Kauai solar farm project stalls
By Coco Zickos
The Garden Island
KEKAHA — Farming sunshine may not become a reality for Kauai after all.
Almost three months after signing a lease to operate a $70-million, 10-megawatt concentrated solar thermal power plant on some 100 acres between Waimea and Kekaha, Pacific Light & Power has been unable to move forward with a Purchase Power Agreement with Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, said the company's Chief Executive Officer Dick Roth.
The cost to members would have been "higher than anything we've been looking at," said KIUC President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Hee. "It puts us at some risks which we were unwilling to accept."
The project — which could potentially bring power to some 8,000 single-family homes, offset around 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide and save the island from importing approximately one million gallons of diesel annually, according to Roth — has not been killed, and talks are still under way, Hee said. But KIUC stands firm in wanting to "benefit our members" by not raising costs "dramatically," he said.
Although the exact fee increase to members could not be confirmed, PLP's goal was to sustain a fixed price, reducing the island's dependency on foreign oil and its fluctuating costs. In fact, the cost per barrel of the finite resource has more than doubled since January 2009 from around $37 to nearly $90 per barrel Wednesday.
"Everybody agrees in the value of indigenous power and it's worth it in the beginning to pay a little bit extra for power that was created on the island," Roth said, adding the company is "not going to make a lot of money on this if it ever gets going.
"We wanted to bring down the cost as low as we possibly could," he said.
But it's "tricky," because "we think that the price we brought in is really a good price" and "would save the members money, but KIUC looks at numbers differently," Roth said. The situation is based upon "two different assumptions."
Oil prices may not climb to the levels PLP is predicting, Hee said. And if the value did not increase to the same capacity the company is assuming, members would "probably be more upset" having the solar energy which would ultimately "raise their rates."
One person who said he might not be upset with higher rates, as long as they weren't "exorbitant," is community activist Bruce Pleas.
"Anytime you do an alternative-energy project your rates are initially going to go up," he said yesterday. "That's just the nature of the beast."
But Pleas added he could "handle an increase" if he knew it would eventually stabilize due to utilizing resources other than volatile-priced oil.
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