West Maui organization secures agreement on community benefits with proposed solar project

Published in the Lahaina News 10/29/2021

WEST MAUI — The West Maui Preservation Association (WMPA) has settled with the firm proposing a 220-acre solar project in Kahana and will be withdrawing from Public Utilities Commission (PUC) proceedings relating to the system.

Innergex Renewable Development USA LLC’s Kahana Solar LLC proposes to construct a 20-megawatt solar photovoltaic system and 80-megawatt-hour battery energy storage system on private land 1.4 miles mauka of Kapalua Airport and the nearest residential community.

If approved, Kahana Solar anticipates completing construction and beginning operations by the end of 2023.

According to the developer, the project will provide West Maui with stored renewable generation and improve grid stability, as well as provide enough electricity to power the equivalent of 11,600 homes.

On Sept. 14-15, the PUC held an Evidentiary Hearing about Kahana Solar’s Project Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Maui Electric Company.

Representatives for all parties and participants involved — Kahana Solar LLC, Maui Electric, the Consumer Advocate, and West Maui Preservation Association — had the opportunity to raise questions about previously submitted documentation and to present oral arguments.

At the close of the hearing, the PUC took the unprecedented step of suspending proceedings and ordering the parties into mediation.

The parties mediated with the assistance of retired Maui Circuit Court Judge Joel August.

An agreement was reached with Kahana Solar committing to $1.375 million in community giving over the 25-year life of the project. This equates to $55,000 per year during the project’s commercial operations.

Funding will support:

1) Friends of Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve through the Living Pono Project as part of supporting environmental stewardship, sustaining the preserve’s natural and cultural resource and protecting a vital water source for Maui’s community.

2) Education and training at Lahainaluna High School (directly or through the Lahainaluna High School Foundation) and/or the University of Hawaii Maui College to advance renewable energy and environmental stewardship training. Innergex will also serve as an education resource for engaging students in exploring energy or sustainability career paths.

3) West Maui cultural programs, including the Honokowai Valley project of Maui Cultural Lands and Napili Kai Foundation’s youth program.

4) West Maui events and organizations to be administered by Hawaii Community Foundation through an annual grant-making program that aligns with Innergex’s core values around long-term sustainable development.

5) Memberships and sponsorships of events and programs identified by Innergex that occur throughout the year in West Maui.

Kahana Solar added that West Maui Ridge 2 Reef and CORAL Reef Alliance provided guidance on minimizing stormwater runoff at the solar project’s site. This led to incorporating design techniques that minimize the landscape impacts from the project.

WMPA noted that Kahana Solar has also agreed to pay at least 80 percent of its non-supervisory workers the equivalent of the prevailing wage, as well as first hire people living in West Maui, Maui County and the state before hiring workers from elsewhere. The settlement also calls for Kahana Solar to commit to an enforceable plan to decommission the project at the end of its agreement with Maui Electric.

If the PUC approves the agreement between Maui Electric and Innergex, the project will next go before the Maui Planning Commission to consider a special use permit required to develop the project on Agricultural District lands.

“We hope the electric company and the PUC will seriously consider standardizing the management and distribution of community benefits and ensuring that jobs generated by these projects pay a living wage and use local labor for future projects. This agreement is a good starting point for future projects,” said Lance D. Collins, WMPA spokesperson.

Innergex devised the project when it responded to a competitive Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by Maui Electric in 2019 for renewable energy projects.

“The State of Hawaii’s renewable energy mandate is to achieve a 100 percent renewable portfolio standard by the year 2045. Kahana Solar Project’s primary benefit to the community is the contribution it will make toward achieving the 100 percent renewable energy goal. Utility scale solar projects like Kahana Solar benefit all Maui Electric customers connected to the grid, not just those who can afford a solar installation. The price of the project’s solar plus storage is amongst the lowest to date for renewable energy in the state and is cheaper than the cost of traditional fossil fuel generation. It will help reduce Hawaii’s overdependence on oil and vulnerability to volatile oil prices,” the Kahana Solar Project Team noted in an Oct. 15 press release.

Innergex is an independent renewable power producer that develops, acquires, owns and operates hydroelectric facilities, wind farms and solar farms. It conducts operations in Canada, the United States, France and Chile.

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