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Navy halts move for solar project on historic runway in Hawaii

HONOLULU — The Navy has stepped away from a controversial plan — at least for now — to blanket the historic Ford Island runway in photovoltaic panels, a new environmental assessment reveals.

Instead of covering 28 acres of runway with 60,000 PV panels and surrounding it with a 7-foot fence, the latest Navy plan calls for 50,000 panels on nearby fallow land on Waipio Peninsula.

The photovoltaics are part of a massive solar power project undertaken at Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps bases on Oahu and Kauai.

The Hawaii Joint Services Solar Power Generation effort would be constructed at 85 sites, providing between 7 and 56 megawatts of power — an amount representing 2 percent to 16 percent of the total power consumption at the installations.

Sixty-eight of the systems would be mounted on existing roofs, 12 on structures above parking lots and five on the ground.

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, which is overseeing the project for all the services, awarded in 2011 a $500 million maximum, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity, multiple-award contract to Island Pacific Energy LLC of Honolulu, Pacific Energy Solutions LLC of Honolulu and Photon Finance LLC of Mountain View, Calif., for purchase of reliable, locally generated power from solar systems at Hawaii military installations.

At this point, the Navy is in a public comment period for the final environmental assessment. Documents can be downloaded at www.dodhawaiisolarea.org.

This comment period runs through June 24. Subject to consideration of comments received during the review, the Navy said it anticipates awarding the contract late this year.

The Navy said the solar power systems will be financed, constructed, owned, operated, maintained and repaired by the companies awarded a contract.

Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu and Kauai Island Utility Co. generate more than 90 percent of the electricity sold to the Defense Department by burning fossil fuels.

Congressional and Defense Department mandates require the use of renewable energy and a reduction in dependence on foreign fossil fuels.

Hawaii has an average energy cost in the range of 35 cents a kilowatt-hour — almost three times the national average of 12.7 cents, the environmental assessment said.

The rates, the highest in the nation, have been increasing about 6 percent per year through the past two decades, the report said.

The Navy also is negotiating the operation and maintenance of two multi-fuel power plants at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base.

Photovoltaics would be placed at locations including Schofield Barracks and its East Range, Wheeler Army Airfield, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Marine Corps base, Puuloa Range Training Facility and, on Kauai, the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

The Waipio Peninsula site, between Waipio Point Access Road and the Middle Loch shoreline and part of Pearl Harbor, would be the biggest at 42 acres, followed by 5.5 acres at Ulupau foothill at the Marine Corps base.

Before the selection of Waipio, the Navy had wanted to cover the Ford Island runway with photovoltaics.

However, the adjacent Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor and some environmental groups opposed the plan.

An Internet campaign was organized to gather signatures opposing PV on the runway. Retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff, called Ford Island and its runway "part of the historic memory of the United States."

The National Trust for Historic Preservation said in an April 1 letter that it supported the Waipio siting "as a less harmful alternative to the Ford Island runway site."

The Navy environmental assessment says Waipio is the "preferred" site, and that the Ford Island runway remains as an "alternative" site.

The report says the Waipio site, combined with the smaller rooftop and PV structures, will allow the Navy to meet its most immediate renewable energy goals.

"However, unless other technologies become viable in the near future, attainment of mid- and long-term goals will require selection of additional sites for large ground mount arrays," the assessment states.

The Waipio site was part of an amphibious operations base in World War II and then was farmed by the Oahu Sugar Co., which ceased operations in 1995. The site has been fallow since, the Navy said. The service said in the assessment that adjacent land to the west might be suitable for PV expansion.

Much of the 1,412-acre peninsula lies within an explosive safety arc of the West Loch Annex ammunition wharves, where torpedo and missile maintenance takes place, and is therefore largely undeveloped, the Navy said.
 

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