Solar Power Alliance: Renewable energy for Kaua‘i

While the country at large is finally awakening to the absolute necessity of developing alternative and renewable energy sources, Kaua‘i is in prime position to become a leader in making this technology a working reality for many of the island residents and businesses.

Solar, wind, wave, hydraulic and biofuels are a few of the stars in the international green-eco-business revolution. But it is up to the consumer to choose and demand these technologies for themselves and their communities.

Three Kaua‘i businesses are harnessing this power for use in island households and businesses from the North Shore to the Westside. From their perspective, it’s time we all jump on the renewable-band-wagon and make use of the sunshine Kaua‘i’s tropical paradise affords.

Thomas Bauguess’ T&J Enterprises presents renewable energy solutions to households interested in “getting the free power from the sun,” Bauguess said. Moving to Kaua‘i after Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992 to help with clean-up, Bauguess decided to stay and begin his own business in solar-powered water heaters.

Having seen the devastation a hurricane could create, Bauguess installs several types of solar power technologies that are completely storm and wind proof. Made from silicon rather than glass, these smart-tiles can be placed like shingles on the roof of a home and are more durable than many other solar-paneling options, he said.

“It just makes economic sense,” explained Baugess. “Yes there is an initial investment, but with state and federal credits decreasing the cost significantly and depending on the system, a home could have ‘free energy’ within three years after installation.” Solar technology used in everything from calculators to NASA’s space shuttles, transforms solar light into electricity — the technology has advanced and entire homes, full of electronics and appliances, can now be powered by the sun.

“We want to make solar power affordable for Kaua‘i,” said Bauguess. “We use 88,000 gallons of oil per day for power — will people wait until the last barrel is drawn before they realize this is not going to last?” It seems natural that an island in the Pacific should be using the sun’s rays to power at least portions of what we need everyday.

Water heaters are the most common installation Bauguess has completed since his business began in 1994. By 2004, he began selling full solar systems for electricity. “There should be solar villages, communities that install solar technology in a central locale and then draw upon it,” Bauguess said. “This isn’t something far out or science fiction, people don’t understand that solar power really works and it’s here, now.”

Bauguess is working with Peter Martin and Doug Phillips, two other solar power Kaua‘i installation businessmen, to organize a more accessible plan for Kaua‘i. They call themselves ‘The Solar Alliance’ and are dedicated to introducing Kaua‘i to the intelligence of this technology. Between the three of them, they work on all sides of the island, specializing in different types of properties and unique problems. They often team-up and work on a project together. “We are just really focused on presenting a unified image of solar power so that people know this is completely accessible,” said Peter Martin. Bauguess added, “we are interested in providing financing, lease or buy back programs to make this a reality here. Kaua‘i could be a leader in the renewable energy arena if we can become more long-term minded. I’m not brilliant, but it just seems logical,” he said.

Peter Martin, owner of Kaua‘i Solar Power Designs, has been in the business for eight years and was born and raised on Kaua‘i. Martin left for California and worked in the initial solar growth period through 2003. He was drawn back to Kaua‘i during the formation of Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative.

“At that time I knew I needed to get back here,” explained Martin, “when the company was appraised at far more than it sold for, and it was forced into the Citizen Town group, I contacted the council members and mayor, but no one listened.” It was Martin’s perspective that beginning a co-op would raise electric prices on the island, and he felt personally dedicated to providing an alternative.

“Small businesses on the island were really effected when KIUC took over — Kojima store’s electric bill went from $5,000 to $15,000, Otsuka’s went from $12,000 to $18,000. I had done commercial jobs in California that ranged from 30 kilowatt to 1/2 megawatt, eventually providing free energy to those companies — I knew there was an alternative,” said Martin.

Son of former Kapa‘a High School principal Ron Martin, Peter Martin says his company is “school minded.”

“With the summer off, the possibility to save in energy costs is huge,” said Martin, “But I haven’t gotten any school to commit. So I am focusing on commercial businesses to prove that this is completely viable.”

Soon Martin will be installing a complete system on Otsuka’s store in Kapa‘a that will be a 49 kilowatt system — the largest on Kaua‘i after King’s Auto, which has a 15-kilowatt system installed by Pro-Vision.

With cutting-edge monitoring, the amount of sun that falls in a specific spot throughout the day is calculated before outfitting a home or office. “Electricity on Kaua‘i is among the most expensive in the nation — with Chevron being the only oil we buy for power, and no regulation of energy adjustments done by the provider after the fact, it’s time to become energy independent,” explained Martin.

While every side of the island has a different amount of “solar consumption” the North Shore is especially in need of a ‘back-up battery system’ integrated within a solar grid. This system stores the power and is available when the sun hides behind rain for extensive periods. Doug Phillips of Solar Power Plus “is the go-to guy for these back-up concerns. I refer all my clients to him for those jobs,” another way the ‘alliance’ works together. Phillips specializes in high-end residential as well as back-up systems for Kaua‘i’s rainy days.

Often sharing labor and parts when needed, Bauguess, Martin and Phillips help each other out. “We want to promote the user-friendly and cost effectiveness of this technology. By keeping our prices at a certain price point and presenting the best of what the technology offers, we hope to get people here in a comfort zone that solar works and does pay back. I usually can convince a client just by showing them an electric bill before and after installation,” said Martin.

Bauguess hopes to ignite the community’s capacity for insisting on renewable energy sources, “‘Evolve, Involve, Resolve,’ is my motto.” With the State refund at $5,000 and federal up to $3,000, Bauguess said enough incentive is in place to make this a real possibility for Kaua‘i families. A finished household system for a four-bedroom nears $30,000, but components can be added over time and several loan companies provide financing. “Green mortgage is now available from mainstream firms like Fannie Mae,” Bauguess said.

The Solar Alliance hopes to create a bigger coalition of county council members and businesses that would unite on the issue, “I care about the planet and think about our future, “ he said. “The status quo just won’t be sustainable. I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way, especially on this island.”

The three are currently organizing a ‘‘Solar Home Tour’’ for interested potential buyers. “People may not know how it works,” he said. “It’s not like you have these huge things on top of your house.”

Bauguess explained there needs to be support from the community to begin. “Somehow, collectively, we need to share the land, grow our own food, and get smarter about energy.” Harnessing the sun’s rays on a sunshine-filled island seems much smarter than shipping oil from halfway around the world. And Bauguess, Martin and Phillips think it’s up to us.


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