Thursday, May 19, 2022 |
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Last site visit for county approval scheduled today
by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
WAILUA — Seven months after setting out on what seemed a stroll in the park, Wailua resident Rob Abrew found himself yesterday a step from the summit of a bureaucratic mountain.
The property owner hangs poised to run the island’s first Skystream 3.7 residential windmill, which he and other community members say they want in order to cut their electric bills and “go green” at home.
Kaua‘i Electric Vice President Chris Jensen said his company installed Abrew’s 1.8-megawatt renewable-energy system Monday at the Wailua Homesteads agricultural subdivision, but the county electrical inspector still needs to sign off on it.
Abrew first submitted his permit package to the county Planning Department on Sept. 5. After three months of department-hopping for approvals, the county granted his request to install the windmill.
The building inspection was conducted Wednesday and approval was granted, according to Mary Daubert, county spokesperson.
“The rough-in electrical work was approved for the windmill on Monday,” she said in an e-mail. “A final inspection of the project is scheduled for (today). If everything is installed according to the National Electrical Code (NEC 2005), final approval will be given.”
Until Abrew receives this final OK, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative says it cannot schedule a site visit and process the paperwork necessary to install a net metering system — a process that generally takes one to two weeks, KIUC staff engineer Steve Rimshaw said.
The net metering system that Abrew first submitted paperwork for on July 12 allows residents using solar, wind or hydropower to plug into the local grid and literally spin their electric meters backward.
It measures imported and exported power. For a wind turbine, the local electric utility would supply power when the wind fails to blow and let residents sell excess energy back when conditions are ripe.
Without the net metering system, it costs Abrew whenever he decides to run his windmill, which he has briefly done the past couple days for data-gathering purposes.
He has estimated that just 72 hours of 12 mph wind would produce 100 kilowatts and save him roughly $40 per month. But it takes about a year of data to make reliable predictions, he said.
An unclear county process has snared residents such as Abrew, who wants his wind turbine for crop irrigation, and Bill Cowern, who hopes to operate a saw mill with a 125-kilowatt hydro system that would capture energy from water running through Koloa Ditch.
While acknowledging the county’s learning curve in permitting new wind energy systems, Jensen said, the reported delays have held potential buyers at bay. Kaua‘i Electric has a warehouse in Kapa‘a that houses the state’s largest inventory of Skystream systems.
These boxes, containing units worth thousands of dollars, collect dust as the county tries to pave a path through this uncharted territory, he said.
“Hopefully, we’re all learning and we’ll be able to install more systems in the future,” Rimshaw said. “It’s a cost-effective way to self-generate.”
Jensen, the only general contractor who has installed a Skystream system on Kaua‘i, said he receives three or four calls a day from residents interested in having the sleek and quiet windmills.
But ultimately, he said, no one will budge until the county sets a better course.
The contractors and residents say they have endured mounting frustration along the way.
“It’s blowing my mind,” Jensen said.
Jensen said Kaua‘i Electric poured a 6-by-6 foot concrete foundation 50 feet from the property line that holds a 41-foot pole for the windmill.
Abrew said he painted the pole green “to be conscious of neighbors and make sure it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.”
A county planner went to the site to ensure it was constructed legally, Abrew said.
“It’s four wires and a breaker,” Abrew said. “The electrical inspector couldn’t tell us what we needed to do or what we don’t need to do. I understand it’s his first time … but to me, as a taxpaying person, that’s (his) job.”
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