Molokai’s First Community Solar Project Nears Completion
By Jack Kiyonaga, Reporter
An array of solar panels anchored into the stoney ground near Kawela Plantation represent Molokai’s first completed community solar project. While not online yet, Molokai residents can now sign up for community solar.
Community based renewable energy (CBRE) is a program through Hawaiian Electric that allows residents the benefits of solar power without having to own solar panels, which is especially beneficial for renters or those who can’t install their own rooftop system. The 250 kilowatt (kW) Kawela CBRE was built and designed by Neighborhood Power, which has leased land from the Kawela Plantation for the solar field. The Kawela Plantation will receive energy credits and or cash in exchange for the land, according to Maureen Whittemore, general manager of the Kawela Plantation Homeowners Association
“Molokai’s community solar project not only brings financial benefits but also supports environmental conservation efforts,” states a Neighborhood Power press release. “By reducing reliance on fossil fuels, participants actively contribute to the island’s efforts to mitigate climate change and protect its unique natural beauty. The project aligns with Molokai’s broader sustainability goals and demonstrates the island’s dedication to promoting renewable energy adoption.”
The Kawela CBRE is open to current Hawaiian Electric customers with a utility bill for a meter on Molokai, or any person who owns, rents or leases an apartment, business or home on Molokai. Signing up for the project is free and residents can cancel their subscription at any time. Neighborhood Power explained that subscribers to the Kawela CBRE will receive up to a five percent discount on their current Hawaiian Electric bills.
Subscribers will receive 22.5 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) credit on their bill, and the subscription fee is 20 cents per kWh. As a residential example, if your portion of the solar farm is 4 kW and the solar energy allocated to you is 10,000 kWh, you could receive $2,250 annually in bill credits, pay $2,000 in solar fees and five percent savings would total $250 per year. Over the 20-year life of the project, this would total $5,000 cumulative savings, according to Neighborhood Power. For those considering the installation of solar panels on their own property, you can learn more about Solar Peak and explore the possibilities of integrating solar energy into your home.
Along with providing cost savings for subscribers, the project will help Molokai reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuel used to generate electricity.
“We believe in the power of renewable energy and its potential to create a sustainable future,” said Stephen Gates, president of Neighborhood Power. “This project is a testament to our commitment to the Molokai community and its transition towards cleaner and more affordable energy solutions. I would like to extend our warmest mahalo to the Kawela Plantation for leasing land to us and for helping us make this project happen.”
While the project is open to all Molokai residents now, Kawela homes were given the first opportunity to sign up, according to Whittemore.
“Comparatively speaking for what they typically do, this is a small, small solar field. It’s not a huge project,” said Whittemore.
While the solar field may be relatively minor in scale, Whittemore explained that the project should provide tangible assistance for Molokai residents.
“We were happy to do it knowing we could help the community. Every little bit helps…because our electric is so expensive,” said Whittemore. “[The board of Kawela Plantation Homeowners Association] wanted to make sure that the community was going to be involved and able to participate in the discounts.”
The project is just one of several CBRE projects currently being planned for Molokai. Two more are in process, developed by Molokai initiative Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative.
Molokai residents can sign up for the Kawela CBRE by sending a copy of their Hawaiian Electric utility bill to Communitysolar@neighborhoodpower.com.