Subscribers will help finance this West Oahu solar farm. They’ll also reap the rewards

The project is being called a milestone.
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 5:43 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2023 at 6:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A solar farm with a big difference is being built on a Makakilo hillside.

It will provide the first chance for people who can’t install their own solar to reduce their bills by buying into a solar project.

On a south-facing slope just above the freeway, Tridium3 Renewable Solutions is installing about 12,000 solar panels capable of producing 5 megawatts of electricity.

When Palailai Community Solar goes live this summer. It will be the first community solar project in the state financed in part through individual subscribers.

Lani Shinsato, director of Customer Energy Resources Programs at Hawaiian Electric Co. said the project is a milestone.

And there’s more to come.

“It’s getting to a place where this is actually going to like, launch and take root and we’ll see customer more and more customers enrolled in the program,” Shinsato said.

Community solar, also called “shared solar,” is for companies and individuals who can’t put panels on their own property, especially renters, condo owners and low income homeowners.

Because that’s a fairly large market, there is potential for many other projects to follow.

“That is the full objectives of the program,” Shinsato said.

“It’s to get more and more customers to participate in renewable energy.”

The arrays in Makakilo do press up fairly close to homes, but community leaders say the low-lying panels are preferable to more houses and the company promised its neighbors will get subscription preference.

Kapolei state Sen. Mike Gabbard rents nearby.

“I’m gonna look into it actually and see what it would it would cost,” he said.

Gabbard sponsored the legislation to encourage shared solar in 2015, so he agrees this was slow in coming.

“Yeah, frustrating, obviously,” Gabbard said.

“But again, sometimes it takes years for things to get rolling and so I’m just happy that it’s finally happening.”

Altus Power America, based in Greenwich, Connecticut, bought the project In 2021.

It isn’t ready to lay out prices and subscription packages yet.

The farm will send electricity into the HECO grid, from which subscribers will get their power, and HECO will send subscribers the discounted bill. That enables another advantage over rooftop panels ― the community solar subscription follows the customer.

“You can sell what you bought in the program back to the subscriber organization, or you can transfer it,” Shinsato said.

“If you move, you can take that with you. So it’s very flexible. That’s a big advantage of the program.”

There are more community solar projects in the pipeline, which means potential customers should be able to shop for their best shared solar deal. Once more projects are ready, HECO will establish a web-based portal for customers to compare savings.