Celebrating solar

KOLOA — Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is now using the sun to generate as much as half of the island’s daytime energy needs, thanks to a new solar array in Koloa — the largest in the state.

A dedication ceremony was held Thursday at the $40 million, 12-megawatt facility. The event was attended by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard led by Kumu Sabra Kauka of Island School.

“Bringing the Koloa project online is a huge step toward our goal of generating most of our electricity by using cheaper, cleaner renewable resources,” said David Bissell, president and CEO of KIUC. “This project brings the financial benefits of solar energy to all of our members, not just the ones who can afford to buy a rooftop solar system.”

During testing on Aug. 31, the Koloa array and the island’s other solar photovoltaic systems reached peak production of 50.8 percent of the electricity used by customers at noon, according to co-op officials. Adding solar to the electricity available from the island’s existing hydropower systems enabled KIUC to use renewable resources to produce 57.2 percent of the energy consumed on Kauai during the daytime. 

That means that for several hours, more electricity was coming onto Kauai’s grid from renewable energy sources than from conventional, oil-fired generators. KIUC officials say that hasn’t happened on Kauai since the late 1980s, when sugar cane waste was burned by plantations to create electricity.

“This is a cooperative at its finest, really,” KIUC Board Chairman Allan Smith said. “Responding to the desires of the membership with a project that is delivered on time, on budget and that will benefit the entire island for many years to come.”

Based on information from other utilities, KIUC’s daytime solar penetration is now the highest in Hawaii and one of the highest in the U.S.

In just four years, KIUC has significantly increased the amount of renewable energy on its grid as it moves toward its goal of using renewable resources to generate 50 percent of Kauai’s electricity by 2023. By the end of this year, renewable resources will generate 30 percent of Kauai’s electricity, up from 8 percent in 2010.

The Koloa array generates electricity at a cost of about 11 cents per kilowatt hour compared to about 23 cents for electricity created by burning oil. This will help KIUC meet its goal of reducing the average residential bill by at least 10 percent over the next 10 years.

Sen. Mike Gabbard said someone before the event told him how nice it was that he traveled to Kauai.

“I said, ‘Look, I’ve been the chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee in the Senate for the last six years. When I see a project like this coming online, you bet I’m on the plane to come over here.’”

With the addition of the $54 million, 12-megawatt  array being constructed in Anahola and stated to come online next year, KIUC expects to have the highest daytime solar penetration of any utility in the U.S.

Tulsi Gabbard said the facility is a perfect example of a community working together and Hawaii leading the way.

“This project is going to do so much to help with KIUC’s renewable energy goals, will contribute tremendously to the state’s renewable energy goals,” she said.

The Koloa facility became operational in July and went into full commercial operation in September, according to KIUC. The project was built by SolarCity on 67 acres leased from Grove Farm near the old Koloa Mill.

The array consists of 45,360 panels and will generate 5.5 percent of the electricity annually used on Kauai. It produces enough electricity to power about 4,000 homes. It will reduce KIUC’s consumption of oil by 1.7 million gallons a year and its carbon dioxide emissions by 18,000 tons per year.

KIUC is Hawaii’s only member-owned electric cooperative and serves 33,000 customers on the island of Kauai. Governed by a nine-member, elected board of directors, KIUC is one of 905 electric co-ops serving more than 42 million people in 47 states.

An open house will be held Saturday at the facility, which is adjacent to the old Koloa Mill of the Poipu Bypass Road. KIUF staff engineers will lead tours and explain how the facility provides electricity to the grid.  

Bissell said that even in the rain and clouds, which loomed overhead at the start of Thursday’s dedication, the facility was generating 2 megawatts of clean electricity.

“On an island with finite resources and space, the cooperative model is more than just some rainbow-colored idea,” Bissell said. “It’s how we have to work every day to move Kauai as close to energy independence as possible.”


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