Maui Business

Hawaiʻi’s first two community-owned solar projects coming to Molokaʻi

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Molokaʻi. FIle photo courtesy Hawaiian Electric.

Hawaiian Electric and Ho‘āhu Energy Cooperative Molokaʻi are moving ahead with the state’s first two community-owned and -designed solar plus battery projects. These projects could meet over 20% of Molokai’s energy needs and serve an estimated 1,500 households on the island. The Ho‘āhu Community-Based Renewable Energy Projects, Pālā‘au Solar and Kualapu‘u Solar, will be the first on the island to offer the shared solar program (also known as community-based renewable energy or CBRE) to help lower the electric bills of customers on Molokai who are unable to install privately-owned rooftop solar. 

After the completion of a competitive bidding evaluation process, which accounted for the cost of the projects as well as non-price factors including community outreach, Ho‘āhu and Hawaiian Electric entered into negotiations. Once negotiations of the 20-year contracts are finalized, Hawaiian Electric and Ho‘āhu will submit the two applications for approval by the Public Utilities Commission.

Hoʻāhu Energy Cooperative Molokaʻi is a volunteer, grassroots nonprofit organization formed in 2020 by Molokaʻi community advocates to enable island residents to design and own renewable energy projects built on Molokaʻi.    

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Hoʻāhu spent three years hosting over 40 public workshops for Molokaʻi residents to co-design the community solar projects, from site prospecting and subscriber benefit design to contractor interviews and analyzing various battery energy storage systems.

  • Pālā‘au Solar could provide up to 2.2 megawatts of solar energy paired with a 10.1 megawatt-hour battery energy storage system. The project will be sited on property owned by Hawaiian Electric, adjacent to the company’s Pālā‘au Baseyard.
  • Kualapu‘u Solar could provide up to 0.250 MW paired with a 1 MWh battery. The project will be located at the Kualapu‘u Park and Community Center with the project’s solar array mounted on carport structures over the existing parking lot.

“These two projects are the right thing to do for Hawai‘i and our planet,” said Todd Yamashita, Hoʻāhu’s president in a joint press release announcement. “It will provide access to renewables for those who need it most. Molokaʻi renters are left out and can’t install solar panels. Community solar says, ‘Let us build a solar farm for you out in the field, and the energy we make and the profit we make will be credited directly on your bill and the bill of other members of the energy cooperative.’”

After the Ho‘āhu projects are approved and available on Hawaiian Electric’s CBRE Portal, Molokaʻi customers may become “subscribers” to one of the facilities. Once the projects are built and online, the subscribers receive credits on their monthly electricity bill based on their level of participation.

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“We are looking forward to working more with Ho‘āhu Energy Cooperative Molokaʻi and their partners to bring these community-based shared solar projects online,” said Rebecca Dayhuff Matsushima, vice president of resource procurement for Hawaiian Electric. “The two projects can help our Molokaʻi customers bring down their energy bills and further reduces our carbon footprint in generating power to meet the energy needs of the island.”

In November 2021, the request for proposals was opened for developers, companies, organizations or groups to become a “subscriber organization” of shared solar projects for Molokaʻi customers. The two Molokaʻi shared solar projects are expected to be online in mid-2025.

“When Act 100 was passed in 2015 the intent was to ensure that the benefits of renewable energy generation were made more accessible to a greater number of residents who would otherwise be unable to directly participate in renewable energy production. The CBRE program does just that and I am proud my home community of Molokaʻi has the opportunity to participate through the Hoʻāhu Energy Cooperative,” said Sen. Lynn DeCoite. “These projects are promising steps towards our renewable energy future on the friendly isle.”

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Hoʻāhu enlisted the support of Shake Energy Collaborative, a Honolulu-based, women-owned public benefit corporation, to facilitate the community-led design and development of the projects. Hoʻāhu also selected Maui-based benefit corporation Mana Pacific to support the projects’ technical development. Many contractors and partners also contribute to the success of the cooperative including the Kohala Center, Morikawa and Associates, Bright Future Consulting, Orrick, X Utility, and Arizona State University.

Hoʻāhuʻs community ownership is made possible through the support of mission-aligned funding partners including The Peopleʻs Solar Energy Fund, Hawaii Green Infrastructure Authority, Inclusive Prosperity Capital, Ulupono Initiative, all of whom provided funds or letters of intent to the project.

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