John Mauri talks Maui’s renewable energy future

by Shayna Decker | Aug. 30, 2021

Pre-pandemic, I looked forward to the days when we invited community groups to tour our Maalaea Generating Station on Maui. We met with intrigued visitors as they were guided through the facility for a look behind the scenes on how we keep the lights on for everyone while steadily increasing the amount of renewable resources we’re using to meet the energy needs of our communities.

Because the tours were often guided by John Mauri, our director of generation for Maui, Molokai and Lanai, it also meant an opportunity to hear more firsthand experience of how far we’ve come from an operational standpoint in transitioning off fossil fuels.

With the company for more than 17 years and first serving as a combined cycle supervisor responsible for the combustion and steam turbines at Maalaea, John has overseen the evolution taking place at our generating facilities as we use more renewable energy to power Maui and, at the same time, ensure we maintain a safe, reliable and essential service.

Such groundbreaking progress has included modifying generating units so we can use more renewable energy and shifting the way we monitor and balance the mix of generation on our system. It’s a major, multifaceted transformation and John has the keen ability to translate these complexities in everyday conversations.

Since we haven’t been able to do in-person tours for the safety and wellness of the public and our workforce, John and Kuhea Asiu, our public affairs specialist, recently met up virtually for a talk story session, Transitioning Maui to Renewable Energy. The two pick up just as we would have during a tour and discuss our ongoing work to decarbonize the way we produce energy on our islands and have 100% of electricity sales come from renewable energy by 2045.

With electricity traditionally coming from a centralized point, like a power plant, John shares how, in the last decade, our generation crews have had to swiftly adapt the way we provide power to meet the changing energy needs of our islands 24/7. In a matter of seconds at any given point of the day, system operators using advanced computer technology are balancing supply and demand with more as-available renewables, such as wind and solar. Plus, these intermittent resources can momentarily ramp up or down depending if the wind is blowing or a cloud is passing over an array of solar panels.

“It’s no longer electricity coming from…specific locations and going out,” John explains. “It’s really electricity coming from hundreds of sources if you include rooftop solar, so that’s one of the big changes.”

Managing these big changes in generation on our islands have allowed us to surpass clean energy goals. The state’s milestone of 30% renewables in 2020 was exceeded with Maui County recording a renewable portfolio standard of 50.8%.

The talk story, which aired live on our Facebook page as well as on Akaku — Maui County’s public-access television station — also invited those tuning in to ask energy-related questions. One viewer points out if a more meaningful impact on climate change could occur if 100% renewable energy could be achieved sooner.

John notes the current transition to renewables is a very accelerated trip to address climate change. However, he reasons the trip must also remain safe, steady, and affordable for everyone to make, and asks us to imagine this pioneering, decarbonizing journey as a 45-minute drive from Kula to Lahaina.

“Essentially what we’re doing, is when you jump in your car in Kula heading to Lahaina, we’re under your hood, we’re working on your engine,” says John. “When you left, you’re fossil (fuel) fired, as you’re going to Lahaina, we’re changing your engine. By the time you reach Lahaina, it’ll be all renewable, all electric. That’s sort of what we’re doing on the grid right now. We need to still provide reliability, still need to be cost effective, and we have a goal, or deadline, to make 100% renewables.”

Check out the full recording of the virtual talk story with John and Kuhea via You Tube. For those in Maui County, it will also re-air on Akaku channel 54 on Aug. 23 at 10:30 p.m., and Aug. 25 and Aug. 27 at 5 p.m.

Shayna Decker is a communications manager at Hawaiian Electric.

Our vision is to deliver cost-effective, clean, reliable, and innovative energy services to our customers.