Wartsila to provide 50 MW plant to bioenergy project in Hawaii

By Erin Voegele | December 02, 2014

Wärtsilä Corp. recently announced it will supply a 50 MW Smart Power Generation power plant to Hawaiian Electric Co. on the island of Oahu. The facility, located at the Schofield Barracks Army Base, is expected to run a biofuel blend and will help reduce the island’s reliance on fossil fuels.

According to information released by Wärtsilä, the project requires approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. If approved the power plant is scheduled to be operational in 2017. In January, the U.S. Army filed a notice in filed a notice in the Federal Register announcing its intent to prepare a joint environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed lease of Army land at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, Hawaii, to the Hawaiian Electric Co. for the construction and operation of the plant. 

Darren Pai, a spokesman for Hawaiian Electric, said there is not specific timetable for the PUC’s decision. “However, we are hopeful that the PUC will grant approval within the next several months so the project can be in-service as scheduled by late 2017,” he said.

Regarding fuel for the proposed project, Pai said the plant will be capable of using a variety of fuels, but noted the exact type of biofuel has not been specified at this time. “We plan to use a cost-effective blend of liquid and gas fuels that will be a minimum of 50 percent biofuel.  The remainder of the fuel will be the most cost-effective fuel available, which may be biofuel or a different fuel, dependent upon cost and availability,” Pai said. “This will produce more renewable energy for the community and contribute to state and Army renewable energy goals while controlling costs for our customers.” In its announcement, Wärtsilä said the biofuel blend used to power the facility will include liquid fuels and natural gas when liquefied natural gas becomes available on the island.

According to Pai, the competitive biofuel procurement process for the project has not yet started. Once that process is complete, the resulting fuel contract will be subject to approval by the Hawaii PUC, he said.

The 50 MW plant will consist of 50 Wärtsilä 34DF engines. According to Wärtsilä, the biofuel-fired power plant will help enable the integration of more solar photovoltaic generation on the island of Oahu. “Solar energy comes and goes. You need something fast to fill the gaps,” Wärtsilä’s Regional Director Wayne Elmore said. “We are thrilled to see, once again, that our Smart Power Generation technology is a perfect companion to variable renewable energy. Fast back-up capacity not only supports but enables much more wind and solar. This is key to sustainable power systems.”

Pai explained the proposed bioenergy plant is designed to respond quickly to changing power conditions on the electric grid. “The output of wind and solar energy systems can change rapidly due to weather, cloud cover, time of day and other conditions. To maintain safe, reliable electric service, these fluctuations must be balanced with power from other sources of generation,” he said. “The quick-starting, flexible technology planned for Schofield Generating Station can provide this balance, helping to integrate more solar and wind energy on Oahu.”

Pai added that the project is a collaborative effort between Hawaiian Electric and the Army and will benefit electric customers on Oahu. “This generating station will provide reliable power for all customers on O‘ahu, enhance our ability to integrate more renewable energy into the grid, and generate renewable energy itself through the use of biofuels. Located away from the coast and on an Army base, the plant will also provide a secure energy source in the event of an emergency or natural disaster, and an additional capability to restart our grid in the event of a major outage,” he continued.

In addition to the proposed 50 MW plant, Hawaiian Electric also has a 110-MW biofuel-fueled plant in service at the Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu. Pai also noted the Hawaii State Department of Transportation is developing a 10-MW emergency generation facility at the Honolulu International Airport.