Hawai’i advances bill to give PUC authority over interisland transmission cable

The legislative framework for an undersea power transmission cable connecting the Hawai’ian islands has cleared the state Senate and will soon be considered by the entire House.

Senate Bill 2785, which cleared two House committees on March 12, would establish the regulatory structure under which interisland undersea transmission cables can be developed, financed, constructed, and regulated, although the measure stops short of explicitly authorizing such a project. Currently, each island has its own electrical grid.

“There’s some discussion that a company could come and bid and do a cable project without a regulatory framework,” a spokesperson for Hawai’an Electric Company (HECO) told TransmissionHub on March 13. The spokesperson added “the best way to proceed is to put the public utility commission (PUC) into a position where they could oversee the process and make sure that’s it’s done in a timely way and make sure the interests of ratepayers are protected.”

The progress on the legislation comes as HECO is preparing to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for approximately 200 MW of renewable energy. That RFP, expected to be issued in April or May, does not specify where the renewable generation will be sited.

“The problem for O’ahu is that we have most of the people and most of the infrastructure but very little of the renewable energy potential,” the spokesperson said. “The neighbor islands have substantially more renewable energy resources but they have very small populations and really can’t use most of what would be generated.”

That means an undersea connection would be required. “Technologically, there’s no real problem with interconnecting the islands,” the spokesperson said.

At present, Hawai’i largely relies on oil for its electricity generation, though its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) calls for 25% renewable energy by 2020 and 40% by 2030.

In written testimony supporting the bill, Hawai’i governor Neil Abercrombie said an undersea cable project would make economic sense. “When oil goes above …$110/barrel… the cable and the renewable energy it carries will be cheaper than importing oil.”

In addition to incorporating renewable resources and reducing dependence on expensive oil, the spokesperson said interconnecting the islands’ grids would provide additional stability to all the grids, a concept the pending legislation acknowledges.

“Interconnecting the islands via a high-voltage undersea electric transmission cable system would provide the islands with increased energy security and system efficiencies and enable the islands to provide each other with backup power,” according to SB 2785.

The end of the current legislative session is May 3.