Kauai Approves New Kekaha Solar Farm
On average, Kauai enjoys 240 days of sunshine per year. And soon, some of the energy provided by the sunshine will be put to work in Kekaha, where the state’s largest solar farm is slated to be built.
Kauai county Planning Commission approved Kikiaola Solar’s plans for the 3.5-megawatt facility just this week, with construction to begin in 2012. The Garden Isle is no stranger to solar power and is, in fact, home to the state’s largest solar facility, Kapaa Solar Farm in Kapahi. What makes Kikiaola’s facility different from Kapaa’s is its size. At almost three times the size of Kapaa Solar Farm, the new facility will produce enough energy to power nearly 1,000 homes, bringing Kauai - and the state as a whole – one step closer to reaching the goals set forth by the Clean Energy Initiative.
Hawaii currently holds the unfortunate title of “most fuel dependent state in the country”. In an effort to reverse the trend of dependency, the state designed the Clean Energy Initiative. This initiative has set an ambitious goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030, 40 percent of which must be generated locally by renewable sources. Solar power is one such source. By harnessing this natural renewable source of energy through the Kikiaola facility, Kauai will reduce fuel consumption by 7, 000 barrels per year. In an interview with The Garden Island, David Ushio, owner and developer of Pacific Energy Partners, cited additional environmental advantages to choosing solar power over fossil fuels, explaining that thanks to the Kikiaola solar farm, “Three thousand tons of carbon dioxide is not going to be released in the air because we are using sunshine instead of fossil fuel”.
Space is limited in the islands, so land use is naturally a consideration. Typically, projects that are intended for industrial use on agricultural land require special permits. However, just one day prior to Kauai’s approval of the Kekaha facility, Governor Abercrombie signed SB 631, a bill that allows solar projects on agricultural B lands to move ahead without approval from the state Land Use Commission.
This new law is certainly advantageous to Kikiaola Solar, as the facility will be built on Kikiaola agricultural land. But is the law putting other agricultural lands at risk? If other solar projects are able to bypass the state Land Use Commission, will more agricultural lands soon become solar farms? With the new law in place, and ambitious goals of the Clean Energy Initiative ahead, we must be sure not to sacrifice too much of our agricultural lands and food security to satisfy our energy needs. We should strive for a balance, do more to reduce our personal energy consumption, and be certain we are not, as the saying goes, robbing Peter to pay Paul.