KIUC breaks ground on $40M solar project

LIHUE — The ground work on Kauai Island Utility Cooperative’s $40 million solar facility in Koloa has begun.

When completed in 2014, the 12-megawatt array will be the largest solar facility in the state, with 45,000 panels generating about 5 percent of Kauai’s electricity.

“By owning this project, the benefits of cheap, clean solar are shared by all of our customers, not just those who can afford to install their own PV systems,” said Allan A. Smith, chairman of the KIUC board of directors. “Using this system saves us from importing about 1.7 million gallons of oil annually.”

The solar photovoltaic project is being built on 67 acres of former sugar cane fields KIUC is leasing from Grove Farm Co.

The project will be the second large utility-scale solar facility to be built on Kauai. The first, owned by Alexander & Baldwin Co., Inc. at Port Allen, opened in 2012. Two smaller systems, a 1-megawatt array in Kapaa and a 300-kilowatt array in Omao, also provide power to the grid.

 The Koloa project will generate 19 megawatts during the day, enough power to meet nearly 30 percent of Kauai’s daytime electrical demand — or power 4,000 homes.

The project is being developed by a subsidiary of KIUC that will enable it to qualify for state and federal tax credits. Because it is a member-owned cooperative, not an investor-owned utility, KIUC can finance the project through the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., which is also a cooperative.

The net cost of electricity generated by the array will be between 10 cents and 13.5 cents a kilowatt hour, far below the present cost of oil, which is about 23 cents per kilowatt hour.

SolarCity, a national leader in clean energy services with local operations in Mililani, Oahu, is building the system. It is expected to create about 125 construction jobs.

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