Hawaii solar installers excited about big commitment from schools

Hawaii to install solar at 256 schoolsHawaii solar installers are excited about a recently announced plan to install solar at all of the state’s public schools.

Gabriel Chong, director of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association, said installers are preparing to submit their credentials and proposals when the Hawaii Department of Education puts out a request for proposals, something Chon said he expects early in 2013.

The state DOE announced that it wanted to install solar panels at all of its public schools after the success of a pilot project that will have soon installed solar at 40 schools on the islands of Kauai and Oahu.

The department of education cites cost savings as its motivation for the project. Hawaii has notoriously high electric rates as most of its power is generated with oil-powered plants that depend entirely on imports.

The department is paying 19 cents per kilowatt hour for solar power through a power purchase agreement at its Oahu schools. That’s much less than the residential power rate there of 33.6 cents per kilowatt hour.

The 17 cents per kilowatt hour the DOE is paying at its Kauai schools shows an even more dramatic cost savings compared to the 44.9 cents per kilowatt hour residents there pay.

The effort, while beneficial to the schools, is also part of a broader statewide vision, Chong said. The state recently established a clean energy portfolio standard that requires 40 percent of power to come from renewable energy sources by 2030 and a 30 percent decrease in energy use by the same time.

The state government has taken a leadership position in the push toward renewable energy, Chong said.

“And what better place to spend public money than in the schools,” he said.

While HSEA has been around since 1977, the state’s new aggressive stance on renewable energy has led to a huge surge in the solar industry and the organization now has 70 members.

“Most of that has happened over the last three years,” he said. The school project is just another major endorsement for solar in the state. The schools would be a coveted project for any of the HSEA members, he said.

Whoever is chosen for the contract will install solar 256 Hawaii schools within five years. “It would be a great public project and a lot of our members would love an opportunity to work on it,” he said.

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