If you think your electric bill is high, it’s probably nothing like what people who live in Hawaii are used to paying. Before the advent of solar power, Hawaii — like most islands — depended primarily on diesel generators to make electricity. Diesel fuel is expensive because it has to be shipped to Hawaii from refineries by sea. Add in the cost of maintenance on diesel engines that have to run 24/7 and the price of electricity is bound to be high even before things like building the distribution infrastructure get added in.
According to NPR, the average retail price of electricity in Hawaii is 33 cents per kWh — just about triple what it is in many places on the US mainland. But on the island of Maui, solar power is making important strides. Last May, Maui’s first large scale solar project — South Maui Renewable Resources — came online. It is run by Kenyon Energy, which is a developer, owner, and operator of solar energy projects throughout the United States.
Maui’s second large scale solar installation came online last week in near the town of Lahaina. Called the Ku‘ia Solar project, it is also owned by Kenyon Energy. It will provide up to 2.87 megawatts of solar power to Maui’s electric grid at a cost of about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to a press release reported in the Star Advertiser. The company says it will not take a profit on the electricity it purchases from Kenyon Energy but will pass the savings onto its customers. The Ku’ia Solar installation is situated on 10.85 acres of land owned by Kamehameha Schools.
34% of the electricity on Maui is currently provided by renewables. The state of Hawaii has set a goal of 30% renewable power by 2020 and another goal of being carbon neutral by 2045. Because electricity is so expensive on the islands, more and more residents and small businesses are installing storage batteries to maximize the benefits of their rooftop solar systems.
With its access to bountiful sunshine and constant breezes, Hawaii is an ideal candidate for 100% renewable energy. And while its is learning how to do that, the lessons learned will help drive the renewable energy revolution forward in the US and in other countries around the world.