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AES talks opening solar plus storage site amid Hawaiʻi's push for renewables

The Waikoloa Solar + Storage Project on Hawaiʻi Island on May 18, 2023.
Office of Gov. Josh Green
The Waikoloa Solar + Storage Project on Hawaiʻi Island on May 18, 2023.

The same company that owned and operated Hawaiʻi's last coal-powered electricity plant now has the most green energy projects underway in the state.

The AES Corporation has started operating its Waikoloa Solar + Storage Project, capable of generating up to 30 megawatts and storing 120 megawatt-hours. That's enough power for nearly 14,000 homes on the Big Island, according to AES.

"The largest on the island, and we're expecting it to bring down customers' bills about $5 a month. So that's really, for island residents, something that they've been waiting for," said Sandra Larsen, the Hawaiʻi market business leader for AES.

But construction was a lengthy process complicated by pandemic supply chain issues and changing specifications.

"We did have shipments of modules that ended up having to be returned and taken back to customs. Also just challenges in terms of finding new modules, having to redesign the project so that it was going to meet these new specifications. So the team really overcame a lot to bring this online. I mean, it was four years to bring the project from pen and paper to where it is today," Larsen said.

AES is selling the energy to Hawaiian Electric for 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, the utility said. The island now gets 54% of its energy from renewables, up from 48%, according to HECO.

Solar is one aspect of Hawaiʻi's goal of reaching 100% renewables by 2045. AES currently has nine renewable energy projects in the state with a total of 350 megawatts of solar, wind and energy storage either in operation or under construction.

“Hawai‘i is laying the groundwork for a transition to renewables, and we will continue to build on this work to accelerate the transition, create jobs and support a sustainable economy,” said Bernerd Da Santos, the executive vice president, chief operating officer and president of renewables at AES, in a statement.

On Oʻahu, the company just announced an energy storage farm could replace its coal plant that closed in 2022 after 30 years.

This interview aired on The Conversation on May 18, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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