Molokai’s Renewable Energy Future
The forecast for energy on Molokai is looking renewable, according to Maui Electric officials. Company officials talked story with residents last week in three sessions around the island about both the company’s and community’s visions for how Molokai can reach 100 percent renewable energy in the near future.
Molokai has a lot of planned and potential projects on the horizon. The 37-acre solar project with battery storage, recently approved to be operated by Molokai New Energy Partners (MNEP), will be located near the Pala’au Power Plant. Manager of Renewable Energy Projects Gregg Kresge said the permit process for the project is currently underway and MNEP — a branch of mainland-based renewable energy company Half Moon Ventures — will hold additional meetings with the community for updates on the project. Kresge said at last Monday’s Kaunakakai meeting that MNEP anticipates site work will begin this year, with the goal of being operational by the end of 2019. The project is anticipated to supply about 40 percent of the island’s energy needs, and Maui Electric will purchase the electricity from MNEP.
Kresge said a couple of technologies currently in operation at the power plant are designed to help Molokai’s grid stability and lessen outages. A battery backup, operating in cooperation with UH’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, is able to activate instantly if there’s a disturbance in electric frequency ad the generators aren’t able to respond in time.
Another device at the power plant, called a load bank, is able to absorb excess energy during the day when Molokai electric usage is typically low and there’s nowhere else for that energy to go. Kresge said this also works to improve grid function and stability.
Kresge shared some good news for electric vehicle (EV) owners on Molokai, of which he said there are 21 officially but likely more on island.
“We are going to be installing the very first fast charger for electric vehicles right here in Kaunakakai,” he said. “It will have the capability… to plug in pretty much any car on the market. This will take you from about a 20 percent battery to about an 85 percent battery in about 12 minutes, which is great.”
The charger will be installed by the end of this year, Kresge promised, and will be located in front of Kalele Bookstore on the main street. EV owners can pay for a charge with a credit card or via a payment app, and a typical charge for about 100 miles will cost about $5, he said.
Additionally, he said he is working with UH on a mechanic training program for EVs so residents can get basic services for the electric vehicles on Molokai without waiting for a specialized mechanic to make a visit.
For those wanting to install solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on their home roofs, Kresge said several programs are available that allow customers to do so. By installing a device called the ConnectDER on your meter, Maui Electric can control the flow of energy back into the grid from customer solar panels. Kresge said during periods of too much energy flow that would otherwise cause instabilities for the island’s power, the company can briefly interrupt the electricity being generated from rooftop solar. Another program currently in a pilot phase installs a battery connected to customers’ rooftop panels to help similarly stabilize the grid during periods of excess energy flow.
Another solar option that will be available for residents in the future is called Community Based Renewable Energy. According to Kresge, it will allow customers to buy shares in solar panels owned by a third-party company and get credits on your monthly bill as you would if the panels were on your roof. This could be a good option for renters or others who aren’t able to install rooftop solar to still benefit from a shared solar project, he said. He also noted that Maui Electric would not control the owner organization, and one such project is currently being reviewed for Molokai.
Maui Electric officials said the company will be accepting proposals for additional renewable energy projects through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process in the near future. Separate from that, community members or groups can propose community-based renewable energy projects that will not be reviewed competitively, and can be submitted at any time.
Maui Electric president Sharon Suzuki said the company will be returning to share more about the RFP process as well as educate residents on how the community can submit its own renewable energy proposals.
A new Stakeholder Council has been established to help guide the company with the input of a representative from each island, said Maui Electric’s Mahina Martin. For Molokai, the council representative is Barbara Haliniak, she said.
Maui Electric officials said they have also included Molokai youth in the discussions about the island’s energy future.
“We found it very enlightening and inspiring to reach out to the high school students, who are going to be the ones making decisions for us in the 2045 time-frame,” said Suzuki