Energy on Lanai to get solar boost
The 1.5-megawatt project is the first in Castle & Cooke's push for renewable energy
» Efforts by Castle & Cooke could mean boost for Oahu power supply
Castle & Cooke Inc. announced yesterday that it plans to use its position as one of Hawaii's largest rural landowners to construct solar and wind farms that allow it to harness the sun and wind to create electricity.
The company, whose diversified businesses include the development and ownership of real estate, leasing of transportation equipment, manufacture of brick and building materials, and ownership of public warehouses, plans to break ground within the next 30 days on a 1.5-megawatt solar farm on Lanai.
LANAI SOLAR-ELECTRIC PLANT
Output: 1.5 megawatts (30 percent of Lanai's usage)
Land area: 10 acres
Cost: $13 million to $18 million
Operational: Late 2007 to early 2008
Source: Castle & Cooke Inc.
The power plant, which would use thousands of sun-soaking panels to generate enough emission-free electricity to meet 30 percent of the island's needs, will be the fourth-largest solar-electric installation in the United States.
It hopes to have the plant producing electricity by late this year or early next.
"The time to move forward with renewable energy is now," said David Murdock, chairman and owner of Castle & Cooke. He added that the $13-million-plus project announced yesterday is "just the first step of our plans for renewable, sustainable energy."
Oahu power consumers may also benefit from Castle & Cooke's renewable-energy push if the company's exploratory plan to build a 300-megawatt wind farm on Lanai takes flight. The company has set a two- to 10-year timetable to build a wind farm that would pipe power over to Oahu.
Castle & Cooke Inc. announced plans yesterday to construct a solar-power plant on Lanai that will use thousands of sun-soaking panels to generate enough emission-free electricity to meet 30 percent of the island's energy needs.
The 1.5-megawatt project, which will be built on a 10-acre site in south Lanai by SunPower Corp., will be the fourth-largest solar power plant in North America and the largest in the state.
"The time to move forward with renewable energy is now," said David Murdock, chairman and owner of Castle & Cooke. "Castle & Cooke is uniquely positioned on Lanai to move forward to quickly meet -- and exceed -- the state's mandate of 20 percent sustainability by 2020."
He said the project announced yesterday is "just the first step of our plans for renewable, sustainable energy."
While solar-electric systems have long been used by individual residents and businesses in Hawaii to help conserve energy or live off the electrical grid, reduced equipment costs and government incentives have begun to move the zero-emission technology into Hawaii's public arena.
Castle & Cooke hopes to break ground in the next 30 days after getting the necessary municipal zoning approvals and building permits, said Harry Saunders, president of Castle & Cooke Hawaii. The company chose a flat, south-facing site in the Palawai Basin to take maximum advantage of the sun's light, he said.
Charles Lockwood, an environmental and real estate consultant in Southern California, said it's refreshing to see Hawaii jump on the green movement, which is a natural fit for the islands.
"Sunshine has always been one of Hawaii's most prized and profitable natural benefits," Lockwood said. "Who would have ever thought today as we look for non-polluting energy sources that the same sunshine could become a source of electricity and future economic benefit for Hawaii outside of its lead visitor industry? It will provide work for people in the islands and create a reliable source of energy that doesn't have to be brought in over the ocean at great cost to consumers."
Maui Electric Co., whose Lanai power plant is about two miles south of the proposed solar plant, is currently negotiating with Castle & Cooke to purchase the solar power and supply it to Lanai's community through MECO's electrical grid, said Ed Reinhardt, president of MECO.
"Maui Electric Company fully supports the installation of renewable energy sources, and Lanai's unique location will create a model for future projects," Reinhardt said.
Since solar tends to be a low-maintenance technology, the Castle & Cooke solar farm is expected to supply electricity to the grid for the next 15 to 20 years, Saunders said. The cost of the system, which is expected to open its first phase sometime between December 2007 and the first quarter of 2008, is expected to be between $13 million and $18 million, he said.
Given the overhead costs to put in a solar-power system, whether the new technology will reduce energy costs for MECO's Lanai customers remains to be seen, said Peter Rosegg, spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Co.
"The rates are determined by our total costs of all the energy that we get -- some we generate ourselves and some we buy," Rosegg said.
The advantage of using photovoltaic technology is that although it is very expensive to construct, the operators don't have to continually buy fuel, he said.
"The price might not be appreciably lower today, but it will probably be very stable into the future," Rosegg said.