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Water Board frustrated by slow PVC project: Solar plans stuck in building permit backlog

First the pandemic lockdown orders and then delays getting permits from a backlogged Department of Public Works have led to a 382-day delay in the county Department of Water Supply being able to transition some of its electrical use to solar power.

The department inked a contract with EnRG Hawaii Solutions LLC in 2018, for a power purchase agreement to install photovoltaic panels at five DWS locations. The project has been a struggle ever since.

First, the “stay at home” orders implemented by the state at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 led to 83 days lost. Then, when work commenced again, permit delays led to first a 114-day delay and then an additional 185-day delay.

The project, originally slated to be completed July 2, 2021, is now estimated for a July 19, 2022, completion date.

“This is the best guess estimate at this point,” Manager-Chief Engineer Keith Okamoto told the county Water Board on Tuesday.

Permits have been secured from the Building Division for the Kona, Waimea and main office sites, Okamoto said. Still pending are permits for the Hilo site and water quality building, he said.

Several board members were frustrated by the delays, which although not adding to the price of the contract, were costing the department lost power savings for every month the system isn’t operational.

“I’m really hoping the county can work this out,” said board member Benjamin Ney, who suggested perhaps the county should get an efficiency consultant to work out the snarls.

“We need some resolution,” Ney said. “This is totally unacceptable.”

Okamoto said the administration isn’t happy about it either.

“We know it is a high priority at cabinet meetings with the mayor,” Okamoto said. “And believe me, the contractors don’t want to drag it out any longer than they have to.”

Okamoto said he’d follow up with Public Works to find out what the water department could do.

A new $2.5 million software dubbed “EPIC,” short for Electronic Processing and Information Center, was five years in the making. The county took it live in July. As of November, the department had a backlog of 1,500 building permit applications.

A Public Works spokesman, in a statement in response to a reporter’s questions, said the department is doing what it can to address its backlog, which it attributed to a backlog of paper permits being entered into the new computer system and staff shortages.

“The delay in permitting has affected everyone and not just the private sector. The solar contractors used by the Department of Water Supply have experienced delays because no one vendor is provided special treatment,” the statement said. “Instead, all permits are treated equally and processed with the same scrutiny. We understand that there is serious frustration surrounding the backlog, and that is why we are committed to moving forward in a way that is fair and equitable for all.”
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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