WAILUKU - The Maui Planning Commission unanimously approved Tuesday a permit for the University of Hawaii Maui College to expand its ongoing investments in renewable, photovoltaic energy.
The college received the special management area use permit required for a more than 600-kilowatt PV system, which would be placed atop a new concrete four-row carport and cover more than 250 parking spaces.
Several commission members applauded the college. Member Penny Wakida called it "fantastic."
"Thank you for this project," said commission member Warren Shibuya, who noted that solar energy expansion lessens electric bills and further educates the public about PV's benefits.
County Planning Department staff recommended approval of the project as well.
In recent years, the college has installed numerous PV panels on its Kahului campus, including panels atop its new science building.
College officials hope to complete the $4 million project by the end of the year, said UH-MC Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto.
"I'm grateful for their support," Sakamoto said of commission members after the panel's meeting.
The solar electricity will go back into the college, said Sakamoto, who's employing global tech firm Johnson Controls for the project. The PV panels are guaranteed for 25 years and can withstand winds of up to 110 mph.
Also on Tuesday, the Maui Planning Commission was asked to provide comments, but no action, on the draft environmental statement for the Wailuku-Kahului Wastewater Reclamation Facility's shoreline protection extension project.
County coastal resource planner Jim Buika called the project "very important" for Maui because it would help mitigate the impacts of erosion and coastal storms that have already threatened the facility.
The 19-acre site is east of Kahului Harbor. Private consultant Mitch Hirano said that the nearly 40-year-old facility must be protected as soon as possible. The shoreline is estimated to be eroding at a rate of about 2.5 feet annually and could endanger the plant in a couple years, said Hirano of Munekiyo and Hiraga Inc. There's also the issue of rising ocean levels, he said.
The county did discuss relocating the facility in 2005, but the nearly $270 million option was shelved, Hirano said.
The plan is to extend the existing revetment by more than 400 feet. A revetment is buried, angled and reinforced concrete with interlocked rocks, sand and stairways on top.
In addition, the revetment already fronting the retention pond would be reinforced and raised by 3 feet, Hirano said. The fixes would protect the area's beaches, he added.
The county Department of Environmental Management is overseeing the $5 million project.
Irene Bowie, executive director of Maui Tomorrow Foundation, said that she recognizes the project's immediacy. Still, she said there should be some language in the draft EIS to eventually phase out and relocate the facility inland.
"Do we just keep putting Band-Aids on this thing?" Bowie asked.
Department Director Kyle Ginoza said that the facility remains effective; and even if it were moved, the area would need a pumping station to continue to serve Central Maui because of the existing infrastructure.
Ginoza also said that the project is scheduled to be completed around 2015.
Commission Chairman Kent Hiranaga said that commission members were not faced with a proposal to move the facility, although a couple of commissioners did ask about it.
A draft EIS public meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at the Kahului Community Center. The comment deadline is Oct. 8.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a state Land Use Commission special use permit for Maui Ocean Breezes' three-bedroom bed-and-breakfast to remain open in Haiku. No neighbors objected.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at chamilton@maui news.com.