Monday, February 15, 2010
Coal: Hawaii’s Dirty Secret
By Henry Curtis
Most people in Hawai`i know that we are an oil state, but many are amazed that our number two fuel is coal.
In the late 1980s the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) decided that Hawai`i needed to diversify away from being so heavily depended upon oil. So they chose coal.
The existing AES coal burning power plant in Campbell Industrial Park was built in 1988-89 and has a capacity of 180 megawatts. Since all electric generators on Oahu have a combined peak capacity of over 1700 MW, the AES plant represents less than 10% of capacity. Capacity just means the ability to produce rather than actually producing.
Electricity actually produced is measured in kilowatt-hours or megawatt-hours. The AES facility is one that works best by turning it on and letting it run continually. As such, the AES facility accounts for 20% of the electricity produced on Oahu.
In the early 1990s Hawaiian Electric proposed building a second coal plant, although this never came to fruition.
Hawai`i sugar mills often add imported coal into their sugar cane generators to produce heat and electricity.
Liquid fuel derived from coal is considered an “alternative fuel” is Hawai`i. Those driving vehicles on liquid coal are given certain added benefits.
Heat generated from coal is considered “renewable energy” in Hawaii. Utilities can count “coal heat” (heat generated from burning coal) towards their requirements to increase their use renewable energy.
A few years ago a bill was proposed at the State Legislature to ban new coal plants in Hawai`i, but it passed only one committee, and only after it was modified to exempt anyone who was then actually planning a coal plant.
In 2008 the utility and the State co-signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and an Energy Agreement (EA). Together they are referred to as the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). After the MOU was signed but before the EA was inked, parties were debating whether “clean coal” was part of the solution. As it stands today, the HCEI and State Law are silent on the definition of “clean energy” although in general it refers to energy efficiency and renewable energy (which includes coal heat).
Last year a bill passed several Legislative committees to finance renewable energy by taxing oil but not coal.
This year (2010), Senators Hooser, Galuteria, Nishihara introduced a constitutional amendment (SB 2782) which would require a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature before any new fossil fuel power plant (including coal) could be built in the state.
At the first hearing the opposition turned out.
DBEDT: “The Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism (DBEDT) opposes SB 2782 ...We further advise that allowing multi-fuel power plants, which can burn fossil fuels if necessary but which are statutorily required to derive most of their energy from biofuels, will allow both flexibility and an assurance of grid stability in the years of transitioning to energy independence.”
HECO: “Our utilities have already committed not to add any new fossil fuel-based generation. We are therefore committed to the intent of this bill. However, we believe that this bill is overly restrictive. By referring to generators fired on petroleum and coal, it prohibits generators that would be run on blends of fossil and biofuel or biomass ...This lack of flexibility could result in serious reliability problems for our customers. We therefore ask that this measure be held.”
Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. (A&B) and its agricultural company Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company: “While HC&S's biomass power generating facilities are fueled primarily by sugar cane bagasse, there is a need for these generating facilities to periodically burn an amount of coal ...We respectfully request your consideration to incorporate amendments into this bill to limit the scope of this provision to include power plants that utilize coal as its primary source of fuel.”
They burn coal on Maui. All the truckers on Maui love it when the coal boat comes in. They get to haul coal all day long over to the sugar mill, for money of course. The sugar mill sells electricity to MECO. That dirty air that comes out of Puunene, well now you know. All kinds of coal toxins floating downwind from there.
Tonight I was listening to Alice Cooper and was surprized to hear what he had to say about coal ash. Alice is a very educated person and is one I can trust when it comes to the truth. Weeks ago I was watching a investigating news show and watched a story about a town in the midwest using coal ash for the construction of a 18 hole golf course, eventually people started getting sick and it was traced to the water being contaminated from the seeping coal ash into the ground. I worked at Puunene mill driving a truck, on several occasions during non harvest season I was asked to operate a front end loader in a field near Omaopio area to push up and spread some coal ash in the fields, at that time a had no idea of its dangers. I know several people that work in the power plant and during the non harvest season they clean out the coal ash, and on occasion guys from the harvest crew to go work in the power plant to clean out the ash, fortunately for me i worked at the plantation for only 6 months. Do these guys know of the danger and if they do is the company taking proper precaution to protect these guys from exposure. I think it is a good time to expose the potential danger to all who work or worked for the plantation.