$25M solar project planned for 2012

‘ELE‘ELE — Kaua‘i’s largest solar farm should be ready to harvest clean energy in 2012 if the county Planning Commission approves the Alexander & Baldwin project proposal as expected.

A&B’s estimated $25 million, 6-megawatt photovoltaic energy facility would be built on 20 acres of A&B-owned, industrial-zoned land adjacent to Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative’s Port Allen power plant and a wastewater treatment plant.

The land company anticipates two-thirds of the project’s costs will be reimbursed through state and federal subsidies, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which is set to expire at the end of next year.

The energy would be sold to KIUC for 20 cents per kilowatt hour, as outlined in A&B’s Power Purchase Agreement with the co-op.

A&B held a “town hall” meeting Wednesday at ‘Ele‘ele School to unveil its preliminary plan and gather community feedback. Aside from representatives from A&B and KIUC, attendance was low, despite free pizza.

Tom Shigemoto, vice president of A&B Properties, started the meeting by saying now is the time to express concerns, not the day of the Planning Commission review.

The small audience mostly posed basic queries and offered comments of support.

A&B provides Kaua‘i with 10 percent of its energy needs through its Kalaheo and Wainiha hydropower plants. It also owns two hydropower facilities on Maui. The land company is looking to expand its renewable energy portfolio and believes this solar concept is “absolutely perfect,” Shigemoto said.

The preliminary plans include 25,000 to 30,000 fixed-array panels mounted at an angle onto five- to six-foot posts driven directly into the ground. Coverage over the 20 acres will be approximately 80 percent.

In conjunction with the project, KIUC will install two industrial-scale battery stations capable of storing the solar energy for one hour, thereby evening out the energy supply to the grid during times of intermittent production due to periodic cloud cover. KIUC said it will spend $2.4 million for the system.

A&B anticipates the panels will last about 25 years, but the electrical components will have to be replaced more frequently.

Construction will require an estimated 60 employees; however, once constructed, only one employee will be needed to manage the facility.

Easements should not be affected, Shigemoto said, and public access should stay as-is.

A&B has yet to file for a Special Management Area permit for the site. Once filed, A&B will present its project to the county Planning Commission for approval.

First, it must select a contractor for engineering, procurement and construction estimated to cost between $20 million and $30 million, half of which goes toward materials.

“A lot of this is driven by tax credits and tax incentives,” said Christopher Benjamin, president of A&B Land Group, which is comprised of A&B Properties and A&B’s Agribusiness operations. It’s called Bonus Depreciation in which the taxpayer may write off accelerated depreciation in advance.

The Power Purchase Agreement with KIUC is before the Public Utility Commission for approval, a process that is expected to take three to six months. The PUC’s primary concern is the rate, according to A&B.

The 20-cent rate is similar to KIUC’s current cost of producing diesel-based energy, so the project will not lower ratepayers’ bills. But the rate is locked in for 20 years, so members will experience a monetary benefit if the cost of diesel climbs over the next two decades.

The project will also help KIUC meet state renewable-energy mandates and contribute to the island’s energy security.

Pending regulatory approvals, construction will begin later this year, last approximately 180 days and be completed before the end of 2012, A&B said.

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

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