Haste may make waste

July 2, 2009 at 2:38 pm Leave a comment

The Maui News, Editorial, July 2, 2009.

As part of the state’s Photovoltaic Energy Systems Project, a contract for the Kahului Airport went to an Oahu company when there was at least one Maui firm that could have done the job.

The 2008 photovoltaic project had a laudable goal – help cut Hawaii’s appetite for imported oil. The state’s request for proposal called for a contractor to install and maintain multiple units putting out a total of 34 megawatts. That would have entailed a capital investment of something like $50 million. Usually, a contractor installs a photovoltaic generator, sells it to investors to recover the initial outlay and then maintains the unit under contract.

The scope of the project put it out of reach of Maui’s solar companies. The winner ran into the credit crunch and pulled out. The state Department of Transportation scaled down its plans, received permission to issue a no-bid contract and someone picked Hoku Scientific of Honolulu.

Hoku is supplying less than 1 megawatt of capacity at state facilities on Maui, the Big Island and Kauai. Tim Whitcomb of Haleakala Solar said his 32-year-old Maui firm could have handled the smaller contract, if he’d known about it. Apparently there was a need for speed, prompting the no-bid approach.

That need for speed also led to the state locking itself into a 20-year contract that calls for spending 38 cents a kilowatt hour, a reasonable rate in the context of oil prices heading for the stratosphere. In the interim oil prices dropped to half what they were and Maui Electric Co. is charging medium to large customers between 16 and 21 cents a kilowatt hour.

Going photovoltaic is costing the state this year, but might not in the future. At any rate, it’s a reasonable initial investment. With MECO and its parent Hawaiian Electric Co. ready to charge higher rates to cover the cost of linking Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Oahu with an undersea cable, there is an open door for Maui County to become a major supplier of electricity to Oahu, lowering power costs on Lanai, Molokai and maybe Maui while creating a viable alternative energy industry in the county.

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Entry filed under: Renewable Energy, Solar Electric.

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