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Paeahu Solar contested case wraps up

No specific timeline set for PUC decision

KIHEI — The leader of a community coalition opposing the industrial-scale Paeahu Solar said that the island doesn’t need all of the energy, that the PV needs would be better generated from rooftops, and that the project would be more suitable in an industrial area rather than on hundreds of acres near homes above South Maui.

“Why do you have to put it right next to people’s houses?” asked CarolAnn Barrows, director of the Pono Power Coalition, made up of more than 700 Maui Meadows, Kihei residents and their supporters.

They oppose the 15-megawatt solar and 60-megawatt-hour battery project on about 200 acres of Ulupalakua Ranch land above South Maui and near Maui Meadows.

“Maui doesn’t need now” all the “energy that this project will provide,” she added. Developers have said Paeahu Solar could generate electricity for around 7,300 homes.

“It should be in an industrial area,” she said. “I don’t even know if it has to be built now.”

Barrows said “we have lots of roofs here” and felt they would be a more suitable place to meet the state’s renewable energy mandates, although an attorney for Maui Electric questioned whether people’s rooftops would be enough to meet the state renewable energy mandates.

Barrows also expressed concerns about potential runoff, not having enough information about the project and possible environmental and health effects from the solar panels and construction dust and noise.

She made her remarks during her testimony and cross-examination Thursday at a contested case hearing on the Paeahu Solar project before the state Public Utilities Commission at the Maui Research & Technology Center.

Pono Power sought the contested case, which also includes Paeahu Solar, Maui Electric Co. and the state consumer advocate.

Paeahu Solar is being developed by Canadian-based Innergex Renewables. The company responded to a request for proposals issued by MECO in 2018 for renewable energy that will help stabilize and lower power costs while reducing the state’s reliance on imported fossil fuel and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to Innergex’s website.

The two-day hearing concluded Thursday afternoon with no decision-making.

Parties may file post-hearing briefs following the release of hearing transcripts. There is no specific timeline for a decision, according to commission officials.

Another issue raised by the Pono Power Coalition is the use of the same Honolulu-based law firm by energy developers, including Paeahu Solar, for bidding and negotiating terms of energy contracts with Hawaii utilities. That firm is Yamamoto-Caliboso, according to media reports.

Sumner La Croix, a retired economics professor and University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization research fellow, said during testimony Thursday that it is a “direct conflict” when a common attorney is used for two bidders on a project. The attorney could provide better information to one client, which hurts the other client, La Croix said.

This is usually prohibited by ethical codes, but sometimes waivers are allowed, he said.

While there is no evidence of price fixing in the power purchase agreements, the opportunity exists for the attorney for several companies to bid higher prices, which would hurt the consumer, La Croix said.

The high price of power is among the issues being raised by Pono Power. MECO would pay Paeahu Solar 11.68 cents per kilowatt hour, according to PUC documents. Other renewable projects approved by the PUC during the same procurement process included lower prices. Kuihelani Solar, a 60-MW and 240-MWh battery project in Central Maui, will sell power to MECO at 8 cents per kWh, among the lowest in the state.

Paeahu Solar officials testified that the price is fair and competitive, given the project’s smaller size, tougher terrain and higher cost of shipping and construction on Maui.

Paeahu officials also said that it has tried to move the project further south on the parcel but that there are archaeological and environmental impacts that make it unsuitable.

Prior to Thursday’s hearings, Edward “Eddie” Park, business manger for Innergex, said that the contested case hearing is a “critical part of the process” but that work on the project, including environmental studies, is ongoing.

The company is working to “stay on track,” he said.

Hawaiian Electric Cos., which includes MECO, are seeking to add 390 MW of renewable energy to the state’s energy inventory though a competitive procurement process, which included Paeahu Solar. The commercial operation date is the second quarter of 2022.

Rebecca Dayhuff Matsushima, director of renewable acquisition at HECO, said outside the meeting that there are provisions in the contract that would allow for the Paeahu Solar deadline to be extended.

In the contested case hearing, Maui Electric presented six witnesses, the state consumer advocate testified, Paeahu Solar had two witness and Pono Power Coalition had three witnesses.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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