Hawaii aggressively pursing energy independence with solar installations

Hawaii aggressively pursing energy independence with solar installationsHawaii Electric Company’s ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday at its new 5-megawatt SunPower solar facility on the island of Oahu is just a tiny piece of the state’s aggressive renewable energy plan.

Axio Power Incorporated also has most of the approval needed to build a 5-megawatt solar facility on the island, said Peter Rosegg, spokesman for Hawaii Electric. Both companies are just waiting for final approval from the Public Utilities Commission before they can begin construction, Rosegg said.

“These are our first two utility-scale projects,” Rosegg said. “But it’s really just the beginning.”

He said there is another 20 to 30 megawatts of large-scale solar going through the process and in the pipeline for approval right now.

This major solar development is happening in a state that already boasts the most installed solar kilowatts per person in the country, Rosegg said. Most of that is private residential power.

There’s a reason for the island state’s enthusiasm for solar energy.

“We are about 90 percent dependent on imported oil for our energy needs,” Rosegg said. “In today’s world, that’s not a sustainable or viable place to be.”

Hawaii, with help from the United States Department of Energy, has developed a renewable energy portfolio standard, which most believe will be achieved, of getting 40 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2030.

“That’s pretty aggressive,” Rosegg said. “We’re trying to get 70 percent off the grid, which means pretty much anything we can do, we better do.”

Oahu is the most densely populated island in the state, with nearly 80 percent of Hawaii’s population concentrated there. It’s the primary tourist destination and home to all of the military bases, Rosegg said.

While it definitely has the greatest demand for power, there are not as many renewable energy resources on Oahu as there are on the other islands, Rosegg said. That’s largely because Oahu is more developed, and there isn’t a lot of barren land that can be developed for energy production.

“Anything we can get here in Oahu, we want to do,” he said.

But both the SunPower and Axio solar farms will be located on the western part of the island where a sunny, dry climate prevails, Rosegg said.

The island communities are also pursing other renewable energy sources, including wind and geothermal. Hawaii has plans to install a 30-megawatt wind farm as well, Rosegg said.

“We’re really going after our renewable portfolio,” he said. “And solar is a big part of that.”

Pictured: Hawaii’s Axio solar farm, courtesy of Bloomberg.