KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaiian Electric Companies are pushing seven industrial scale, solar-plus-storage projects across the state, including one set for a large patch of land 2 miles southeast of Waikoloa Village.
AES Distributed Energy won the bid for the project and will convene a community meeting from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Nov. 13, at the Waikoloa Village Association Community Room to provide more information and address any questions from the public. The venue is located at 68-1792 Melia St.
According to a release, the Waikoloa Village solar project includes 30 megawatts (MW) and 120 megawatt hours (MWh) of storage. Rob Cooper, director of business development for AES, said the energy produced will offset the electricity consumption of around 9,000 homes per year.
Because the project is industrial scale, it will feed the solar energy back into the Hawaii Electric Light Company grid, meaning it won’t necessarily service homes in Waikoloa Village.
“Once it’s on the grid, it can be utilized anywhere the grid can service and transport the energy,” said Woody Rubin, president of AES.
That’s a different element than so-called “behind the meter applications,” which Rubin added only allow generated solar to be used at a specific location.
Also part of the project is on-site storage. Cooper said the project will be capable of storing at maximum capacity, or 30 MW for a four-hour duration. Rubin explained the advantage that provides.
“The benefit of pairing storage to these facilities is that you can take an intermittent resource like solar and you can actually provide firm evening and morning capacity when the demand on the grid is really high,” he said. “So it’s a way to provide the benefits that solar provides to all users. It turns an intermittent resource at grid scale to a firm capacity resource.”
The site itself will stretch between 200-250 acres, Cooper said. It will consist of solar panels mounted 7 feet off the ground on single-axis, rotating trackers. He described the battery components as “no different than a standard shipping container” and not more than 10 feet tall, which will be distributed across the project site.
AES suggested the Waikoloa Village area for the project in its proposal for several reasons.
Cooper described the land as relatively flat, unused and vacant. It does not possess prime soil, so it doesn’t subtract potentially valuable agricultural land from future development.
The parcel isn’t immediately adjacent to any current houses or proposed developments and has solid proximity to HELCO’s existing grid, as an existing transmission line runs directly through the site. Also, the weather in West Hawaii makes the area a prime spot for the solar resource.
As to what the utility is paying AES for its work, neither Cooper nor Rubin were at liberty to say, because while the request for proposal process is already underway, none of the power purchase agreements have been signed or submitted to the Public Utilities Commission.
Cooper said the current schedule has construction slated to begin around 2020, with the site becoming viable for commercial operation between 2021-22.
AES Distributed Energy, a subsidiary of The AES Corporation, was also awarded a second contract to provide a solar-plus-storage project in central Maui.
AES has worked in Hawaii before and recently broke ground in Kauai on what the release called “one of the world’s largest solar-plus-storage projects.” Rubin said the Colorado-based company has done work in 15 countries and has implemented storage as part of its projects for the last decade.
The two AES-run projects on Hawaii Island and Maui are part of a seven-project initiative the Hawaiian Electric Companies recently rolled out those two islands as well as Oahu. Procurement efforts for the seven projects began in February, according to a HECO release from Oct. 9.
The same release said the projects were for an expected 260 MW of solar across the three islands and represent “the largest infusion of renewable energy in state history.”