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Energy storage farm could replace Oʻahu coal plant after dismantling

The AES Hawaiʻi coal-fired power plant on Oʻahu is set to stop operations on Sept. 1, 2022.
Savannah Harriman-Pote
The AES Hawaiʻi coal-fired power plant on Oʻahu stopped operations on Sept. 1, 2022.

An energy storage farm could replace Hawaiʻi’s last coal-fired power plant that closed in 2022 after 30 years.

The AES Corporation coal plant produced up to one-fifth of the electricity on Oʻahu. Taking it offline meant an end to the 1.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases that were emitted annually, then-Gov. David Ige said as it was about to shut down in September.

Sandra Larsen, the Hawaiʻi market business leader for AES, said the company is seeking permits to dismantle the facility, which is expected to begin later this year and then take about two years. AES said some of the steel, concrete and other materials from the facility will be recycled.

The company said potential new uses for the 8.5-acre property in Kapolei include battery storage, solar and even wind power, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

Energy storage farms are increasingly taking the place of old coal plants.

Nearby, the largest stand-alone energy system in the state has been under construction since last year. The project has an energy storage capacity of 565 megawatt-hours and is being developed by San Francisco-based Plus Power.

The Kapolei Energy Storage project in Kapolei, Oʻahu.
Courtesy Plus Power
The Kapolei Energy Storage project in Kapolei, Oʻahu.

Storage projects allow utility operator Hawaiian Electric to accept and use more intermittent power from renewable sources, including rooftop solar.

Renewables usually fall into two camps: intermittent or firm. Intermittent sources like solar and wind are weather-dependent and energy-limited. Firm sources can generate power 24/7, whenever needed, like geothermal.

Battery storage is an important piece of the energy puzzle because it adds stability to intermittent energy sources. Traditionally, those resources only provided energy when the wind was blowing or the sun was out.

Electricity generated by burning oil remains the largest source of power for Hawaiian Electric, which serves Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi. The utility company reported that 32% of power generation in 2022 was from renewable sources.

Like other Pacific islands, Hawaiʻi has suffered the cascading impacts of climate change. The state is experiencing the destruction of coral reefs from bleaching associated with increased ocean temperatures, rapid sea level rise, more intense storms and drought that is increasing the state’s wildfire risk.

In 2020, Hawaiʻi’s Legislature passed a law banning the use of coal for energy production by the start of 2023. Hawaiʻi has mandated a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045 and was the first state to set such a goal.

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