energy commitments
The AES Hawaii power plan has been the island’s largest single power plant by capacity since 1992, producing 16% of electricity for the most populous island. It’s also one of the state’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
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Solar farms and battery storage facilities will be the new focus for utility-scale energy projects. In total, by 2024, 14 new renewable energy power plants are planned to fuel the state, from geothermal to solar.
“The more we look to local, indigenous, renewable energy, the more we can have predictable electric bills for families, and the more money we can keep in the state to help with other priorities,” Glenn said.
Fossil fuels have long been the dominant energy source for most of the country, but not without having negative impacts on the environment and people’s health. From toxic runoff from coal mining operations to land degradation, coal is often regarded as the “dirtiest” energy source.
Coal power plants are the highest emitters of mercury, acid gases and toxic metals, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Coal is so widely used because it is also the cheapest.
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The AES Hawaii Power Plant always had a 30-year contract in place. In 2020, its fate was sealed when a law passed to ban any extension of the plant’s contract or any future use of coal to generate power. In 2016, officials began strategizing around on how to make the smooth transition to clean energy, especially given that each island has its own energy needs, Glenn said. 
Islands like Hawaii Island and Kauai have already made strides toward renewable energy, especially with solar power.
Solar is “obviously the first place to start,” given Hawaii’s climate, Glenn said. 
Kauai has gone from having the highest electricity rates and an unstable grid to … the lowest rates in the state and the highest reliability,” he said. 
“Oahu is the hardest island because it has the most people, the most energy demand, and the least amount of land,” he added.
Oahu will welcome nine renewable energy projects over the next two years. Most recently, the island’s first – and state’s biggest – utility-scale solar and battery storage power plant, built by Clearway Energy Group, went online July 31.
Located in central Oahu, the new Mililani Solar power plant can power up to 13,000 homes, and its battery storage will help meet the increased electricity demand that comes in the evening.
The project finished about three months ahead of schedule, thanks to the energy developer’s collaborations with suppliers and contractors, said Nicola Park, origination manager for Clearway Energy Group. She also noted that the solar project provided 460 local union jobs. 
Not all renewable energy projects had such luck. Supply chain issues due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the pandemic caused major delays in most other solar projects. They hope to be completed in early 2023, according to Glenn.
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Until more renewable energy sources come online, Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest supplier of electricity, will use oil to provide energy to Oahu. Due to the surge in oil prices, residents can expect about a 7% increase on their electric bills, starting with their October bill, said Shannon Tangonan, a spokesperson for Hawaiian Electric.
She said the company can connect people to nonprofits and government agencies offering financial assistance if they need helping paying the pricier bill. People can also apply for rebates and learn more about conserving energy through a partnership with Hawaii Energy
The spike in electricity costs is estimated to be temporary. Currently, oil is about 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, Tangonan said.
“On Oahu, the solar-plus-storage projects coming online over the next two years typically range from 9 to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. As more come online, these renewable energy projects will provide long-term stability because they’re locked in at contracted prices.”
Park said Clearway’s contracts run for 20 years and are expected to be renewed with competitive prices. 
“Solar is really the cheapest form of energy,” Park said. “This transition Hawaii is making proves that it’s possible to make clean, reliable power right here on-island without relying on exported, volatile-priced fossil fuels.”

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