Parker Ranch Readies for Next Step in Hawaii Microgrid Plan with RFI

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Parker Ranch  is readying to take the next step in its Hawaii microgrid plan with the release of a  request for information in September for pumped-storage hydro (PSH) through its subsidiary Paniolo Power.

The RFI springs from an unusual project.  Parker Ranch,  one of the largest and oldest cattle ranches in the United States, took the initiative to organize a community energy project and prepare an integrated resource plan (IRP) for  the Greater Waimea and the Kohala Region. IRPs are usually the domain of utilities. Siemens  is assisting Parker Ranch with the effort, which focuses on developing more renewable energy to benefit both nearby communities and the island as a whole.

The ranch has made energy its highest strategic priority because of the impact of high energy costs on the ranch’s bottom line and the larger community.  Hawaii’s electricity rates are the highest in the US at 38 cents/kWh for residential customers, more than three times the US average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Even at a cost of $300 million, the planned microgrid could ease costs for the island, according to Neil “Dutch” Kuyper, CEO of Parker Ranch

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Parker Ranch is exploring the project on multiple levels, “from a community-wide solution to large-scale strategies which could benefit the entire island,” he said.

“We are nearing the completion of our IRP with Siemens,” Kuyper said. “What we’re seeing is that hydro energy storage is a valuable contributor in many scenarios.  The major capital expenditures associated with PSH, such as reservoirs and penstocks, can have useful lives of 100 years.  The practice of running expensive oil-fired generators and curtailing renewable energy seems unfriendly to both ratepayers and the environment.  Investing in assets that are capable of storing intermittent or otherwise curtailed forms of energy should be more beneficial to consumers and our air quality.  It also seems more rational than spending costly capital on other types of utility assets, such as grid improvements or retrofitting fossil-fuel generation, given the amount of renewable energy curtailment apparently occurring.”

The RFI will seek responses from engineering, procurement and construction providers for a pumped-storage hydroelectric system on Parker Ranch lands. Paniolo Power wants to quantify the capital costs and identify design requirements associated with a wide range of potential hydro-energy storage solutions, from 10- to 200-MW.

The ranch intends to follow-up the RFI with a request for qualifications that will be issued to a select group once all of the responses have been evaluated. The ranch also is considering wind, solar, geothermal and battery-storage RFQs, which would be announced separately.

“We believe that the best way to explore the merits of these storage options is to expose them to the marketplace of ideas and engage in serious dialogue to attract and inspire innovative solutions from local and global engineering and construction firms with expertise in this area,” Kuyper said

Pumped-storage hydro on Parker Ranch could provide up to five hours of firm, dispatchable power, which would enable load shifting and increase renewable penetration significantly, according to Paniolo Power.

More details are available by contacting Jonathan Mitchell, manager of corporate development at Parker Ranch, at

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An abstract of the IRP is available for download at


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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.