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Energy storage farm might rise in place of Oahu coal power plant

Andrew Gomes, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser  


    May 17—The owner of an idle Oahu power plant that burned coal for 30 years until September held a ceremony Tuesday to bless what's on the horizon in place of the hulking facility at Campbell Industrial Park.

    The owner of an idle Oahu power plant that burned coal for 30 years until September held a ceremony Tuesday to bless what's on the horizon in place of the hulking facility at Campbell Industrial Park.

    That horizon could include an electricity storage facility possibly with a solar farm after 2025 when work to dismantle the coal power plant, owned by AES Corp., is projected for completion.

    Bernerd Da Santos, chief operating officer of Virginia-based AES, said the company aims to reuse the 8.5-acre property in Kapolei for renewable-energy purposes after the old power plant is cut up into pieces to recycle much of the metal, concrete and other materials at a cost of roughly $20 million.

    "This site is in our planning to the future, " he said in front of the now-quiet structure after Kahu Keahi Renaud performed a chant in Hawaiian about the new horizon for the property. "Our plans and our commitment in Hawaii are big."

    Da Santos said potential new uses, which would involve some kind of arrangement with landowner Hawaii MMGD 2 LLC beyond an existing lease, include battery storage, solar and even wind power.

    The site could accommodate more batteries than an AES project under construction on Maui that includes 240 megawatt ­-hours of power storage, according to Da Santos.

    Solar farms are often developed with battery storage systems, as is the case with the Maui project, called Kuihelani Solar, which includes an 82-megawatt solar farm.

    Not far from the AES coal plant site, the largest stand-alone energy storage system in the state has been under construction since 2022. This project, called Kapolei Energy Storage, on an 8-acre site near Kalaeloa Harbor, has an energy storage capacity of 565 megawatt ­-hours and is being developed by San Francisco-­based Plus Power.

    Storage projects allow utility operator Hawaiian Electric to accept and use more intermittent power generation from renewable sources, including rooftop solar, in its long-term transition away from fossil fuel power plants and toward 100 % renewable energy.

    Electricity generated by burning oil remains the largest source of power for Hawaiian Electric, which serves Oahu, Hawaii island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai. The utility company reported that 32 % of power generation in 2022 was from renewable sources.

    Da Santos said AES intends to compete to develop more renewable-energy projects to feed Hawaiian Electric grids. The energy company already operates six solar or wind farms, some with storage, and has another five projects in development around the state, including one on Kauai combining solar power with hydroelectric power and batteries.

    The company's 180-megawatt coal plant had been Oahu's largest single generator of electricity for 30 years, producing cheap but dirty power, until it shut down in September. The closure dovetailed with the end of a 30-year power purchase contract with Hawaiian Electric that was not renewed, given the state's goal to derive all energy from renewable sources by 2045. To ensure no extension for the coal plant was possible, the Legislature in 2020 encased a December 2022 shutdown deadline in law.

    Since September, AES has been decommissioning the plant, which included removing chemicals and equipment, to prepare for deconstruction.

    Da Santos estimated that it might take six to eight months to obtain deconstruction permits and that it will take about two years to take apart the sprawling plant, which is 140 feet tall and includes a 285-foot smokestack. This work, including recycling, is to be carried out by North American Dismantling Corp., a Michigan ­-based heavy industrial demolition contractor.


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