Hawaiian Electric pledges to help U.S. achieve greenhouse gas emissions goal

Nov. 6—Hawaii's largest electrical utility envisions 50, 000 more rooftop solar systems added to its grid by 2030 to help meet a new goal for reducing carbon emissions from power production.

Hawaiian Electric announced a goal Friday to cut carbon emissions from power generation by about 50 % this decade.

The announcement coincided with Gov. David Ige's attendance at the COP26 climate conference in Scotland following President Joe Biden's ambition for the United States to continue greenhouse gas emission reductions so that a 50 %-to-52 % cut is realized by 2030 compared with 2005 levels.

Hawaiian Electric framed its goal in the same 25-year period as a 70 % reduction. Through the end of 2020, the company's carbon emissions from power generation were down 24 % from 2005.

To get the rest of the way, the utility supplying 95 % of the state's electricity with operations on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii island envisions the added rooftop solar along with retiring at least six fossil fuel power plants, which include a coal-fired plant on Oahu that is owned by AES Corp. and is slated for retirement in 2022.

Other expected changes to reach the goal include less use of remaining power plants running on fossil fuels, at least 1 gigawatt of new renewable energy projects, more geothermal power and incentives for customers to satisfy more of their power needs during the day when renewable energy production is more abundant.

An extra 50, 000 rooftop solar systems would represent a 56 % increase from about 90, 000 systems already connected to Hawaiian Electric's grid.

"The 2030 goal is a stretch for us, but we have to commit to bold actions in the next few years if we're to have any hope of stalling climate change, " Scott Seu, the utility's president and CEO, said in a statement. "We want to look back at this time and know we did all we could do to stop things from getting worse."

Hawaiian Electric also said it remains committed to achieving net zero or net negative carbon emissions from power generation by 2045 or sooner, which means any emissions would be captured or offset by other things that reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

Ige, in a statement, called the utility's goal significant. "Hawaiian Electric has a critical role in reducing carbon emissions this decade in Hawaii, especially in transportation, so this new goal is significant, " he said. "The COP26 meetings made absolutely clear that even though Hawaii has done a lot, we have to do even more."

The utility company said industries in Hawaii, including transportation, construction and agriculture, will have to cut emissions by at least 40 % to meet the U.S. target.

Melissa Miyashiro, executive director of local environmental organization Blue Planet Foundation, is hopeful that the utility's proclaimed goal will inspire others to make and realize similar bold commitments.

"Rapidly reducing carbon emissions in a way that allows our communities to thrive will take all of us, " she said in a statement. "We have seen the power of setting a vision with Hawaii's 100 % renewable energy law, and today's announcement levels up our collective responsibility to move at the pace and scale required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

The state law was enacted in 2015 and requires that all electricity in Hawaii come from renewable resources by 2045.

At the end of 2020, about 35 % of Hawaiian Electric's power was from renewable resources and exceeded a 30 % limit by 2020 under the law.

Hawaiian Electric said it expects renewable resources will provide over 70 % of its total by 2030, including 100 % for Hawaii island and Maui County.

But achieving the 70 % carbon reduction goal nine years from now is especially challenging, according to the company, because resources such as natural gas, nuclear power, energy imported from other states and large-scale hydropower from giant dams aren't present or practical here.

Shelee Kimura, senior vice president of customer service and public affairs at the utility, said in a statement that the climate change summit is a call to action along with the U.S. greenhouse gas goal.

"The progress we make this dec ­ade will determine the kind of future we're making for our families, " she said. "This is a bold goal for all of Hawaii, not just Hawaiian Electric, but the good news is we've already made a strong start and this commitment moves us further on the path to sustainability."