Maui’s largest solar project OK’d by PUC

Island’s other large-scale array, battery proposal awaits approval

Maui County’s largest solar project with battery storage, the 60-megawatt Kuihelani Solar, was approved by the state Public Utilities Commission, Hawaiian Electric Co. announced Tuesday.

AES Renewable Energy is developing the project to be built on as much as 500 acres of old sugar fields off Kuihelani Highway in Central Maui, the company said in November. It will include a 240-megawatt-hour battery storage system.

Maui Electric Co. will pay 8 cents a kilowatt hour for the power from the solar array and battery system, the lowest cost for renewable energy on the island and much lower than fossil-fuel-generated power.

“AES is excited about the PUC approval of its solar-plus-storage project in Central Maui, which is expected to provide enough clean energy for nearly 27,000 Maui homes per year, anticipated bill savings to Maui residents and offset nearly 2,000,000 barrels of fuel over the life of the contract,” said Rob Cooper, business development director of AES Renewable Energy, on Friday.

Construction is projected to begin in 2020 with the project expected to go online no later than 2022, he said.

“We are currently in the early stages of engineering, permitting and community outreach for the project,” Cooper said. “AES is committed to being a community partner, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders to responsibly cultivate a project that reduces costs to ratepayers and increases renewable energy use on Maui.”

About 200,000 solar panels are slated for land leased on the east side of Kuihelani Highway, south of the intersection of the highway with East Waiko Road, the Colorado-based company said in November.

The other Maui solar project, Innergex Renewables Paeahu Solar, a 15-MW solar and 60-mWh battery project on Ulupalakua Ranch land, was one of two projects not approved by the PUC from a list of eight projects released by HECO in October.

The other project still under review by the PUC would provide 12.5-MW solar and 50-mWh storage in West Oahu.

Paeahu Solar has run into some opposition from a group of Maui residents who have formed the Pono Power Coalition, which “supports locating industrial solar power plants far away from peaceful, rural, residential neighborhoods on Maui.” They have sought to intervene or for participant status in the PUC proceedings and requested a contested case proceeding, PUC filings show.

Pono Power Coalition is concerned about the impact of the Paeahu Solar project on property values on neighboring parcels in Maui Meadows, including glint and glare of the panels and health issues; on historic sites without an archaeological study and on native habitat without a biological study, said the group’s attorney, Lance Collins, on Friday.

The coalition said in their PUC filing that the project may produce a “heat island” that will warm surrounding areas and impact the microclimate.

The PUC has not ruled on the coalition’s requests, Collins said. Eddie Park, business development manager for Innergex Renewables USA LLC, said Friday that the company is awaiting a PUC decision on a revised schedule for the approval process.

Park said that Innergex is pleased that its other proposed project, Hale Kuawehi Solar on Hawaii island, received approval by the PUC.

“Innergex is committed to continuing to work with the community to address any concerns through open lines of communication,” he said.

HECO also soon will be releasing a second phase of request for proposals for renewable projects. Jim Kelly, vice president for corporate relations for HECO, said Wednesday that MECO did not get the full amount of renewable energy in the first phase.

The next round of proposals will be “more inclusive” and could be solar with storage or standalone storage facilities, he said.

Maui Electric Co. spokeswoman Shayna Decker said Wednesday that the goal is to replace the aging Kahului Power Plant, which produces about 40 MW of firm power.

She noted that diversity in the renewable sources is important and that there need to be reserve margins for unexpected weather or other events.

Kelly said the approvals in about three months on six projects “was a quick turnaround” for the PUC.

The projects approved on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island were part of a procurement process that began last February with a goal of expanding renewable energy portfolios, HECO said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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