Solar farms: Public invited to weigh in on two large West Hawaii projects

  • Proposed solar farm location highlighted in light blue (Department of Hawaiian Home Lands)

  • Proposed solar farm location at Kalaoa (Department of Hawaiian Home Lands)

Two large solar farms could come to the West Hawaii coast, thanks to projects contemplated by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Public hearings and informational sessions are set for next week for DHHL to get public input on long-term leases on up to 30 acres mauka of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kalaoa and 21 acres north of Kawaihae harbor. Meetings with invited DHHL beneficiaries have already been held.

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The projects, following requests for proposal from Hawaiian Electric Co., would together generate 12.3 megawatts — enough electricity to power about 1,600 homes, according to officials. Under the community-based renewable energy program, priority would go to DHHL beneficiaries and those in the low-to-moderate income category.

The program expands renewable energy for those in multifamily homes or in areas not amenable to solar energy, said DHHL planner Julie-Ann Cachola.

“A lot of houses have been able to put PVP panels on their homes,” Cachola said in a presentation to beneficiaries. “They’re really happy because their bill is a nominal rate to just keep the lines open and they’re happy with their electrical bills.”

The DHHL-HECO project would likely provide a savings of 10-15% on electric bills, with no upfront costs, to those who subscribe, based on the previous experience of similar projects.

Per program rule, at least 60% of energy generated must go to low or moderate income homes, defined as an income limit of $47,950 for a single person to $68,500 for a family of four to $90,450 for a family of eight.

If not enough beneficiary homes sign up, the rest of the power can go to a nonprofit or other association that serves homesteads.

As justification for the project, DHHL officials point to a 2015 state law requiring electric utilities to produce 100% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2045 and a 2009 DHHL energy policy to enable Native Hawaiians to lead efforts to achieve energy self-sufficiency and sustainability.

The solar panels plus battery storage projects would be developed through 25-year renewable leases by Nexamp Solar LLC, a subsidiary of the Boston, Massachusetts-based Nexamp Inc.

That company, established in 2007, has 40 employees across all of its locations and generates $38.22 million in sales , according to Dun &Bradstreet. There are 2,062 companies in the Nexamp Inc. corporate family.

There’s a way to go and several regulatory hurdles before solar panels will actually be installed.

Nexamp hopes to begin contract negotiations with HECO in February.

The public hearings will be held both online and in-person.

The first Kalaoa hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 11, at the Laiopua 2020 Community Center Complex in Kailua-Kona, and the second, 8:30 a.m. Oct. 13 at Hale Kuhio in Waimea. The public can find more information and sign up to attend the hearings virtually at https://dhhl.hawaii.gov/po/hawaii-island/proposed-community-based-renewable-energy-project-at-kalaoa .

The first Kawaihae hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 12, at the Kailapa Community Center, and the second, 11 a.m. Oct. 13, at Hale Kuhio, both in Waimea.

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The public can find more information and sign up to attend the hearings virtually at https://bit.ly/2ZZ1jrJ .

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.