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Big Island renewable energy project in the works

KALAOA, Hawai‘i — A community meeting was held to provide updates about the Kalaoa Solar Project, a proposed 40-acre renewable energy facility on state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) property in Kalaoa.

In 2015, the state Legislature directed the Public Utilities Commission to create a community solar program. Nexamp Solar was awarded a land lease in 2021 by DHHL and was awarded the project by Hawaiian Electric in December 2022.

Nexamp Program Director Brad Albert on Dec. 6 outlined plans and progress for the project the company proposes to finance, construct, own and operate under a 20-year power purchase agreement with Hawaiian Electric, which has yet to be negotiated.

The site at Kalaoa is designated for industrial use and is situated on Queen Ka‘ahumanu Highway mauka of the Ka‘u entrance to the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawai‘i Authority. He said the land cannot be used for residential, so DHHL decided using it for renewable energy would be the most beneficial.

Although the project is more than two years away, Nexamp is engaging in community meetings to get the word out to potential customers about energy cost-saving opportunities.

Albert said the Big Island in 2021 reached 60 percent renewable energy goals, with photovoltaic accounting for 19 percent, geothermal 18 percent, wind 15 percent, biofuels 4 percent and hydroelectric 4 percent. The Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative strives to become 100 percent renewable by 2045.

He explained the benefits of the shared solar project, not only as contributing to the state’s goals but also benefiting the surrounding community. He said 30 percent of single-family detached homes already have solar, but there are homes that do not have the option.

“Community solar is trying to reach different people in different communities. It allows renters, nonprofits and other community members to benefit from a shared solar energy system,” he said. “More than just homeowners should have access to renewable energy. We are producing power locally, and it’s going to the community locally.”

Albert further explained those who sign up and qualify as low- to moderate-income level would see a 10-15 percent savings from their Hawaiian Electric bill. Each customer would be allocated a certain number of panels based on a household’s electric usage.

The project estimates enough electricity generated for 1,600 homes plus nonprofits.

“There is no installation required at your house, no upfront cost, no credit checks, no long-term contracts for no investment or commitment you can save money by enrolling in this program,” Albert explained.

Qualifications for the program, which will not go online until 2026, include meeting the low- to moderate-income threshold, be a rate payer on the island and no solar on the house.

“At today’s rates, a family of four making less than $92,650 would qualify, and I’m sure that number will go up,” he said. “We are giving priority to the community immediately surrounding the solar system.”

Albert addressed the concern about fires, especially in light of the tragedy in Maui.

“Solar panels are generally not combustible, but batteries do have the potential to create a fire” he said. “This site does not have a lot of fuel around it and not a lot of homes. We are involving the fire department early in the planning process. The batteries will be encased in a metal container that would contain a fire, which is a rare occurrence.”

The energy systems will each consist of 4.3 megawatts of solar photovoltaic generation capacity using FTC Voyager single-axis tracker racking and connected to a 3.4 megawatt / 13.7-megawatt-hour Tesla Megapack 2XL Lithium-Ion Battery Energy Storage System.

Nexamp will be eligible to receive a 30 percent tax credit for the project through the Inflation Reduction Act, which enables them to offer the program.

DHHL will receive $3 million from Nexamp over the 20 year lease of the land, with two, five-year extension options.

“I think Hawai‘i and DHHL have their heart in the right place,” he said.

Nexamp plans on holding more community meetings, possibly twice a year or more.

“As we get closer, we want to make sure everybody in this community is aware that they have priority and can sign up. We want community feedback now.”

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West Hawai‘i Today reporter Laura Ruminski can be reached at lruminski@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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