Dignitaries from throughout the state were on-hand last week for the blessing of the state’s first dispatchable solar energy plant; marking the first time a utility has contracted for a system of this scale that stores and delivers solar energy after sunset, according to a news release from Kauaʻi Island Utility Cooperative.
The project, commissioned by KIUC and owned by Tesla, Inc., is on 50 acres of land in Kapaia owned by Grove Farm. The plant will feed up to 13 megawatts of electricity into Kauaʻi’s grid to meet peak demand in the evening hours, utilizing the 52 MWh Tesla Powerpack lithium-ion battery storage system.
“The importance of this project for the member-owners of KIUC can’t be overstated,” said KIUC’s President and CEO David Bissell. “By using solar energy stored in the battery after the sun goes down, we will reduce our use of imported fuels and our greenhouse gas emissions significantly.”
Tesla’s CFO and co-founder, J.B. Straubel, attended the March 8 event. He said this is a “future” project that enables communities to reach 100 percent renewable.
“For the first time, solar power can deliver 24 hours a day and follow the load when it is needed by the utility,” Straubel said.
Bissell estimates the project will displace the use of 1.6 million gallons of diesel annually for KIUC, and will bring the cooperative to more than 40 percent renewable generation. Bissell said the project also makes financial sense for KIUC: under the terms of the 20-year contract, KIUC will pay Tesla 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour, which is less than the current cost of oil.
Attending last week’s ceremony were Gov. David Ige, Senate President Ron Kouchi, State Representative James Tokioka, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., Commissioners Lorraine Akiba and Thomas Gorak from Public Utilities Commission, and representatives for U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
The solar array and battery storage facility is adjacent to KIUC’s Kapaia power station off Mā‘alo Road, north of Līhu‘e. An open house was held on Saturday morning for members of the community to tour the facility and view the latest Tesla models.
KIUC is a member-owned cooperative serving 33,000 customers on Kauaʻi. Formed in 2002 and governed by a nine-member, elected board of directors, KIUC is one of 930 electric co-ops serving more than 36 million members in 47 states. KIUC’s Board of Directors has set a strategic goal of reaching 70 percent renewable generation by the year 2030. Currently, KIUC derives more than 40 percent of its power from renewable sources.