WAILUKU - Maui County awarded contracts this month to install at least 1,000 solar panels on the rooftops of county facilities on Maui and Lanai.
The winning contractors are Haleakala Solar of Kahului (installer), Gen-X Energy Development of Haiku and NexGen Energy Partners of Boulder, Colo., (developers) and Bosch Solar Energy Corp. of San Mateo, Calif., (supplier).
The county will provide the rooftop locations, while the contractors will install and set up the solar power systems at no upfront cost to the county. County Energy Commissioner Doug McLeod said the county will pay the solar contractors about half of what it currently pays Maui Electric Co.
Rooftops of the Kahului Fire Station are among the Maui County rooftop locations for the installation of at least 1,000 solar panels. Contracts for the project were awarded this month. Other locations include police stations, park buildings, senior centers, and wastewater and water facilities.
Maui News file photo
In the first year of the agreement, the county will pay 14.7 cents per kilowatt hour for solar power, compared with the 28 to 29 cents it now pays, he said. During the 20-year power purchase agreement with the solar contractors, the price will rise 2.5 percent per year. The average price over the extended agreement would be 18.5 cents, McLeod said.
Using conservative estimates, the county could save $50,000 per year in electricity costs, he said.
Mayor Alan Arakawa said the county is moving ahead with his administration's pledge to pursue renewable energy initiatives.
"That wasn't just talk," he said. "This project will save taxpayers money from day one, and we'd like to see more, much more of these types of projects in the future."
The solar panels will be installed at five fire stations (Kahului, Lahaina, Lanai, Wailea and Wailuku), four Department of Water Supply facilities (in Kahului, Makawao, Lahaina and Mahinahina), four Division of Wastewater Reclamation facilities (two in Kahului and one each in Kihei and Lahaina), two police stations (Lahaina and Lanai), two senior centers (Kaunoa and West Maui), and at park facilities in Makawao at the Eddie Tam Gymnasium, at the Lahaina Civic Center and the Kihei Aquatic and Community Center, officials announced.
Jim Whitcomb, chief executive officer, founder and owner of Haleakala Solar, said he was gratified to get the county contract, beating out a dozen other bidders for the project.
"We competed very hard to get it," he said. "We are going to do a great job."
Haleakala Solar was established in 1977 and has more than 8,000 customers, he said.
The county project will be "by far the largest solar project in Maui County," possibly the state, Whitcomb said.
Haleakala Solar has 43 employees and would be adding 12 to 15 more just to handle the Maui County project, he said, adding that one of the new employees would be a project supervisor just for the county job, estimated to take about 18 months.
The county also selected a Native Hawaiian firm, Greenpath Technologies of Oahu, and subcontractor Commercial Roofing and Waterproofing Hawaii Inc. to install solar panels at Department of Public Works Highways Division baseyards in Lahaina, Wailuku and Makawao and on Lanai.
The extent of the project may be limited by Maui Electric Co. because of "congestion issues" with the electric utility's power grid, McLeod said.
"As a result, it is possible that some locations will be delayed or the system size at some locations will be more limited than expected," he said.
Maui Electric spokeswoman Kau'i Awai-Dickson said the utility's circuits each have a threshold, established by the Public Utilities Commission, that determines the amount of intermittent power, such as solar or wind sources, that can be added. The limit is 15 percent per circuit, she said, and after that limit is reached a study needs to be undertaken to determine whether renewable energy sources can be safely added to the system.
Because solar and wind power is not always available, it's not considered "firm" and "could cause reliability issues on the circuit that could affect other customers," she said.
McLeod said that, by the end of September, the county expects to have a target for the specific amount of solar panels to be installed this year.
"We will work out the schedule with the winning contractors and MECO," he said.
The maximum amount of energy to be generated by the rooftop systems would be 2.15 megawatts, he said.
If there were no interconnection issues with Maui Electric, the number of panels could be more than 8,000, McLeod said. But the county expects at least 1,000 to be installed this year.
The 2009-10 county Cost of Government Commission set a goal of achieving $1.5 million in savings annually.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.