Company breaks ground on largest solar project in state | News, Sports, Jobs

Dignitaries break ground for Kuihelani Solar, a 60 megawatt photovoltaic system with 240 megawatt hours of battery storage that will be Maui’s largest solar producer when completed. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Developers broke ground in Central Maui Friday for the largest planned solar project in the state, a 60 megawatt solar, 240 megawatt-hour battery storage system that will have the capacity to power 27,000 homes on Maui.

Kuihelani Solar will be built on 450 acres of old sugar cane land leased from Mahi Pono between the Kuihelani and Maui Veterans highways. It is expected to be online in October 2023.

“We’re just really excited. It has taken a tremendous amount of work with our partners, and our team has worked very hard to get all the approvals to get us where we are today.” Sandra Larsen, market leader in Hawaii for property developer AES, said ahead of the groundbreaking Friday.

Bernerd Da Santos, executive vice president and chief operating officer of AES Corporation, said that as Hawaii transitions to 100 percent renewable resources, it must maintain a reliable energy supply system.

“You achieve that by arranging projects in this way to determine the reliability via solar energy, plus in this case battery. Energy storage solutions that actually give you the opportunity to cover not only the daytime hours, when the sun is there, but also the shoulders.” Da Santos said, referring to the hours of sunrise and sunset when people are at home and demand is high.

Vene Chun hands AES Corporation’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Bernerd Da Santos an o’o digging stick to use for Friday afternoon’s groundbreaking for the Kuihelani solar project in Central Maui. The 60-megawatt solar, 240-megawatt-hour battery storage project is currently the largest planned in the state. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Kuihelani Solar was one of two Maui projects chosen after Hawaiian Electric Cos. submitted an application for proposals for renewable energy projects in 2018.

The State Public Utilities Commission approved Kuihelani Solar in 2019 and the Maui Planning Commission unanimously granted a special use permit for the project in November last year.

Earlier this year, however, Kuihelani Solar appeared to be at risk of missing its guaranteed commercial operation date of October 27, 2023, according to a project status report across the state provided to the Public Utilities Commission. AES said it was monitoring the supply chain impacts caused by the pandemic and was concerned about a US Customs and Border Protection order that could potentially affect the supply of solar panels.

However, Da Santos said the company was able to address supply issues by targeting equipment on projects that would come online in 2022 and 2023. It is also working to close the gap for projects that will be operational by 2024.

“We’ve noticed some delays, but the delays we’ve seen don’t make sense to change the strategy or disrupt the delivery of our project,” said Da Santos. “I’m talking all over the world, but more importantly here in Hawaii.”

He said the project has all the permits and approvals and that? “I see no reason not to fulfill that obligation” be operational by October 2023. From there, the project has a 25-year agreement to purchase power to feed into the Hawaiian electrical grid on Maui at a cost of 8 cents per kilowatt hour, one of the lowest renewable energy rates in the state. , according to project documents.

It will have the capacity to supply about 15 percent of the island’s energy needs. While early solar projects on Maui focused primarily on providing solar energy, more recent projects have also included battery storage as Hawaiian Electric and solar developers strive to make energy supplies more reliable when the sun isn’t shining.

“This project is meant to be shipped every day with or without distress”, said Da Santos. “It’s designed to have that resilience.”

The project also makes agricultural applications possible. Larsen said they are investigating whether they have flocks of sheep that can graze under the panels, as well as perhaps beekeeping activities.

As Maui sees more renewable energy developments and solar projects continue to expand, some residents have expressed concerns about their magnitude and impact on nearby communities. Kuihelani Solar has not encountered the same legal challenges as Paeahu Solar, a 15 megawatt solar, 60 megawatt hour battery storage project in South Maui that was chosen around the same time as Kuihelani and has received complaints from neighbors. However, Larsen said that after AES received community feedback raising concerns about Kuihelani Solar’s footprint, the developer redesigned the project to preserve energy capacity but reduce the amount of land by 35 percent.

For more information about the project, visit kuihelanisolar.com.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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