LIHUE — A 150-acre solar farm on the south side of the island was unveiled Tuesday.
The Lawai Solar and Energy Storage Project is the largest facility of its kind in the state and was designed by electrical engineers using cutting-edge technology and potentially revolutionary techniques for capturing, transferring and storing solar power.
The new solar photovoltaic plant is capable of supplying over 10 percent of Kauai’s energy. Two solar facilities about half the size of the Lawai plant — the Tesla-funded solar array finished in 2017, and the Anahola solar project built by REC Solar in 2015 — already combine to generate a substantial percentage of the island’s electricity.
With the Lawai project up and running, Kauai is rapidly transforming into a land powered by renewable energy.
“Now that the Lawai project is on line, as much as 40 percent of our evening peak power will be supplied by stored solar energy,” said Kauai Island Utility Cooperative President David Bissell in a speech at a ceremony held Tuesday morning at the new solar farm.
Bissell addressed a crowd of about 150 people who drove down a long dirt road to a clearing surrounded by long rows of solar panels on stilts skirted by buffalo grass left behind by the sheep from Daryl Kaneshiro’s ranch that are in charge of landscaping the property.
“I think it’s safe to say this is a unique achievement in the nation and possibly the world,” Bissell said.
Owned and operated by AES Distributed Energy, the Lawai Solar and Energy Storage Project is located on former sugar land owned by Alexander and Baldwin. The facility consists of 28 megawatt solar photovoltaic and a 100-megawatt hour five-hour duration energy storage system.
Power from the facility will be purchased by KIUC at 11 cents per kilowatt hour via a 25-year power purchase agreement.
Kaneshiro attended the event along with his son, County Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro, who made a short speech at the ceremony, in which he thanked those responsible for the project and related a story about his father.
“My dad sent me a note,” Kaneshiro told the crowd. “He said, ‘ask them where is the outlet so I can run an extension wire across the road and get electric to my ranch.’ Sorry, dad. I don’t think it works that way.”
Mayor Derek Kawakami, a former member of the KIUC board, spoke about the surprising amount of progress made by the utility cooperative and its partners toward reducing the island’s reliance on fossil fuels.
“Here’s a little secret,” he said. “In 2008, when we didn’t know how we were going to achieve 50 percent, as chairman I was thinking, maybe 35. And somebody whispered in my ear on a break, saying, ‘I think we can do better.’”
That person was Brad Rockwell, then KIUC’s production manager. When he was promoted to power supply manager in 2012, renewable energy made up just 10 percent of the island’s total power supply. Now Kauai gets half of its electricity from renewable energy sources.
According to KIUC estimates, that increase corresponds to a reduction of 15 million gallons of fossil fuel per year.
KIUC, AES DE and the Department of Defense are also partnering on a solar-plus-storage project soon to break ground on land occupied by the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kekaha. The PMRF facility will couple a 19.3 MW solar array in conjunction with a 70 megawatt hour battery energy storage system.
“We expect the PMRF project to be on line by the end of this year, and that will bring us well over 60 percent renewable. Our strategic goal is 70 percent renewable by 2030: We’ll be substantially there a full ten years early,” Bissell said.