ANAHOLA — A new solar project in Anahola will not only create jobs, reduce oil consumption and provide 5 percent of Kauai’s annual energy needs. It will also benefit Native Hawaiian beneficiaries for decades to come.
“Every year for the next 20 years, this project will create opportunities for funds to support youth sports, cultural activities, high school class lectures, anti-drug campaigns and, of course, employment and internship opportunities,” said KipuKai Kualii of the Anahola Homestead Solar Advisory Committee.
The facility, slated to be the second largest in the state, will consist of more than 57,000 ground-mounted solar panels on 60 acres of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands land along Kuhio Highway.
Like many mornings in Anahola, Thursday started with clouds and scattered rain showers. But by the time KIUC and REC Solar broke ground on project, the sun was shining bright. Starting in early 2015, when the 12-megawatt solar array is slated to be complete, that same sunshine — which now beams into a vast open field — will be harvested to power about 4,000 Kauai homes.
“This is a project that will benefit the entire island, and for many years to come,” KIUC Board Chair Allan Smith said. “We hope it’s a project that when our grandchildren look back to all of us standing here today, that we have done it right.”
Thursday’s invitation-only gathering in Anahola brought out about 100 people, including KIUC representatives, state and local leaders, and Hawaiian beneficiaries. A traditional Hawaiian blessing was led by Rev. Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira.
In a short address to the crowd, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui said he has been amazed by the collaborative community effort leading up to Thursday’s groundbreaking.
“I think it’s an example of a project that can be hopefully replicated in other parts of our state,” he said. “I think the future generations will definitely look back on this day and realize how important this was; that we continue to move forward toward energy sufficiency here in the state of Hawaii.”
The array will enable Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to reduce its use of imported oil by 1.7 million gallons per year, eliminate 18,000 tons of emissions and save $3 million annually. During daylight hours, about 20 percent of the island’s electricity will come from the array.
After the 25-year lease is up, ownership of the array will transfer to DHHL.
Jobie Masagatani, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chair and DHHL Director, said the partnership with KIUC will generate needed revenue to support the department’s mission of placing native Hawaiian beneficiaries on the land.
“In addition to lease rent, a one million dollar roadwork and facility fund and service road improvements providing accessibility to additional DHHL lands in the Anahola region, the agreement allows DHHL the option to withdraw the lands under the solar farm at the end of Year 25 and have KIUC transfer the solar farm to DHHL,” she wrote in an email. “At that time DHHL could negotiate a new Power Purchase Agreement with KIUC or possibly convert the solar farm to a Micro-Grid operation to service DHHL beneficiaries in the Anahola region. The potential benefits for everyone in our community are promising.”
The blessing ceremony also included a few choice words for the construction workers.
“I want them to be safe. I want them to build something, and I know they will, that we’ll be proud of here on Kauai for years, if not decades, to come,” said KIUC President and CEO Dave Bissell. “You guys be safe, get it built on time, and we’ll look forward to the next time we’re out here celebrating when the power’s flowing.”
“In a few months we’ll be back here to flip the switch,” Allan Smith joked. “Yes, in a ‘few’ months. Step on it. We need it.”
In November, KIUC began construction of its $40 million facility in Koloa, the largest solar project in Hawaii. The Anahola facility will be the second-largest in the state. Both projects are part of KIUC’s strategic plan to use renewable resources to generate 50 percent of Kauai’s electricity by 2023.