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Oil to renewables: HECO aims to transform 85-year-old power plant in Pearl City

Waiau Power Plant in Pearl City on Oʻahu
Hawaiian Electric Company
Waiau Power Plant in Pearl City on Oʻahu

Hawaiʻi's largest electric utility aims to transform an 85-year-old oil-fired power plant on Oʻahu into one that will run on renewable energy.

Hawaiian Electric plans to replace six oil-fueled generators at its Waiau Power Plant in Pearl City with smaller generation units powered by fuels like biodiesel and possibly hydrogen, the company announced Thursday.

The state Public Utilities Commission must approve the plan, which was submitted in April. The commission will also consider competing proposals by independent power companies. A decision is expected in October, HECO said.

Hawaiian Electric declined to say how large the new Waiau power plant would be or how much it would cost ratepayers, citing the competitive-bidding process.

The plant’s existing infrastructure would provide cost savings and limit effects on the community, it said.

If the company’s plan is approved, the utility expects to have initial replacement generation units ready for use in 2029. The six existing generators, built between 1947 and 1968, are scheduled to be decommissioned and removed "through the end of the decade," HECO said.

The 500-megawatt Waiau plant is the second-largest power production facility on Oʻahu. Only the utility company’s oil-fired in Waiʻanae is bigger, at 650 megawatts.

Other fossil fuel facilities in Hawaiʻi are also undergoing transformation. AES Corporation, the company that operated a now-closed coal-fired power plant on Oʻahu, has said it may turn the site into an energy storage farm that uses batteries to store power generated by solar and wind.

In 2014, Hawaiʻi became the first state in the U.S. to require its electric utilities to generate 100% of their power from renewable sources. Utilities must reach that threshold by 2045.

As of last year on Oʻahu, Hawaiian Electric generated 28% of its energy from renewable sources. Among all of its island markets, that number was 32% in 2022.

On Kauaʻi, the only island with its own electric utility, the Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative reported 60.2% of its energy came from renewables in 2022.

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