ANAHOLA — A solar farm under construction on land held in trust for Native Hawaiians is drawing heat.
Residents say the metal beams associated with the project that rise above the utility poles along Kuhio Highway have become an eyesore, giving this historically agricultural neighborhood the feel of an industrial park.
The beams and their components are part of the solar farm’s substation, which is needed to power the 12-megawatt alternative energy project.
“I think the last few weeks of development have become a tipping point for people with regard to the visual impact to the community, which they may not have envisioned,” said Anahola resident Patricia Hunter-Williams.
“I didn’t realize the project would be what it is, even though I had seen plans previously. It’s one thing to have a sizable development in the middle of a cane field, and another to have it right on the highway as you daily enter and exit your town.”
The $55 million solar initiative is owned by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, which is chasing a goal of generating half of the island’s power from renewable sources by 2023.
The Anahola solar array is expected to produce 23,525 megawatt-hours of electricity per year — about 5.5 percent of the total power generated — and save cooperative customers an estimated $250,000 per month in costs. It will also reduce localized power outages and service disruptions, according to an environmental assessment of the project.
KIUC spokesman Jim Kelly said the utility company has been working with community members to brainstorm opportunities to hide some of the unsightly metal structures associated with the project with landscaping.
Landscaping will soften — but not eliminate — the view of the solar farm from the highway, he said. That portion of the project, however, cannot begin until construction is complete.
“We know that the substation and its components aren’t invisible — without landscaping, the contrast between the substation and the surrounding area is especially stark right now,” Kelly said.
The solar farm is expected to be switched on for testing in mid- to late-July, Kelly said. He estimates it will be up and running in August.
The solar project is part of the Anahola Community Plan, created by homesteaders and adopted by the Hawaiian Homes Commission in 2009.
The 60-acre facility sits on a 422-acre parcel of land owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. DHHL approved a 25-year land lease for the solar farm, which will help fund Hawaiian advancement initiatives including the development of more housing for homesteaders, who in some cases have been waiting decades to obtain a homestead land lease.
A solar advisory committee organized by the Anahola Hawaiian Homestead Association has been regularly contributing to landscaping planning discussions, Kelly said. The committee’s next meeting is set for 7 p.m. July 20 at the Anahola Café and discussion of the landscaping plan is on the agenda.
Anahola resident Aggie Keaolani Marti-Kini said she plans to attend the meeting. Tall, solid fencing and mature tree plantings are among her ideas for landscaping components. But she said July 20 is too long to wait to address what she said makes the southern corridor into Anahola look like a “ghetto industrial neighborhood.”
“It’s kind of crying over spilt milk at this point,” Marti-Kini said. “We’ll just have to band-aid it. But I personally think that landscaping is not enough. I would like to see them put money aside every year to relocate this back to the other end of the property or even just 50 yards back. Common sense says you don’t put something like this along the highway where it’s right in your face.”
Marti-Kini said KIUC should have solicited more public input during the design stages of the project.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of alternative energy,” she said. “But it has to be done right.”
The committee has been meeting regularly since 2012 and every meeting was publicized by email and on community bulletin boards, according to Robin Danner, executive director of the Anahola-based Hawaiian Community Development Corporation.
Apart from landscaping, other initiatives derived from talks between KIUC and Anahola community members include a mandate that the site have signage noting that the project is located on Hawaiian trust land.
Last year, the committee hosted job fairs in Anahola to maximize local hires for the project. All told, 86 percent of the workers during the construction of the solar facility are from Kauai.
“Nothing is perfect, that’s for sure, but the folks on the committee are amazing in their willingness to get as close to perfect as they can,” Danner said.