KAHULUI - Projects such as the 460-kilowatt photovoltaic system recently installed at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center are part of a "spectrum of alternative energy" from home-based systems to large-scale farms to meet the state's current and future power needs, said Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Wednesday.
The governor, on Maui for the blessing of the MACC's 1,972-panel, ground-based photovoltaic system, expressed his support for the MACC project as well as the controversial, large-scale, 200-megawatt alternative energy proposals on Molokai and Lanai, where wind and solar systems would feed Oahu's energy needs via an undersea cable.
The volatility over oil and natural gas prices and supply "that has resulted in war, has resulted in conflict, has resulted in a situation which we recognize . . . our vulnerabilities and an absolute necessity . . . for our survival to be manifest in alternative energy projects," the governor said in remarks at the blessing.
Maui Arts & Cultural Center cultural programs director Hokulani Holt-Padilla chants during a blessing ceremony for the center’s solar array Wednesday afternoon. The center’s $1.6 million, 460-kilowatt photovoltaic system is one of the largest on Maui and should cut the center’s power costs by 20 percent.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
In an interview before the blessing, Abercrombie noted that Oahu has the largest energy needs and that the Neighbor Islands offer possibilities for supplying that need. While there is opposition on Molokai and Lanai to those large-scale energy projects, especially with the power leaving the island, there also are supporters of those proposals, he said. A statewide perspective needs to be applied.
"We have to work together," the governor said, noting that rural communities often put in fewer tax dollars than they receive back for roads and schools. "We have to put it all together and share.
"I'm sure that (the difficulties) can be worked out," he said.
The governor said in his remarks that he wanted to be at the blessing of the MACC project, one of the largest solar projects on the island, to show his support for alternative energy and to pledge his administration's cooperation and support for such projects. Mayor Alan Arakawa and several Maui County Council members also attended the dedication.
The MACC project is located on a strip of land on the University of Hawaii Maui College side of Keopuolani Parkway. The system was built by SolarCity at its cost in exchange for state and federal tax credits and a 20-year agreement from the MACC to pay for the power produced by the PV system at a rate lower than current rates, said Art Vento, MACC president and chief executive officer.
The construction cost of the solar panels was $1.6 million, according to county documents.
Vento said the MACC's consumption of electricity from Maui Electric Co. will fall 60 percent and its power costs by 20 percent. He declined to give a dollar amount to the cost reduction but said the rate was competitive with current purchase-power agreements.
"As a nonprofit, it is essential to find ways to reduce overhead in order to maintain our ability to provide the maximum products and services delivered to the community," Vento said in a news release. "This installation will meaningfully reduce our energy costs and contribute to a more sustainable environment by significantly reducing our carbon footprint."
Vento said the center's project has been five years in the planning and that the 460 kilowatts was all that Maui Electric's circuit could handle as defined by the "15 percent rule," which limits the amount of renewable energy generation allowed on a Maui Electric Co. circuit.
The governor announced at the blessing that the Public Utilities Commission had eliminated the limitation, which Vento noted could open up possibilities for expansion of the MACC system. In his speech, Vento said he could one day see solar panels extending from its current spot all the way to the Wahinepio Avenue intersection.
Although the blessing for the project was Wednesday, the solar panel system was completed in October and hooked up to the grid last month, said Jon Yoshimura, director of government affairs for SolarCity and a Baldwin High graduate. This is one of the first major commercial projects completed by the company in Hawaii.
"It's a very impressive system, because it allows the public to see the ground-mounted PV," said Doug McLeod, the county energy commissioner.
There are three basic types of photovoltaic installations - rooftop, carport and ground mount, he explained.
"We are quite grateful the MACC put in the system, because it helps people understand and see what a ground mount system is," he said. "A lot of people got more interested in solar after seeing it."
Total installed capacity for solar power for Maui is 10 megawatts, he said. Peak energy use is 200 megawatts for the island.
But demand for commercial solar installations is growing fast.
"We know it's grown like crazy." he said. "There is no solar installer on this island who's not busy until the first quarter of next year."
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*** Kau'i Awai-Dickson, spokeswoman for Maui Electric Co., said MECO has more than 12 megawatts of installed solar capacity in Maui County. The largest solar producer in the county is La Ola on Lanai, which is capable of generating up to 1.2 megawatts of power.