Lighting the way on Kauai

Hawaii ranked first nationwide for total solar power capacity per person last year, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center.

“Lighting the Way III: The Top States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2014,” says that while Hawaii has enough sunshine to meet its annual electricity needs many times over, it’s not its solar potential that has made the difference. Instead, the state has outpaced all other states because of policies that allow increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities and utilities to “go solar.”

“With plenty of sunshine and plenty of good clean energy policies on the books, Hawaii is lighting the way when it comes to solar,” said Laura Borth, Conservation Fellow with Environment America.

Compared to last year, the state advanced in the group’s annual ranking of per-capita solar capacity because of their leadership and commitment to clean energy.

Of the top 10 states in the report — Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina — all have renewable energy requirements, and nine, including Hawaii, have strong laws to allow solar customers to connect to the electricity grid and sell back their excess power.

“Our analysis shows that policy choices are a key driver of solar energy growth,” said Gideon Weissman of Frontier Group, report co-author. “State and local government policy leadership is closely aligned with success in growing solar energy.”

Solar is a growing energy source on Kauai.

With the growth of utility and customer-sited solar over the past four years, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative now has the equivalent of five solar panels per customer on its grid.

As of Aug. 31, KIUC had nearly 40 megawatts of solar and about 3,000 customer-sited PV systems on its grid. When the 12 megawatt Anahola solar array comes online in the next month, more than 50 percent of Kauai’s daytime energy demand will be met with solar.

“We’re proud that KIUC is a leader in solar energy development and integration,” said David Bissell, president and CEO of KIUC. “We make it easy for our members to install rooftop solar and we’re committed to building utility-scale solar projects to benefit everyone by bringing down the cost of electricity and reducing Kauai’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.”

Solar energy has exploded in recent years across the country, its capacity tripling in the last three years. The industry is adding jobs much faster than the overall economy, employing 2,200 people in Hawaii.

“Green Solar has made it clear that it is easier than ever to go solar now,” said Art Visaya, Green Solar LLC. “We have a lot of people inquiring to get solar panels during the hottest and most humid part of the year!”

“We are pleased to see the hard work and investment in securing Hawaii’s clean energy future is paying off,” said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. “We are looking forward to continuing our leadership role in clean energy through ambitious policies such as our commitment to achieving 100 percent renewable energy in the electricity sector by 2045.”

While Hawaii has several strong clean energy policies on the books, state leaders are poised to take support for clean energy up another notch. In June 2015, Gov. Ige signed into law an initiative that guarantees the state will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sets state-by-state limits on carbon pollution from coal and gas power plants and was finalized last month, provides additional incentives for Hawaii to accelerate its development of solar energy.

According to Environment America research, solar power could easily meet about half the pollution reduction targets required by the plan.

“Solar power can play a major role in the biggest step our country has ever taken to address climate change,” Borth said. “But we can’t stop there. To slow global warming and ensure a healthier planet for future generations, it’s up to states like ours to chart the course to 100 percent clean energy.”

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