Groundbreaking on Kauai for massive solar facility

LIHUE, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A blessing and groundbreaking were held Wednesday for a $40 million solar facility on Kauai.

When completed in 2014, the 12-megawatt array will generate about 5 percent of Kauai's electricity and will be the largest solar facility in Hawaii. The facility is owned by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC).

Kauai Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. and other local officials, including representatives of Gov. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, joined members of the KIUC board of directors and staff in the groundbreaking ceremony.

The solar photovoltaic project is being built on 67 acres of former sugar cane fields KIUC is leasing from Lihue-based Grove Farm Co., Inc. near Koloa.

SolarCity, a national leader in clean energy services with local operations in Mililani, Oahu, is building the system, which will consist of 45,000 panels.

The project will be the second large utility-scale solar facility to be built on Kauai. The first, owned by Alexander & Baldwin Co., Inc. at Port Allen, opened in 2012. Two smaller systems, a 1-megawatt array in Kapaa and a 300 kilowatt array in Omao, also provide power to the grid.

When the Koloa project is completed, these solar arrays will generate 19 megawatts during the day, enough power to meet nearly 30 percent of Kauai's daytime electrical demand. The Koloa array alone will generate enough electricity to power 4,000 homes.

The project is being developed by a subsidiary of KIUC that will enable it to qualify for state and federal tax credits. Because it is a member-owned cooperative, not an investor-owned utility, KIUC can finance the project through the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., which is also a cooperative.

The net cost of electricity generated by the array will be between 10 cents and 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour, far below the present cost of oil, which is about 23 cents per kilowatt hour.

"By owning this project, the benefits of cheap, clean solar are shared by all of our customers, not just those who can afford to install their own PV systems," said Allan A. Smith, chairman of the board of directors of KIUC. "Using this system saves us from importing about 1.7 million gallons of oil annually."

The project is expected to create about 125 construction jobs.

A 1.5-megawatt battery storage system is already in use at KIUC's nearby Koloa substation and a 2-megawatt battery storage unit will be added.

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