KIUC opposes solar restrictions on prime ag lands

LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council’s Planning Committee, in an effort to preserve prime agricultural lands for farming, recommended passage of a bill that would put restrictions on solar photovoltaic projects on prime agricultural lands.

Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative officials said the bill might add a burden on solar PV energy development and is redundant.

“KIUC believes the amount of land required for additional solar PV projects is quite small in comparison to the amount of prime agricultural land available for farming and so believes the additional step that this bill, as written, will impose is unnecessary,” KIUC power supply manager Brad Rockwell said at a County Council meeting Wednesday.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie last year signed Act 217, allowing solar PV energy projects as one of the generally permitted uses in agricultural districts.

 The act grants automatic approval of solar projects on agricultural lands rated B, C, D and E.

For projects on lands rated B and C, however, a solar farm can only occupy 20 acres or 10 percent of the land, whichever is less.

The act also allows counties to impose certain restrictions — and that’s exactly what the council’s Planning Committee did March 7, when it amended Bill 2424 to add a layer of protection on ag lands rated B.

The amendment does not prohibit solar energy projects on B lands, but it ensures that developers seek additional permits with the county through a process that includes public hearings.

On Wednesday, Bill 2424 was up for discussion and action at a second reading by the full council, the last step before sending it to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. to sign.

“This bill adds an extra county approval process, with public hearing and use permit steps, for solar projects looking to be built on B-rated lands,” Rockwell said.

Rockwell said the co-op understands the desire to preserve Kaua‘i’s best agricultural lands for farming.

“It is our understanding that there are currently tens of thousands of acres of such lands that are not in farming today,” he said.

He said KIUC’s Strategic Plan calls for a transition to 50 percent renewable energy by 2023, and that limit was established because there is a limit to how much solar energy the co-op’s grid can take.

“We currently believe the limit on large utility scale solar PV projects is 50 percent of the daytime load, due to the need to be able to cover the intermittent nature of solar PV with batteries and conventional spinning reserve,” Rockwell said.

Kaua‘i’s current load is about 50 to 60 megawatts during the day, limiting large PV projects to providing 25 to 30 megawatts for daytime consumption, according to Rockwell.

“In other words, when the clouds come, the batteries are needed to make up for the loss of solar generation,” he said.

“But the batteries do not last long — minutes — and so if the clouds remain, our conventional generators will need to cover the loss of solar generation for the longer periods.”

It takes about four acres to produce roughly one megawatt, so after doing the math, for the “foreseeable future,” KIUC projects photovoltaic development should be limited to 100 to 120 acres for grid-stability reasons, according to Rockwell.

KIUC currently anticipates it will soon have 21 megawatts of solar PV to draw upon: three megawatts in Koloa by AES Solar, six in ‘Ele‘ele by Alexander & Baldwin and 12 megawatts in Anahola by KIUC.

The bill was deferred until March 28 to allow further discussion on ag lands rated B.

Visit www.kauai.gov for more information.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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