By Jay Fidell
It’s good news that the PUC has issued a “waiver” for Castle and Cooke to build a 20 MW PV farm on its land in Mililani, as reported in Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser.
The waiver was based on Castle & Cooke’s plan to divide the farm into four separate smaller 5-MW projects that would be independent to the extent possible and the power of the PUC to impose additional conditions on these projects going forward.
Without this waiver or the exemption it had earlier requested, Castle & Cooke would have had to go through a competitive bidding process before it could select a builder for the farm, so the PUC’s ruling is a good result for Castle & Cooke.
The PUC’s ruling took the “waiver” approach rather than issue an “exemption” from the competitive bidding process that would otherwise apply, so this result will avoid a problematic precedent and preserve the PUC’s discretion under the Competitive Bidding Framework adopted in 2006.
While this may lead to a discussion of whether the waiver approach could result in higher renewable costs from larger producers, those costs will in any event have to run the gauntlet with the PUC, with HECO and with the Consumer Advocate.
Although it took four years to get to this point, we now have the prospect of a 20 MW PV farm on Oahu, no less than 17 times the size of the 1.2 MW farm Castle & Cooke built on Lanai in 2008. It’ll be the biggest in the state and will light some 6,000 homes on the Oahu grid.
We’re encouraged that Castle & Cooke can go ahead, but we’re wondering why projects of this nature can’t be approved more quickly. If we keep on taking this long, we risk a loss of momentum and confidence by energy entrepreneurs, investors and the public. There must be something we can do to speed it up.
What does it all mean? It’s significant that HECO is willing to accept a facility of this size on Oahu and that the PUC could find a way to let the project proceed. It will be nearly as big as the 30 MW windfarm at Kahuku, and it’s notable that the waiver comes just as the Kahuku project is coming on line.
Castle & Cooke has learned a lot in building and improving its PV farm in Lanai. They know a lot about PV technology and a lot about clean energy in general. From their PV experience on Lanai, they are clearly competent and qualified to build a PV farm on Oahu, and good for them for sticking with it.
Does this project work against the 400 MW windfarm Castle & Cooke plans for the West end of Lanai? No. Wind energy from Lanai via an undersea cable can co-exist with the PV farm in Mililani and other renewables in Oahu. We want to have multiple sources of renewables, not rely on any single one of them.
Indeed, given the time it will take to build the undersea cable, Castle & Cooke is right to get on with the PV farm now that it has achieved the opportunity to do so. Not only to make a buck selling power to the Oahu grid, but to advance the cause of clean energy in our state.
While we’re looking forward to the expeditious development of the PV farm in Mililani, we also want to see the expeditious development of the undersea cable and the windfarm on Lanai. On the eve of the New Year, these are the signs of progress that could make 2011 an important year for energy.