Shining a light on KIUC’s renewable energy efforts

Rest assured, that if the conversation turns to electric rates on Kauai, the general consensus is, residents are paying too much. After all, electricity on Kauai is among the most costly in the nation. It definitely isn’t cheap. If you’re like many on this island, you’re sure to keep things turned off when not in use, hang clothes outside to dry and probably use a fan to keep cool because it’s just too expensive to operate an air conditioner.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise, because pretty much almost anything you need on an island is going to cost more than it does back on the Mainland. It’s one of the reasons solar power is popular here and you’ve seen solar panels on roofs all around Kauai.

While producing power is expensive, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative is being creative and developing ways to keep electric costs down. Most recently, it announced, “Time-of-Use Solar Pilot Program,” that offers discounted electric rates to a group of residential customers to encourage them to shift their energy use to the daylight hours to take advantage of the utility’s solar resources.

Here’s how the one-year program works: It offers a 25 percent discount on standard electric rates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It will be limited to 300 residential customers with smart meters. The idea is to encourage customers to switch their energy use from night to day. If this move is successful, it means there is less demand for electricity at night, which would allow KIUC to power down some of its oil-fired generators. It also means KIUC may avoid having an oversupply of solar during the day, a situation that will lead to curtailing, or limiting, the amount of solar allowed on the grid.

This is another in a series of sound investments by KIUC that will ultimately benefit its 33,000 customers on Kauai.

KIUC recently signed a power purchase agreement with SolarCity for electricity from the first utility-scale solar array and battery storage system designed to supply power to the grid in the evening, when demand is highest. By using the solar energy stored in the battery instead of diesel generators, KIUC will reduce its use of imported fossil fuels and cut its greenhouse gas emissions.

And while KIUC’s solar farm in Anahola has been fairly criticized for its aesthetics and being so close to Kuhio Highway, it will eventually 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.

And last year, KIUC dedicated a $40 million, 12-megawatt solar array facility in Koloa, which meant it was using the sun to generate as much as half of the island’s daytime energy needs. 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. 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. The project was built by SolarCity on 67 acres leased from Grove Farm near the old Koloa Mill.

Through these series of steps, KIUC is moving toward its goal of generating half of the island’s power from renewable sources by 2023. That is something that deserves the spotlight. Generated by solar power during the day, of course.

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