About 200,000 solar panels may soon cover about 160 open acres of land laced with kiawe trees and brush that stretch from the edges of Kamaile Academy to the base of the Waianae Mountains.

The 27.6-megawatt project is one of eight large solar farms planned for Oahu that are expected to break ground by the end of the year in order to take advantage of lucrative federal tax credits. Hawaiian Electric Co. announced that it had signed agreements to purchase the energy by December and the applications are currently awaiting approval by the Public Utilities Commission.

The PUC is expected to rule on each project separately. 

Looking mauka or mountain direction of Ala Akau Street in Waianae site of future solar farm. 12 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Looking mauka of Ala Akau Street in Waianae, the site of Eurus’ proposed solar farm.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

If the projects move forward, their total area will span a total of about 1,400 acres, the size of 25 Ala Moana shopping centers, according to a review of applications filed with the PUC. The bulk of the solar panels will dot agricultural fields throughout central Oahu and along the North Shore, in addition to two projects planned for Waianae.

At peak production, during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest, the panels are expected to supply more than one-eighth of Oahu’s electricity needs, according to HECO.

Some Community Opposition

While the projects will help the state meet its goals of developing more sources of local renewable energy and weaning Hawaii of of its dependence on foreign oil, they could have a significant impact on the landscape and some are sparking community opposition.

The solar project by Kamaile Academy, which serves about 950 students in kindergarten to 12th grade, would be developed by Eurus Energy, which is jointly owned by Toyota Tsusho Corp. and Tokyo Electric Power Co. School officials say that the project would thwart its plan to expand by five acres to accommodate its growing student body. They worry that the sea of reflective panels could change the micro-climate and fret about the visual impacts.

“Just because the land is empty doesn’t mean that we have to put something on it.” — Valerie Manoa, Kamaile Academy teacher

“We have the largest Hawaiian population in the state of Hawaii. The land is important to us,” Valerie Manoa, a teacher at the school, told members of the PUC at at recent public meeting on the project. “Even when there is nothing on it, the beauty of the land gives us something back. Just because the land is empty doesn’t mean that we have to put something on it.”

Mitch Dmohowski, a consultant for Eurus, said that the project would ultimately be a “net benefit” to the community. He said that the low-grade agricultural land, which has been fallow for 30 years, was being used as an illegal dump site and squatters had built what appeared to be a meth lab on the property. Since buying the land for about $4 million, the company has removed 15,000 tires, three abandoned vehicles and two boats, he said.

A second project in Waianae, Ka La Nui Solar, would be developed by NextEra Energy, a Florida-based company which recently announced it was purchasing HECO in a deal that still has to gain numerous regulatory approvals.

NextEra has leased 156 acres from Mountain View Dairy and expects the footprint of its 15-megawatt solar farm, comprised of 60,700 solar panels, to span 70 to 90 acres, according to its application with the PUC.

The project has received approval from the Waianae Neighborhood Board.

Mostly Central Oahu

Most of the proposed solar farms would cut through central Oahu, where developers have leased hundreds of acres from landowners, including Castle & Cooke and Kamehameha Schools.

Boston-based First Wind, which was recently sold to SunEdison, secured the bulk of the HECO contracts. The company has proposed four solar farms, totaling 130 megawatts. 

A 46-megawatt project planned for Waiawa would include 210,000 panels spanning 313 acres.

HECO has negotiated approval deadlines into the contracts, two as early as May, or the companies can pull out of the deals.

The company also proposes to build two solar farms just south of the Mililani residential community, both called Lanikuhana Solar — 86,800 solar panels would go on land leased from Castle & Cooke and another 65,900 panels on 211 nearby acres purchased from the same company.

First Wind/SunEdison also hopes to lay 214,000 panels along 305 acres in Waialua. The land is part of Kamehameha Schools’ Kawailoa Plantation. The panels would cover land where First Wind already built a wind farm.

Separately, SunEdison secured a contract with HECO to build a 50-megawatt solar farm, called SunE Waiawa, on 250 acres of land owned by Kamehameha Schools.

Hanwha Corporation, a major South Korean conglomerate, and Forest City Sustainable Resources are jointly proposinging a 19-megawatt solar farm on land located on 124 acres in Kunia.

HECO wouldn’t reveal the locations of the proposed projects when it first announced negotiations in late 2013. Information about some of the proposed solar farms subsequently emerged as solar developers began discussing the projects with local communities and neighborhood boards and went before city and state agencies for permits.

The applications filed with the PUC in December provide the first comprehensive information on all of the projects so far. It’s likely that the PUC will decide quickly whether to approve the projects. HECO has negotiated approval deadlines into the contracts, two as early as May, or the companies can pull out of the deals.

Civil Beat has mapped the projects below, including images and details about the projects such as their size and expected revenue. 

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