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Soaking Up the Sun

Molokai General Hospital installs island’s largest photovoltaic system.

Molokai General Hospital (MGH) has recently completed installation of the largest solar electricity generation system on the island. The 105 kilowatt-sized system will provide about a quarter of the hospital’s electricity consumption, or 500-600 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day. That’s approximately 30 times the electricity used to power the average home.

The photovoltaic system was installed without costing the hospital a dime, according to MGH Vice President Randy Lite, though a Power Purchase Agreement. The agreement is between Solar Power Partners, a California company that owns the panels and paid for their installation; Hilo-based ProVision Solar, which designed and installed the system; and MGH.

The Power Purchase Agreement allows MGH to pay a pre-determined rate for the electricity generated over the course of the agreement contract, rather than paying a Maui Electric (MECO) rate that is variable based on gas prices. The hospital will pay Solar Power Partners directly for the electricity generated from the panels, according to Marco Mangelsdorf, president of ProVision Solar. 

Lite said MGH has been considering solar since the 1990s, when several companies contacted them about installing a system. As a nonprofit organization, the hospital could not take advantage of state and federal tax breaks for solar installations, and it was not financially feasible to install panels.

He explained that the Power Purchase Agreement made the solar system possible by reducing both their electric bills and their carbon footprint without having to pay for the system out of pocket. Mangelsdorf said investors look for places in the U.S. with high electric rates and good commercial locations for long-term investments in solar energy.

The 20-year agreement offers the option to buy the equipment at the end of that period.

Going Green, Saving Green
MGH consumes about 2500 kWh of energy per day, with electric bills to MECO as high as $38,000 per month. The photovoltaic system installed on the hospital roof will take a big chunk out of that cost.

In addition, MGH will pay Solar Power Partners lower rates that MECO charges for the energy generated. While Lite could not disclose exactly what those rates are, he said they are approximately the same as what MECO was charging for its electricity back in 2005.

The MGH system is the island’s largest photovoltaic system, second to that of Friendly Market Center at 81 kW. Lite said the hospital will not realize as much savings as FMC, which is a for-profit organization and reaping tax credits for their installation. But he said the deal still allows the hospital to go green.

The system is estimated to generate 170,000 kWh of clean energy in the first year of operation. That’s the same as removing the annual emissions from almost 14,000 gallons of gasoline, according to a Solar Power Partners press release.

The photovoltaic installation on MGH, part of Queen’s Health Systems, is in keeping with the Queen’s corporate goal of supporting renewable energy, according to Lite. However, Facilities Engineer for Queen’s, Micheal Kimseu, said MGH is one of only two Queen’s facilities equipped with photovoltaic that he knows of. The other is a small system installed this year on a laboratory associated with Queen’s on Oahu. Kamsue called Queen’s “behind the times in renewable energy” because its nonprofit status makes installations financially difficult.

Mangelsdorf said the MGH system consists of five “arrays” or groupings, of solar panels. The arrays cover about a tenth of the total roof space. The panels must be cleaned four times per year to maintain maximum output production. Mangelsdorf said dirt that accumulates on the panels degrades their energy output over time.

In addition to the photovoltaic panels, Mangelsdorf installed a remote monitoring system that can be accessed via the internet. While the monitoring system is not open to the public, Mangelsdorf said it can provide valuable information for people to learn more about solar energy or install their own photovoltaic system. He added in the future, the data from the monitoring system may be available to Molokai schools as a learning tool.

This is the last photovoltaic grid-attached system for the Kaunakakai circuit, based on current limits set by the Public Utilities Commission. Residents and businesses still have the option of building off-grid systems, or paying for a MECO feasibility study for grid-connected systems.

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