Large-Scale Renewable Energy Bids Opening Soon
By Catherine Cluett Pactol
In a couple months, a bidding process will open for renewable energy projects on Molokai that will hugely impact the way the island gets power. Featuring larger-scale solar installations and battery storage, one project will garner renewable energy straight into the grid, while another will be available to community members through a subscription program at a discounted price for electricity.
Last week, two sets of documents were filed by Hawaiian Electric (HE) with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) — one for a general Request for Proposals (RFP) for Molokai and an revised draft RFP for Molokai Community Based Renewable Energy (CBRE) proposals.
The CBRE draft RFP document, filed on March 30, calls for 2.75 MW of photovoltaic energy combined with battery storage. The CBRE model involves a “community solar” installation that allows customers who cannot put solar panels on their roof to still reap the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy through a subscription.
The general RFP, for a 4.4 megawatt (MW) project to be located at Pala’au near the power plant, is intended to be an accelerated process, following a failed RFP process in 2019 in which the awarded project withdrew before negotiations began. Because a lot of site work was already completed in 2019, HE states the accelerated timeline is viable: an RFP is anticipated to be released this June, which selection of an awardee by the end of the year. The project is expected to be operational in 2026.
In a second phase of the general RFP, HE is also planning a larger scale Molokai project that will incorporate community feedback and collaboration to seek the remaining renewable energy needed to reach the state’s goals of clean energy for Molokai.
“For a community that is historically resistant to large scale, out of state or international developers and one that holds a compelling desire to be part of determining outcomes, allowing for community input provides a clearer path to success,” stated HE in a March 29 document to the PUC.
HE continued about the collaborative effort: “The clean energy transition for Molokai requires a combination of utility, community and customer solutions to advance renewable energy adoption and integration. Because of the unique circumstances of the small island system, the Molokai Plan [proposed by HE] in the broadest sense includes a number of initiatives and investments needed to modernize the Molokai grid and improve reliability at the lowest reasonable cost.”
Separately from the general RFP, a revised draft CBRE RFP was filed with the PUC last week. The CBRE project currently has two known entities planning to bid: Hoʻahu Energy Cooperative Molokai, a new, local entity formed to support community-owned energy projects; and HE, which announced last year it plans to enter the bidding process with a “self-build” project.
Ho’ahu, a grassroots Molokai volunteer group of residents committed to finding renewable energy solutions that benefit the community, is proposing a community-owned solar and battery storage project for the RFP’s full 2.75 MW allotment.
“Our Hoʻahu team is really excited about these energy projects and what they could mean for our people here on Molokai,” said Todd Yamashita, speaking as board president of the Coop. “Together, these projects roughly account for 50 percent of the island’s energy needs which is massive. I believe that community based cooperatives and projects like these, are the ingredients that we need to improve energy access, resiliency, and affordability for our people.”
CBRE projects are intended to benefit ratepayers finically by crediting a portion of the project’s proceeds back to ratepayers, likely through on-bill credits, said Yamashita. Both the Ho’ahu project and HE’s self-build proposal would follow those guidelines set out in the RFP.
Hoʻahu Energy has partnered with two energy developers, Shake Energy Collaborative and Mana Pacific, to bid for and install the solar project with the help and input of the Molokai community, according to the group.
“Hoʻahu Energy is a cooperative that intends to include all ratepayers who do not or cannot take advantage of rooftop solar,” representatives said in a statement. “We intend to focus on renters, homesteaders, small businesses and hope to benefit a majority of the island’s rate payers.”
The final CBRE RFP is anticipated to be filed on June 14 and bids are due by August 17. HE will announce the selected bid in February, 2022 and negotiations for a contract will begin, with the CBRE project operational by 2026.