Hawaiian Electric Co. wants to build and operate a 15-megawatt photovoltaic system on land it owns adjacent to the Kahe Power Plant. The setup would be an array of 50,000 solar panels spread across 50 acres. It's the company's first venture into building and operating a PV utility scale system on Oahu
"We see this as an opportunity to really increase our use of low cost renewable energy, and use less oil to generate electricity," HECO spokesman Darren Pai said.
The company said the system will eliminate the need for 1.8 million gallons of oil a year, and slash the cost of generating electricity on Oahu by $64 million.
But some concerned residents on the Leeward coast don't believe the tradeoff is worth it.
"They're using our space, our coastline to bring more industry here. That's an environmental injustice issue," said Makaha resident and community watchdog Chaunell "Pake" Salmon.
HECO has begun landscaping the property to create a buffer between the project and passersby.
"It's really going to make that section of the Waianae coast much more inviting," Pai said.
Nanakuli-Maili neighborhood board chair Cynthia Rezentes said more information is needed from HECO before she can say there's a community consensus about the PV proposal.
"There's nothing that guarantees that the community is going to embrace this, and there's nothing that guarantees that the community is going to throw them out," she said.
Some believe it's unfair HECO can fast track its own project while they wait for approval of residential PV systems.
"We need to maka'ala and wake up and see the development that's coming over here and be stake holders at the table with industry that wants to come in here, so there's a compromise," Salmon said.
The HECO project will connect directly to the grid. Pai said it should not impact residential and commercial customers who want to install PV.
"There's an opportunity to bring this system on line very quickly to take advantage of the federal tax credits that are going to be available, and put it into service to very quickly benefit our customers." he said.
HECO expects its Kahe photovoltaic system to be operational by the end if 2015.