Solar farms are propelling Hawaii to reach its clean energy goals (for now)

Experts: Hawaii's industrial-scale solar farms producing less expensive power than fossil fuels.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s effort to become energy independent is nearing an important threshold as utility-scale solar farms are promising to produce electricity cheaper than fossil fuel plants, clean energy advocates say.

Electricity from newly approved solar farms that sell power to Hawaiian Electric Co. are now coming in at nearly half the price of traditional power plants.

“That’s dramatically cheaper than fossil energy today. So what we’re learning is we can reach our 100 percent renewable energy goals faster and at lower cost than we expected to before," said Jeff Mikulina, executive director of the Blue Planet Foundation.

The new solar farms also include battery storage technology that can provide green energy during peak demand periods in the evenings.

Mikulina said the lower costs will likely translate into lower monthly bills for HECO’s 300,000 customers.

“This is something that’s going to be directly passed on to consumers," he said.

Right now, HECO gets about 26 percent of electricity from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. But the company has to be fully independent of fossil fuels by 2045.

Some think Hawaiian Electric isn’t moving fast enough.

“We should be very aggressively looking at alternatives. We should be figuring out how to eliminate greenhouse gases in all utility operations in the next 10 years," said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land.

But the company says it still needs fossil fuel plants for now.

“We still need to keep the lights on. We still need firm generation. We need to be able to have lights on even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing," said HECO spokeswoman Shannon Tangonan.

One of the remaining barriers to bringing on more renewables is that large solar and wind farms required a lot of land. HECO also needs the revenue from the power plants to pay off what it cost to build them.

The contracts for the new solar plants are being reviewed by regulators.

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