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Shared Solar Projects Moving Forward

By Catherine Cluett Pactol | Editor

Two renewable energy projects on Molokai are set to move forward in what represents the state’s first community-owned and -designed solar plus battery projects. In a partnership between Ho’ahu Energy Cooperative Molokai and Hawaiian Electric, the projects are anticipated to meet more than 20 percent of the island’s energy usage and serve about 1500 Molokai households. Both are expected to be operational in mid-2025. 

Pala’au Solar and Kualapu’u Solar projects will be the first on the island in a shared renewable energy program under Hawaiian Electric known as community-based renewable energy (CBRE). Molokai subscribers to the program, particularly renters who cannot install their own rooftop solar panels, will benefit from lowered electric bills, according to Ho’ahu. 

After the completion of a competitive bidding evaluation process, which accounted for the cost of the projects as well as non-price factors including community outreach, Ho‘ahu and Hawaiian Electric entered into negotiations. The two projects will be under 20-year contracts, which, once finalized, will be up for approval by the state Public Utilities Commission, according to a joint press release last week. 

“For too long, energy for us on this island has been a burden at best, but mostly a form of constant oppression,” said Ho’ahu President Todd Yamashita. “It doesn’t surprise me that this project is continuing forward. Our people know a thing or two about supporting each other, this island, and the culture that holds us all together and our work in community solar is a direct reflection of those values. I think everyone here believes renewable energy should be about equity and not another way to profit on the backs of our people. I’m grateful for my community, the co-op’s supporters and board members who have spent countless hours volunteering, who’ve lost sleep and family time. I’m grateful because the hard work is a solid step toward a better life for our people now, and for generations to come.”

Pala‘au Solar would provide up to 2.2 megawatts (MW) of solar energy paired with a 10.1 megawatt-hour battery energy storage system, to be located on industrial property owned by Hawaiian Electric near the company’s power plant. 

Kualapu‘u Solar could provide up to 0.250 MW paired with a 1 MWh battery. The project will be located at the Kualapu‘u Park and Community Center, and the project’s solar panels would be mounted on carport structures over the existing parking lot. The proposed layout would construct four solar carports over the parking lot, along with a battery energy storage system in a single shipping container next to the parking lot. 

Hoʻahu is a volunteer, grassroots nonprofit organization formed in 2020 by Molokai community advocates to enable island residents to design and own renewable energy projects built on Molokai. The group spent three years hosting more than 40 public workshops for residents to help design the community solar projects, according to the organization. They made decisions like the sites, subscriber benefits, contractor interviews and analyzation of battery storage systems. 

Once the Ho‘ahu projects are approved by the PUC, Molokai customers may become “subscribers” to one of the facilities through Hawaiian Electric’s CBRE portal. After the projects are built and online, the subscribers will receive credits on their monthly electricity bill based on their level of participation. 

“We are looking forward to working more with Ho‘ahu Energy Cooperative Molokai and their partners to bring these community-based shared solar projects online,” said Rebecca Dayhuff Matsushima, vice president of resource procurement for Hawaiian Electric, in the press release. “The two projects can help our Molokai customers bring down their energy bills and further reduces our carbon footprint in generating power to meet the energy needs of the island.”

Ho’ahu co-development partners are Shake Energy Collaborative, a Honolulu-based, women-owned public benefit corporation that is facilitating the community-led design and development, along with Maui-based benefit corporation Mana Pacific to support the projects’ technical development.

“When Act 100 [establishment of CBRE] was passed in 2015 the intent was to ensure that the benefits of renewable energy generation were made more accessible to a greater number of residents who would otherwise be unable to directly participate in renewable energy production,” said Sen. Lynn DeCoite. “The CBRE program does just that and I am proud my home community of Molokai has the opportunity to participate through the Hoʻahu Energy Cooperative. These projects are promising steps towards our renewable energy future on the Friendly Isle.” 

For more information about the Ho‘ahu projects, visit hoahuenergy.coop/cbre, or for more on Hawaiian Electric’s shared solar program, go to hawaiianelectric.com/sharedsolar and communityenergyhawaii.com.

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