The Paeahu solar farm, located in a dryland forest, would operate a short distance from a residential subdivision.

A controversial solar project in South Maui is wending its way through the approvals process with a hearing officer’s recommendation now expected next month.


The Paeahu solar-plus-battery storage project would be on 200 acres of former ranchland about 250 feet mauka of the Maui Meadows subdivision. The developer, Canadian firm Innergex Renewables, plans a 15-megawatt solar farm with a 60-megawatt battery storage system capable of powering about 6,900 Maui households.

The project was supposed to start operating last year, according to the company website, but permit delays, supply chain issues and other factors have pushed it behind schedule. A recent filing with the state Public Utilities Commission indicates the developer has pushed that date back until the first or second quarter of 2025.

The PUC approved a power purchase agreement between Paeahu and Maui Electric Co. in October 2020.

The Maui Meadows neighborhood faced severe flooding during recent storms.
The planned solar farm would be located on ranchland about 250 feet from the Maui Meadows neighborhood. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022)

Opponents appealed the PUC’s decision to the Hawaii Supreme Court arguing, among other things, that the PUC failed to adequately consider environmental and public safety concerns, including potential flooding, runoff and fire risks. The court disagreed and upheld the PUC decision in March 2022.

Four of the five justices said Pono Power Coalition provided scant evidence to support its claims. The justices reached the same conclusion regarding potential damage to wiliwili trees and native plants, according to the majority opinion. Justice Michael Wilson wrote a dissenting opinion.

The PUC had also earlier found the groups’ allegations to be speculative or unsupported, but their fight has continued.

Paeahu also needs approvals from Maui County, and that too has involved an ongoing legal battle.

Pono Power Coalition, an environmental conservation group based in Kihei, and Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association challenged the Maui Planning Commission’s issuance of a special use permit and a phase two project district approval.

Initially the commission denied the groups’ request to intervene, with one commissioner noting that the neighborhood association does not represent the views of all 600 or so households in the subdivision.

Circuit Judge Kelsey Kawano overruled the Planning Commission, which allowed the groups to intervene, vacated the county permits and remanded the matter back to the commission.

The parties tried mediation but were unable to reach an agreement. The matter now sits with hearing officer Glenn Kosaka, a Maui attorney who is reviewing the evidence and testimony and will make a recommendation on whether the commission should grant, deny or modify the permits.

His recommendation should be ready no later than mid-April, Kosaka told Civil Beat.

Critics oppose the solar farm due to flooding and fire risk as well as glare and loss of open space. (Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2019)

Besides the potential risks of water pollution, flooding and wildfires sparked by transmission lines, project opponents have also raised concerns about glare from solar panels, loss of open, scenic land, noise and dust impacts, the use of herbicides for vegetation management and “spiritual impacts from destruction of land,” according to court papers.

They also cite on their website potential impacts to endangered species like the blackburn sphinx moth and Hawaiian hoary bat.

Dr. Scott “Genesis” Young, a retired hand and plastic surgeon, serves as spokesperson for Pono Power. He said the group is not against solar power and fully supports Hawaii’s energy transition away from fossil fuels.

“We need solar power so that we can stop using fossil fuels and try to prevent climate change which is continuing to worsen. It’s a good clean alternative but we’re concerned with this location or any location where it can create more risk,” Young said.

Asked if he was a resident of Maui Meadows, Young declined to say.

Maui Meadows is a 1970s-era neighborhood of half-acre lots that’s prone to heavy flooding. With climate change increasing the frequency of intense storms, residents have expressed concern about the impacts of flash floods and contamination from upland agricultural lands flowing downstream through their neighborhood.

They’re also worried about wildfires because Maui Meadows sits makai of dryland forest that might ignite from a transmission line spark, said Young.  

Climate change is also exacerbating drought conditions which increase wildfire risks.

He pointed to recent examples in California where utility power lines have sparked more than 30 wildfires since 2017 that have killed more than 100 people and destroyed thousands of structures.

If the Paeahu project goes forward, Young said he fears it’s a matter of “not if, but when.”

No one from Innergex was available for an interview.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

Civil Beat’s coverage of climate change is supported by the Environmental Funders Group of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation and the Frost Family Foundation.

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