Biodiesel-fueled power on Oahu draws nearer

The U.S. Army and Hawaiian Electric Co. finally broke ground on a new 50-megawatt power plant on the island of Oahu that will run on both conventional fuels and biodiesel
By Ron Kotrba | August 24, 2016

After years of planning, the U.S. Army and Hawaiian Electric Co. finally broke ground on a new 50-megawatt power plant on the island of Oahu that will run on both conventional fuels and biodiesel. The plant, expected to be operational by spring 2018, is being built on eight acres of military land at the Schofield Barracks that the Army is leasing to Hawaii Electric. It is being developed, owned and operated by the utility company.

Hawaii Electric stated that the plant will feature modern, flexible and efficient generators that will complement increasing levels of solar and wind power on the Oahu grid. The generators will be capable of quickly starting up, shutting down, or changing their output in response to sudden changes in solar and wind energy resources, which provide varying levels of energy depending on weather, time of day, cloud cover and other factors.

Last year, as part of a featured article I wrote for Biomass Magazine called “Army Green: More Than Just a Color,” I wrote that the Schofield Barracks plant will utilize six Wärtsilä 34DF engines capable of running on diesel, biodiesel or liquefied natural gas.

Kathy Ahsing, the director of renewable energy programs at the Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives, told me last year that, instead of executing a power purchase agreement with Hawaii Electric, the Army will continue to procure its power from Hawaiian Electric through an existing tariff. The only arrangement as part of the land-lease agreement is the base will have first call to power if the grid goes down. Together, Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, and Field Station Kunia require approximately 32 megawatts of peak power.

Hawaii Electric said as the only power plant on the island—located inland, away from any coastal impacts from storms or tsunamis and well protected on a secure Army base—the Schofield plant will strengthen the Oahu grid and make it better prepared for emergencies.

Last year, nearly a quarter of electricity produced by Hawaii Electric came from renewable resources. Other significant projects underway include a proposed 20-megawatt solar project at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam; the 27.6-megawatt Waianae Solar project, the largest in Hawaii, developed by Eurus Energy; more than 60 additional utility-scale solar projects across Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island with a combined capacity of nearly 40 megawatts; the 24-megawatt Na Pua Makani wind farm in Kahuku; ongoing approvals of rooftop photovoltaic systems, with more than 77,000 systems approved; the biodiesel-powered 8-megawatt Honolulu International Airport Emergency Power Facility; and two 2.87-megawatt solar farms on Maui being developed by Kuia Solar and South Maui Renewable Resources.

“We're excited about the benefits of this partnership for the Army and local community,” said Col. Stephen Dawson, commander, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii. “In keeping with the Army’s commitment to protecting the environment, we know this plant will provide the energy we need while, at the same time, being good stewards of our natural resources.”   

Bob King, president of Pacific Biodiesel Technologies, which owns and operates the 5.5 MMgy Big Island Biodiesel plant in Hawaii—a facility certified by the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance—told me that last October the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved a two-year contract for Pacific Biodiesel to supply up to 3 MMgy of biodiesel to Hawaii Electric for power generation on Oahu. “We need these long-term commitments to get other renewables going,” King said.

Congratulations to everyone involved in getting this important project off the ground.