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Final coal shipment marks 'end of an era' for Hawaiʻi energy industry

“The Flying Tiger” cargo ship at Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor.
Hawaiʻi State Energy Office/Office of Gov. David Ige
“The Flying Tiger” cargo ship at Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor.

Hawaiʻi’s only coal-fired power plant received its final shipment of coal on Wednesday. “The Flying Tiger” cargo ship arrived at port in Kalaeloa Barbers Point Harbor around noon.

The ship was carrying what will be the last delivery of coal for the AES Hawaiʻi power plant, the largest single source of electricity on Oʻahu.

It’s set to end operations by Sept. 1 after three decades of use. But there’s still work to be done before the facility is shut down.

Sandra Larsen, the Hawaiʻi market business leader for The AES Corporation, says it will take three to five days to unload the 15,000 tons of coal and transfer it to the plant at Campbell Industrial Park.

"We are working hard to one, dispatch the plant in a way so that we won't have any fuel supply left to continue operating," Larsen said. "If we did have any leftover, we'd most likely have to ship that off-island."

Larsen says AES has already been able to place several of its employees into clean energy positions.

"We have been working really, really hard with all of our employees to make sure that we find them jobs," she told HPR. "That’s one of our big goals is to make sure that we place everybody in employment at the end of this coal plant shutting down."

The state plans to replace the plant’s power generation with 100% renewable energy, but supply chain issues and other delays have hindered progress.

"We still have a few curves in the road to negotiate because the short-term challenge here is that as we close this coal plant in September, we don't have as many renewable projects coming online immediately. And so the reality is that residents here on Oʻahu are going to see higher costs in the short term," Larsen said.

Gov. David Ige told HPR that the final coal shipment represents “a huge step forward in Hawaiʻi’s transition to clean energy.”

“Renewable energy projects to replace coal are coming online with more on the way. Even as we face challenges in making this transition, it’s the right move for our communities and our planet," he said in a statement. "In its time, coal was an important resource for Hawai‘i and I’d like to thank the workers who have run our last remaining coal plant."

Larsen says The AES Corporation as a whole is committed to moving away from coal by 2025. AES is set to break ground Friday on a new solar-plus-storage facility on Maui.

"This is really an end of an era in how energy is generated for Oʻahu's fuel and electricity needs. It really is very significant. For 30 years, the plant has provided energy at the lowest available cost. And so we have been providing up to 20% of Oʻahu's energy at about 12 cents per kilowatt hours," she added.

This interview with Sandra Larsen of The AES Corporation also aired on The Conversation on July 28, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Savannah Harriman-Pote is the energy and climate change reporter. She is also the lead producer of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast.
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