Dressing up the solar site

ANAHOLA — A solar farm under construction on land held in trust for Native Hawaiians is about to get some green coverage.

Native plantings such as naupaka and hala have been identified as suitable for a landscaping screen geared at softening the site’s industrial aesthetic from the view of motorists traveling on Kuhio Highway.

At an Anahola Hawaiian Homestead Association board meeting Tuesday night, plumeria and other mature trees were suggested as add-ons to a list of desirable plantings compiled by a solar advisory committee organized by AHHA.

“The good thing about native plants is they can survive the weather without irrigation,” said Koloa resident Ted Blake.

As it stands now, the renewable energy project site is stark and naked. Metal beams stand 30 feet high with nothing to shield their view from the highway.

Some residents have said these utility beams and their components, which are needed to power the 12-megawatt project, have become an eyesore, giving this historically agricultural neighborhood the feel of an industrial park.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” said Robin Danner, AHHA’s managing director. “If people want to call that ugly, they don’t know what we’ve been through. Ugly to me is families trapped in poverty because of high cost utilities. Ugly to me is our homestead land sitting fallow and the (people) sitting on the wait list.

“For me personally, because I know the back history of our people, (the solar farm) is beautiful because I know what it means, I know what it signifies.”

Lorraine Rapozo, who sits on the AHHA board of directors, echoed Danner’s sentiments: “If you don’t like it, turn away, look at the ocean,” she said.

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.

The project was built along the highway because that’s where it connects to the grid, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative spokesman Jim Kelly said. Moving the project farther mauka would have raised the cost of the project — by the millions, according to Kelly — and required the installation of more of the tall poles that have been the subject of community complaints.

The portion of the site fronting the road was designed to have a smaller footprint so as to be less visually intrusive than the wider back end of the project, Danner added.

The $55 million solar initiative is owned by KIUC, 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.

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.

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