Lanai’s electric utility has named a developer to build the island’s largest utility-scale solar and battery energy storage project to date that would for the first time bring renewable energy to apartment dwellers and other homeowners who can’t install their own solar panels.

lanai locator badgePending approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, the New York City-based Onyx Development Group would install more than 10,000 solar panels on a 73-acre plot owned by Pulama Lanai, the management company that oversees billionaire tech mogul Larry Ellison’s 98% ownership stake in the island.

Roughly 6% of Lanai’s electric grid is powered by renewables. Expected to come online in late 2024, the planned Mikiola Solar project would increase the utility’s renewable energy capacity to about 93%, according to Rebecca Dayhuff Matsushima, vice president of resource procurement for Hawaiian Electric Co.

In addition to helping the island wean off fossil fuels, the project aims to lower electric costs for customers. It would also make the transition to renewables more equitable.

A so-called shared solar array, Mikiola Solar would give customers who can’t install a solar energy system — because their roof isn’t well suited for one or because they rent their home and don’t control such decisions — a way to cash in on the solar boom by offering the opportunity to benefit from electricity generated elsewhere. Small businesses and community groups could also participate.

Aerial photograph of Lanai with mud runoff flowing into the ocean.
Renters, apartment dwellers, small business owners and community groups could benefit from the planned Mikiola Solar array even without panels on their roof. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“This allows people who can’t have rooftop solar for whatever reason — maybe their house is in a shady area or they don’t own their home or they live in an apartment — they can purchase a share of energy and they would see a reduction in their electric bill,” Matsushima said. “So they would look at their usage in their home or business and purchase a share based on how much they want to offset.”

Customers would receive credits on their monthly electricity bill based on their level of buy-in, known as a subscription.

Beyond lowering utility bills, Matsushima characterized the project as a milestone toward reducing fossil fuel reliance and shielding Lanai from global oil market volatility.

Maui County Councilman Gabe Johnson, who lives on Lanai, said he’s supportive of efforts to increase the island’s use of renewable energy and that he isn’t aware of any opposition to the project.

As a part of Mikiola Solar, Onyx has said it plans to provide a community benefits package to support an issue or initiative identified by Lanai residents.

An online survey found that health care for seniors and people with disabilities is a top priority for the community, followed by STEM education for youth and support for people grappling with substance abuse, mental health issues and violence, according to the developer.

The developer, which has built projects across the U.S. including a large-scale solar energy and battery storage system in Kapalua on Maui, said it will continue to solicit ideas as it moves toward finalizing the community benefits package.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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