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West Maui group settles with renewable energy company

Agreement includes about $1.3 million for organizations, plans for hiring local

Kahana Solar is slated to be built on 220 acres of Maui Land & Pineapple property 1.4 miles mauka of Kapalua Airport. On Friday, the West Maui Preservation Association announced that it had reached a settlement with project developer Innergex after initially intervening over community concerns. INNERGEX photo

A West Maui Preservation Association settlement with a Canadian-based renewable energy company will net around $1.3 million in “community benefit” funds for West Maui.

The association said in a news release that it has settled with Innergex’s Kahana Solar LLC and will be withdrawing from the state Public Utilities Commission proceedings relating to the project, a 20-megawatt solar/80-megawatt-hour battery storage facility to be built on 220 acres of Maui Land & Pineapple property 1.4 miles mauka of Kapalua Airport.

Hoping to address various community issues, the association intervened in the PUC proceedings to approve the agreement with Maui Electric Co. and Innergex, the news release said.

Kahana Solar by Innergex Renewable Energy had been chosen by Hawaiian Electric last year in a request for proposals to advance the state’s renewable energy transformation. It would also help with the scheduled closure of the Kahului Power Plant in 2024.

Kahana Solar had said last year it would sell its power to the utility at 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.

As the agreement was headed for PUC review, the association intervened as it wanted to ensure the community would benefit from the project as well. A two-day contested case hearing was held in September, but at the close of the hearing the PUC suspended proceedings and ordered the parties into mediation, an “unusual and unprecedented step,” said attorney Lance Collins, spokesperson for the association.

West Maui Preservation’s concerns included ensuring developers would provide “community benefits” for West Maui, which the PUC normally calls for in such projects. Collins said on Wednesday afternoon that the group wanted to ensure the benefits did go to the community and those that need it.

Collins said the agreement includes annual community benefit contributions to organizations such as Lahainaluna High School, Maui Cultural Lands, Pu’u Kukui Watershed and the University of Hawaii Maui College. An additional portion of funds will be distributed to West Maui community groups through the Hawai’i Community Foundation.

According to the agreement on the PUC website, if the power purchase agreement is approved, and the project is constructed and operates, funding from Kahana Solar to benefit the community will be a “fixed commitment” of $1.375 million, which breaks down to $55,000 per year during the project’s 25 years of commercial operation.

Collins added that they also wanted to ensure that while there is competitive bidding for the power purchase agreements, that the developers would pay employees the equivalent of the prevailing wage as well as hire local workers.

The group also wanted to ensure there was an enforceable plan to decommission the project at its end of the agreement with MECO. This plan was secured as part of the settlement.

“We hope the electric company and the PUC will seriously consider standardizing the management and distribution of community benefits and ensuring that jobs generated by these projects pay a living wage and use local labor for future projects,” Collins said in the news release. “This agreement is a good starting point for future projects.”

The parties mediated with the assistance of retired Maui Circuit Court Judge Joel August.

Myriam Bernede-Martin, Innergex senior adviser for community relations, said in an email Wednesday: “The agreement between the Consumer Advocate, Maui Electric, Kahana Solar and WMPA memorialized our previous statements made in the PUC record and as part of our extensive community engagement effort in a more refined and definite manner around community benefits, decommissioning and local jobs.”

She said that since spring 2020, Innergex has met with more than 100 community members and organizations, including West Maui businesses, community nonprofit organizations, cultural and environmental stewardship organizations, schools and West Maui residents.

It has also developed a “robust community benefits package” based on the extensive community engagements and feedback.

“Being a good neighbor is important to Innergex and we take great pride in our track records of nurturing strong, long-term relationships with the communities that host our projects,” she added.

Collins said that Innergex has also agreed to pay at least 80 percent of its non-supervisory workers the equivalent of the prevailing wage, Collins said. They will also first hire those living in West Maui, Maui County and the state before hiring workers from elsewhere.

If the PUC approves the agreement between MECO and Innergex, the project will then go before the Maui Planning Commission to consider a special use permit required to develop the project on agricultural district lands, Collins said.

Per the agreement, the association “shall not intervene or oppose” any other governmental permit or approval for the project.

Bernede-Martin said Innergex is aiming to submit its combined county/state special use permit application by the end of the year.

Construction is anticipated to start in the fourth quarter of 2022 with commercial operations beginning in December 2023.

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

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