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NREL Helps Hawaii Public Utility Commission Increase Biofuels Knowledge

May 17, 2012

In Hawaii, roughly 85% of the electricity generated is from imported petroleum. To help meet the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI) goal of 70% clean energy by 2030, Hawaii’s electric utility companies and regulatory and legislative bodies are evaluating the role and extent that biofuels and biomass can contribute. This evaluation will include issues such as the availability of land and water for local feedstocks, technology alternatives, and economic impacts.

The Hawaii Public Utility Commission (HPUC) regulates Hawaiian electric utilities and oversees the implementation of Hawaii’s Renewable Portfolio Standards where biofuels and biomass can play a significant role in meeting energy and agricultural policies. Late in 2011, the HPUC asked Jim Spaeth, DOE Senior Advisor for the Pacific Region based in Honolulu, to help create a biomass/biofuels training program for their staff.

Spaeth worked with several NREL staff supporting NREL’s Integrated Deployment efforts in Hawaii; the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute; and Pacific Command to provide a 2-day training on biomass and biofuel technologies to more than 40 HPUC staff.

High-level topics included economic modeling and forecasting; NREL’s technology-specific models, including the Jobs and Economic Development Impact model to help the HPUC assess Hawaii-specific energy options; and parallels with the U.S. Department of Defense’s experiences and lessons learned on biomass and biofuel implementation in Hawaii.

“We provided information on the tools and information the HPUC can use when reviewing project proposals to accurately decide if the work is applicable or not,” said John Ashworth of NREL. “The HPUC is sensitive to cost issues for both implementation and energy production for biomass and/or biofuels projects.”

In addition to the high-level discussion of modeling and forecasting, NREL provided more details on:

  • Different biomass and biofuel technologies and the benefits and challenges of each
  • How to capture tangible benefits beyond cost, such as job creation and economic security
  • Project financing.

As Ashworth noted, “The PUC asked a lot of really great questions and were actively figuring out how to apply the training immediately. They were very interested in applying the information NREL provided to fit it into their mission quickly.”

The HPUC also had great comments on the training. 

“NREL's recent biofuels and biomass training program, tailored specifically to meet the needs of the HPUC, helped the staff and commissioners gain a better understanding of feedstock, technology, financing and risk management, and various modeling tools that will be helpful and useful in evaluations and deliberations of power purchase and fuel supply contracts,” said PUC Chair, Hermina Morita.

In addition to the benefits to HPUC, NREL also noted the potential these types of training could provide to other islands facing similar energy issues.

“We all gained insight—the energy challenges islands face are eye opening,” said Andy Aden of NREL. “Islands are each unique, but the same issues playing out in Hawaii are playing out in smaller islands like the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico. We can help them deal with the same issues.”

NREL also provided separate training on the same topics to a broader audience of about 30 energy stakeholders including members of the HCEI Steering Committee and Hawaii’s Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) to familiarize DBEDT staff and management with biomass and biofuel technologies and the issues in developing projects.

Download the presentations from the training, located under the Events heading, on the HCEI website.

—Devin Egan