Hawaii approves contracts for 110 MW-AC of utility-scale solar

Despite putting the brakes on distributed solar through new policies which forbid export to the grid, Hawaii is moving ahead with large-scale solar as it stumbles its way towards its 100% by 2045 renewable energy mandate.

As the latest, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission (HPUC) has approved contracts between the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) and NRG for the output of three utility-scale solar projects on North Shore of the island of Oahu.

This includes a 49 MW-AC solar project on land near Waialua, which is larger than any solar project built to date in the state. The remaining two are a 46 MW project near Waiawa and a 15 MW project near Mililani.

NRG says that it plans to break ground on these projects, all of which will incorporate single-axis tracking systems, by early next year.

Altogether the three are expected to allow HECO to achieve a raw 3% increase in renewable energy generation. In 2016, HECO got 19% of its power from renewable energy, and across its three Hawaiian utilities HECO’s parent company achieved a 26% renewable energy penetration.

NRG acquired these three projects in a fire sale after SunEdison went bankrupt, during which it paid a average of 12 cents per kilowatt-AC for 1.5 GW of wind and solar projects in Texas, Utah, Hawaii and other states. NRG notes that it has been bringing online distributed solar projects in Massachusetts and California that were part of the deal.

The transfer from SunEdison didn’t only make money for NRG, it is also saving money for HECO. The utility reports that it will be paying $0.108 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for electricity from the projects, and while this is much higher than utility-scale solar prices in other parts of the United States, HECO says that this is less than it had contracted to pay SunEdison before the projects were sold.

Additionally, $0.108/kWh is a low price when compared to the very high retail rates that Hawaii has, largely due to the state’s dependence electricity generated by burning imported petroleum. HECO will pass these savings on to its customers.