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Navy land swap for electrical upgrades in Hawaii adds to renewable portfolio

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: November 26, 2019

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The Navy and Hawaiian Electric Co. marked a land-for-power-upgrades swap with the dedication Monday of the 80,760-panel, 20-megawatt West Loch Solar Project — the latest of an ever-increasing number of solar farms helping to march Hawaii toward its goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045.

Navy officials said 102 acres of West Loch Annex land in Ewa was provided to HECO in exchange for more than $5 million in upgrades to three electrical substations at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and new electrical switch gear at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

“These enhanced electrical upgrades are critical to building our energy resiliency at a time of great power competition that we have not seen in decades, and a near-peer competitor in the region that certainly highlights the strategic importance of our military forces in Hawaii,” Rear Adm. Robb Chadwick, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said in remarks.

Chadwick did not mention China by name, but U.S. defense strategy is increasingly being reoriented toward countering the fast-rising Asian power.

Chadwick added that the “benefits to the island of Oahu are clear, including reducing the island’s (petroleum dependency) and moving Hawaii further towards an all-renewable energy future.”

HECO will own and operate the solar farm built by REC Solar, which will feed into the island’s electric grid and serve all users on Oahu.

The project is expected to save $109 million over its 25-year life span compared with the cost of using oil to generate electricity, the power provider said.

In September, Clearway Energy Group, in partnership with HECO and others, brought online solar projects in Kawailoa, Waipio and Mililani generating 110 megawatts — enough to power about 18,000 Oahu homes for a year.

The three projects represent the largest block of grid-scale power ever developed in Hawaii and add approximately 3% to the renewable goal, which reached 27% at the end of 2018, according to HECO.

Officials said Oahu uses about 1,200 megawatts during peak demand at night, while Maui and Hawaii island are at about 200 megawatts each and Lanai and Molokai use 5 to 6 megawatts each.

U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz from Hawaii both spoke at Monday’s dedication, with Hirono noting that the solar panels angled in long rows are “not from China — they came from Indonesia.”

“There aren’t enough American companies producing solar panels,” Hirono added, “and as our whole country moves toward an energy-renewable energy future, I hope that manufacturing of solar panels in our own country will increase.”

The Clearway Energy Group project added upward of 800,000 solar panels. HECO expects more than 4.4 million solar panels to be delivering energy across five islands by 2022.

HECO President and CEO Alan Oshima said he frequently starts presentations showing Earth and Hawaii’s isolated location in the Pacific.

He follows that by showing the islands “with no extension cord to California — which is a revelation to many people, and actually, no extension cord between the islands we serve, which is also, for some people, a revelation,” Oshima said. “But it shows the difficulty and the opportunities Hawaii has in making a difference in the role we play moving to a truly renewable future for the earth and the environment.”

Oshima said HECO has over 100 bids for 900 megawatts of new renewable power with award groups expected to be named in May.

Proposals for the projects on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island include bids to use solar, wind, energy storage and other technologies. Requests for proposals for Molokai and Lanai also will be made.

Oshima noted the West Loch project will produce power only in the daytime, “so that’s why integrated solutions are needed.

Everyone thinks solar is the answer — it is, but you need battery storage, you need other types of resources.”

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