- Hawaii regulators have opened a new docket to consider developing a microgrid tariff for Hawaiian Electric Cos. (HECO), with an aim to strengthen the state's power grid while allowing for more integration of renewable energy.
- Democratic Gov. David Ige signed legislation this week directing the Public Utilities Commission to study the tariff and grid resource. Interested parties have 20 days to file motions to intervene or participate. HECO and its three utilities, along with the state's consumer advocate, are named parties in the docket.
- A microgrid tariff would allow for easier development of customer-sited, grid-tied systems. Some areas, particularly military bases, are already using microgrids to maintain reliability.
Hawaii is already working to reach 100% renewable energy, and the state has long been a test bed for clean energy ideas. But development of a new microgrid tariff for HECO customers to utilize could open up even more opportunities — particularly as the technology is already in use at some locations.
A 50-MW microgrid at Schofield Barrack Generating Station was recently completed and commissioned by HECO; the 8-MW Honolulu International Airport Emergency Power Facility can be islanded as well, though both are normally operated as part of the grid.
However, those are the exception rather than rule. Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R, a sponsor of the legislation prompting the new docket, said development of a microgrid tariff has been a long time coming.
"My hope is we will see microgrids become a part of Hawaii's diversification ... we need in advance to prepare for something like what occurred in Puerto Rico. There are certain areas of our islands that are not prepared," Thielen told Utility Dive.
Puerto Rico's electric grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria last year, and in rebuilding it, the island is now considering how to modernize and utilize more distributed resources.
Thielen faults Hawaiian Electric for some of the grid's current vulnerability, saying the utility "has fought bitterly against anything that will change their archaic business plan. This microgrid idea is well past time in getting implemented," she told Utility Dive.
The utility has opposed some previous efforts, but says it is ready to work with customers. HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg told Utility Dive last month the utility also has some "key principles" when it comes to microgrids, including "fairness to all customers."
The Public Utilities Commission will need to address a number of issues, including how to pay for the standby energy capacity needed to serve a microgrid, should its distributed generation fail.
"Microgrids should not increase costs for customers outside the microgrids," Rosegg said.