‘Condo-style’ solar panel plan aims to open accessibility to sustainable energy

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 5:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new solar farm hopes to expand access to those who can’t participate now, like those who live in condos, apartments and townhomes.

Peter Savio, known best for his development and renovation projects, wants to install solar panels for sale to the public on 20-30 acres he owns in Waikele.

“People who rent, people who are on Section 8, people who live back in a valley and don’t get enough sun, would be able to buy a power unit that will generate enough electricity to pay their bill,” Savio said.

People who buy in would own the panels.

And the solar farm would be run like a condo, with the owners managing it with a board of directors. It’s a new concept for community solar that Savio hopes will attract buyers.

“We’re gonna try to simplify and standardize the process,” Savio said. “And our goal is so people Hawaii can be 100% off the grid.”

Because it doesn’t have official approval yet, Savio is asking potential buyers to fill out a non-binding form to gauge the interest. The form is on his new company’s website.

Henry Curtis is an environmental activist, energy expert, and executive director of Life of the Land, a nonprofit advocating for health environmental practices.

He likes that creative ideas like this one are popping up.

“Life of the Land is very supportive of a rapid increase in renewable energy, that is community conscious, that’s geographically dispersed, that respects the environment,” Curtis said.

But he is pretty sure it’s going to be difficult for this concept to come to fruition anytime soon because regulators haven’t dealt with condo-style ownership of solar farms before.

“So the process going before the Public Utilities Commission to approve this has the added complication of figuring out how renters are going to fall and deal with various tax laws,” Curtis said.

Ali Andrews, CEO of a community solar company called Shake Energy Collaborative, is helping Savio with community design facilitation work.

Andrews said she is also working on a similar style project in Molokai this is a co-op.

“There’s a significant chunk of our population that doesn’t have access to a rooftop solar,” Andrews said. “They don’t get the financial benefit or the sustainability benefits.”

Hoahu Energy Cooperative Molokai, a group of individuals trying to get more community-based energy to that community, said they’ll soon be submitting a proposal to the utility for approval. They hope that they will be able to produce locally owned, affordable renewable energy for everyone.

“The whole community-based renewable energy idea is advancing it the Public Utilities Commission, and we expect to see projects within that framework in the very near future, Curtis said.

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