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PURPA and the Impact of Existing Avoided Cost Contracts on Hawai'i’s Electricity Sector

The United States has been trying to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuel since the 1970s. Domestic fossil fuel supply initially peaked in 1970, and the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 accelerated domestic policy and investments to develop renewable sources of energy (Joskow, 1997). One such policy—passed in 1978 by the U.S. Congress—was the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA).

In this policy brief, we identify the existing PURPA-based contracts in Hawai'i and use a Hawai'i-specific electric sector generation planning model, The Hawai'i Electricity Model (HELM), to estimate the impact that PURPA contracts have on both total system cost and the mix of generation technologies. We study a variety of scenarios under the maintained assumption that the state will achieve the Hawai'i Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that 40% of electricity sales are generated using renewable sources by the year 2030.

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