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Blessing held for Big Island’s largest renewable energy project with 94,000 solar panels

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Kahu Kimokeo Kapahulehua, led a blessing ceremony at the new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility on May 18, 2023. (Megan Moseley/Big Island Now)

The Big Island’s largest renewable energy project, with 94,000 solar panels on 300 acres in Waikōloa, was blessed on Thursday with Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green in attendance.

The new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility was spearheaded by AES Hawai’i and in collaboration with Hawaiian Electric.

The project includes a 25-year power purchase agreement to provide energy to Hawaiian Electric at nine cents per kilowatt-hour, one of the lowest rates in the state. The project is supplementing Hawaiian Electric’s Hawai’i Island grid with enough energy to power the equivalent of 13,600 homes while lowering electric bills from households across the island by about $5 per month, officials said. 

Bernerd Da Santos, president of AES Global Renewables, said the Waikōloa project “embodies the future of energy in Hawai’i.”

“The positive impact the project will have on the environment and the community extends far beyond the next 25 years, and we look forward to co-creating more transformative projects like this one in the future,” he said. 

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Kahu Kimokeo Kapahulehua from Maui led the blessing, paying homage to his ancestors and kūpuna that used the sun as energy.

Kahu Kimokeo Kapahulehua led a blessing ceremony at the new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility on May 18, 2023. (Megan Moseley/Big Island Now)

The project near Waikōloa Road is a 42 MW (DC) solar facility complemented by a 120 MWh battery energy storage system. 

The project took four and a half years to complete, including design and engineering, permitting and governmental approvals, and construction. The groundbreaking was in April 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Project leaders said the pandemic created challenges, but they persevered. 

Over the 25-year lifespan, the project will improve the environment by eliminating more than 511,000 barrels of oil to generate electricity, and it will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  The project also will create an estimated 200 jobs and generate about $47 million toward Hawai’i’s economy, according to an AES Hawaiʻi news release.

AES Hawai’i has been working with Hawaiian Electric since 1991, and is helping the state reach its 100% renewable energy goal by 2045.

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The Sustainable Hawaiʻi Initiative was launched in 2016 in support of the globally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 targets to reduce poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity for all, by 2030. Sustainable Development Goal No. 7 focuses on affordable and clean energy.

They also have another FiT (Feed-in-tariff ) Solar PV project on the island, as well as several others on Oahu, Maui and Kaua’i. The FiT projects are all built and operational. Currently AES has nine utility scale projects, four are in operation and five are in development, an AES official said Thursday.

At the blessing, Green said he became passionate about renewable energy when he first moved to Hawai’i Island more than 20 years ago to the Kaʻū district and noticed the windmills.

“I asked, ‘Why do we have these windmills?'” he said. “They weren’t creating wind energy, by the way, they were all broken at the time. And people told me because energy is so expensive here for our people. And people are very poor in Kaʻū. “

That’s when he learned about the struggles locals faced, and said there’s “more poverty in Kaʻū than anywhere in the state.”

Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green, along with AES Hawai’i and Hawaiian Electric project leaders, attended the blessing ceremony of the new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility on May 18, 2023. (Megan Moseley/Big Island Now)
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“The drivers of cost are housing, very expensive, food, very expensive, and energy, very expensive,” he said. “As much as we want to do for our local families, if we don’t do something on these issues then we’ll never live up to the promises we make.”

As well as being able to help reduce the cost of energy to local residents, Green said the project also sends a message to the world that Hawai’i will be a leader in energy.  

“It gives me hope that we take this as an example of things we can do to have an energy economy for our state,” Green said.

Jennifer Zelko-Schlueter, director of government and community affairs for Hawaiian Electric, said she was appreciative of the partnership with AES Hawaiʻi, whose parent company AES Corporation is a Fortune 500 global energy company. 

  • A guest takes pictures of the new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility on May 18, 2023. (Megan Moseley/Big Island Now)
  • Attendees listen to the open ceremony blessings of the new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility on May 18, 2023. (Megan Moseley/Big Island Now)
  • Sam Choy sits and waits for the opening ceremony of the new Waikōloa Solar + Storage Facility on May 18, 2023. (Megan Moseley/Big Island Now)

“It’s a renewable energy project and largest PV [solar] facility and they’ve been incredibly helpful to us and even came on early, which we very much appreciate,” she said. 

In December 2022, in response to an emergency that left many customers without power, AES Hawai‘i supplemented Hawaiian Electric’s grid ahead of its full commercial launch.

AES Hawai’i officials said they engaged with the community to earn its support before starting the project, and were mindful about where they were building. Instead of bulldozing the land and building the panels on top of the property, they built the solar panels along the natural landscape to ensure as minimal impact as possible.

“The land is sacred here in the Big Island and in Waikōloa,” Green said. “But from my perspective, you are still conserving land because it is a very low impact footprint. When they came, I spoke to the archeologists. They, yes, were mindful of the paths, the ancient walkways that went through Waikōloa, but they also did not encounter concerns like we have in some other places of development like iwi (bones).

“So it’s very special. I like energy projects because overall you raise our standards of clean energy and you decrease all of the fossil fuels that have been imported here forever.”

For more information visit https://www.aes.com/waikoloa-solar-storage

Megan Moseley
Megan Moseley is a full-time journalist for Pacific Media Group. Her experience ranges from long and short-form reporting to print, digital, radio and television news coverage. In Hawaiʻi, she's worked for local media outlets and has covered a wide range of topics including local and state politics, environmental affairs, Native Hawaiian issues, travel, tourism and education. She covers the West for Restaurant Hospitality.

She's a 2010 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Magazine Journalism and specializations in Geology and History. She's currently working on her master's degree from New York University and Ohio University and is focused on conflict resolution and peace practices in indigenous cultures in the Pacific.
Megan can be reached at [email protected].
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