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Seeking Renewable Energy Partners

By Audrey Newman, Community Reporter

Maui Electric is opening up the island’s energy grid to solar and small wind projects in a competitive bid process that will be available to independent power producers as well as community groups.

“This is the next step in bringing more renewable energy to Molokai,” said Mahina Martin, government and community relations manager at Maui Electric (MECO), as she welcomed about 30 residents to a community meeting on Molokai 100 Percent Renewable Energy last Thursday evening at the Mitchell Pauole Center.

In MECO’s competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process, one or two projects will be selected. The RFP is based on Molokai community input at previous meetings including requirements for community engagement, no energy export, sea level rise and other concerns, according to MECO officials.

“Molokai will reach 90 percent renewable electricity with this RFP and will reach 100 percent on some days,” explained Ellen Nashiwa, MECO director of customer solutions and planning division. “We will still have room for more roof-top solar and other community projects.”

All projects must include at least four hours of battery to “time-shift” energy to peak evening hours, when it is most needed. MECO’s Pala’au diesel generators will still be on-line as back-up and for cloudy days.

Community members provided input on potential sites using a map of high photovoltaic (PV) and high wind resources, and asked questions about the definition of small wind and other factors that will be addressed in the final RFP. Comments included the need to avoid sensitive lands and potential impact on the ʻopeʻapeʻa or Hawaiian hoary bats. The project will cover roughly 15 to 20 acres, smaller than the Molokai High and Middle School campus. MECO is offering a no-cost site adjacent to the existing Palaʻau generation plant, which can potentially lower cost and facilitate transmission to the grid.

Rebecca Dayhuff Matsushima, director of renewable acquisition at Hawaiian Electric Company explained the complex RFP process. It is open to any group that can meet the utility’s strict requirements, which include “non-price criteria” such as a community plan, compliance with all laws and permits, experience and financial strength. A community group could partner with an experienced energy project developer and submit an RFP. The chosen developer will construct, own and operate the facility under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with MECO for 20 to 25 years and is responsible for removing all equipment at the end of the contract.

Greg Kresge, MECO manager of renewable energy projects, also updated attendees on other renewable energy progress, including seven Molokai mechanics attending the first class on basic electric vehicle maintenance, which started on July 1 at Maui Community College. The Half Moon Venture solar project, which involves 37 acres of solar panels that would supply about 40 percent of the island’s electricity, is proceeding despite some hiccups and expected to be online in 2020.

Before opening up the RFP process, Maui Electric will submit their draft RFP to the Public Utilities Commission for approval in August, the final RFP will go to the public for bids in November. Proposals will be ranked by technologies on both price and non-price criteria, and the best projects will advance to more detailed evaluation on the total costs and benefits, according to Maui Electric officials. The developer(s) will be selected in 2020, and the new renewable power source could be in service as early 2023. Additional community input is welcome now and throughout the process. For more information, go to mauielectric.com/molokaicompetitivebidding.

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