Hawaii Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)—Cheap Oil Vs. LNG

Only a few months ago, it seemed likely that Hawaii’s electric and gas utilities would wean themselves off crude oil and naphtha-based gas in favor of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Now though, with oil prices low—and expected by many to stay low—the Aloha State’s governor says that he thinks the planned shift to LNG would be too costly and that he’ll fight it. The utilities still see LNG as the way to go, pointing to falling LNG prices and natural gas’s environmental benefits over oil. Today, we consider how lower prices for crude oil and LNG are affecting the debate about Hawaii’s energy future.

As anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting the Hawaiian islands knows, the last state to join the U.S. is unique, not only for its fantastic weather, lush landscape and friendly people, but for its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, almost as far from Los Angeles as Los Angeles is from New York City. Because of that isolation—and Hawaii’s lack of any native oil, natural gas or coal reserves—all of the state’s fossil-fuel requirements need to be floated in by ship; most of its power plants run on oil, and its synthetic version of natural gas (SNG) is made from naphtha, a by-product of the state’s two oil refineries. As we said in the Episode 1 of our Blue Hawaii series last year, Hawaii’s heavy dependence on imported oil makes it an unusually expensive place to live—its electricity and gas rates are the highest in the country, and its gasoline and diesel are very costly too. In Episode 2 we discussed Hawaii Electric’s plan (unveiled in August 2014) to switch most of its oil-fired units to LNG-based gas by 2017-18 (using LNG shipped in ISO containers) and to switch the rest to LNG in the 2020s (when bulk shipment of LNG kicked in). To underpin that plan, Hawaiian Electric reached a deal with FortisBC to lock in up to 0.8 million metric tons per year (0.8 MTPA) of LNG production capacity at a planned expansion of FortisBC’s Tilbury Island liquefaction facility near Vancouver, BC, for 15 years starting in 2017. (That much LNG would provide an average of 107 MMcf/d of natural gas). In Episode 3 we focused on Hawaii Gas: how it currently makes SNG from refinery-supplied naphtha on Oahu and distributes SNG to customers on the island by pipeline and distributes propane to customers--some on Oahu and some on other Hawaiian islands—that are not connected by pipe. We also discussed how since March 2014 Hawaii Gas has been receiving one ISO container of LNG a month from Clean Energy Fuels’ 160 Mgal/d liquefaction plant in Boron, CA; once on Oahu, the LNG is re-gasified and fed (along with SNG) into Hawaii Gas’s distribution system. Finally, in a follow-up blog (Hawaii Two-Step), we discussed the gas utility’s October 2014 proposal to ramp up its use of LNG, initially by replacing 30% of its SNG with a steadier flow of LNG-filled ISOs, and then by working with Hawaiian Electric to develop bulk-delivery terminal for LNG to facilitate a 100% switch to LNG at both utilities.

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A lot’s happened the past 11 months—on both the Hawaii/LNG front and (as we know too well) on world energy markets in general. In December 2014, Hawaii Gas issued a request for proposals (RFP) for two levels of LNG demand: The first--0.3 million metric tons per annum (MTPA), the equivalent of 40 MMcf/d of natural gas—to meet the utility’s own needs, and the second--1 MTPA, the equivalent of 141 MMcf/d—to meet Hawaii’s aggregate LNG needs (that is, the needs of both Hawaii Gas and Hawaiian Electric). The RFP also sought offers to provide a Floating Storage and Regasification Unit (FSRU; see photo below) and related services that would allow the gas and electric utilities to receive bulk shipments of LNG (instead of shipments via ISO containers). Hawaii Gas continues to review the LNG-supply and FSRU offers it received; we understand that the offers “confirm the viability of delivering LNG to Hawaii and favorable pricing of LNG as an alternative fuel.” By Hawaii Gas’s figuring, even if crude oil prices were to remain in the $50/Bbl range, switching the state’s utilities to LNG would save $100 million/year.

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