Hawaiian Electric seeks state permission for photovoltaic project


HONOLULU — Hawaiian Electric Co. is asking the state Public Utilities Commission to approve Hawaii’s largest photovoltaic energy project.

The utility has proposed the solar plant for 50 acres of undeveloped land next to its Kahe Generating Station, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The 15-megawatt project would be the first photovoltaic facility owned and operated by the utility, which selected SolarCity Corp. to construct the project. The commission must sign off on the choice.

“This is a unique opportunity that benefits our customers because it allows us to quickly develop more low-cost clean energy,” said Ron Cox, Hawaiian Electric’s vice president of power supply.

The utility projects that power generated by the facility would cut low-sulfur fuel use by 1.8 million gallons annually at the Kahe plant and save ratepayers $64 million in fuel costs over 30 years.

Hawaiian Electric said the solar project could produce electricity at a cost equal to a power purchase agreement with a price of 14.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost of power created by burning fuel is 22.7 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Hawaiian Electric in February asked the Public Utilities Commission to waive competitive bidding requirements for renewable energy projects greater than 5 megawatts on Oahu and said the proposed facility depends on that approval.

The photovoltaic plant, which would convert solar radiation into direct current, would connect to the utility’s 46-kilovolt substation at the Kahe station.

The plant’s 15 megawatts would provide enough electricity to power about 2,900 homes, according to estimates by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The project would not affect residential and commercial customers who install photovoltaic systems on their rooftops and connect them to Hawaiian Electric’s 12,000-volt distribution system, according to an announcement on SolarCity’s website.

The system could be operating by the end of 2015 if regulators give their approval and environmental and cultural reviews are completed, according to SolarCity.

SolarCity also is building a 12-megawatt photovoltaic facility for the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative on 67 acres near Koloa.