|Kaitlyn Fisher practicing her butterfly that took her to tenth place in the island finals. Photo by Darene Fisher|
|Trojan swim team back row Madison Fisher, Candace Keohuloa,|
Kaitlyn Fisher, Cheska Aurelio, Tayler Rasmussen and
Alden Wells with student fan in front Mardani Sugai.
Photo by Darene Fisher
|Chessika Aurellio practicing her breastroke.|
Photo by Darene Fisher
SPI plans to build a 6.5-megawatt project on 27 house lots among existing homes in three Ocean View area residential subdivisions. Nineteen are slated for Ranchos, eight are planned for Kona South and one
Ranchos residents said over the years that they oppose
leveling landscape for industrial solar farms.
Photo by Annie Bosted
for Kula Kai. More than 300 residents signed a petition against the project, while former elected leaders, including then state Senator - now Gov. Josh Green, then State Rep. Richard Creagan, and then Council member Maile David, wrote letters to the PUC opposing the project.
The project is the result of the Feed-In Tariff program, launched in 2008 to kick-start more renewable energy in Hawai'i. The intention of FIT was for owners of agricultural land to build small solar projects with a nameplate capacity of under 250 kWh. To prevent developers from using the program for large installations, the "one project, one TMK" rule was enacted. The idea was to allow only one 250 kW solar farm per lot described by a Tax Map Key number. However, in Ocean View where lots are designated "agriculture" and most of them three acres, solar farm developers are attempting to build multiple FIT projects on contiguous lots and on lots in close proximity to each other. One of the incentives is the existing three-phase power lines and roads n Ranchos and Kula Kai, which would serve the solar farms and be a cost-cutting incentive to developers, said Ann and Peter Bosted, who are residents in the area and oppose the project.
They explained that solar developers were attracted to buying up lots in Ocean View because the FIT program offered a set of standardized purchase power rates that were very generous, at 23.6 cents per kWh. By comparison, current projects will earn about 9 cents per kWh for power that can be stored on batteries and available in the peak period. The Bosteds noted that the Ocean View solar farms would not have batteries, and would produce power for use during daylight hours. The Bosteds said that Hawai'i
One of the numerous OV meetings over the years, concerning
proposed industrial solar on house lots. Photo by Annie Bosted
Island has a surplus of daytime energy, so it is likely that power from the Ocean View project would be "curtailed" or not used at all.
Back in 2011, two entities aiming to run solar farms in Ocean View were the major players. Solar Hub Utilities held the rights to build 18 FIT projects in Ocean View, while a hui of RevoluSun principals in Honolulu had rights for nine.
In 2012, Civil Beat ran a story labeling Solar Hub as a "queue squatter." Civil Beat also quoted the FIT's Independent observer's criticism of Solar Hub for not completing its projects on time. Civil Beat noted that Solar Hub put together the package and sold all its places in the FIT program to SPI, a solar developer then based in Shanghai, China. The PUC stated that FIT projects should not be considered commodities that could be bought and sold at a profit and ordered an audit of the program.
Meanwhile, Hawaiian Electric deemed that the Ocean View project was so huge that a new substation. costing about $4-million would be required, and developers would need to share the cost. In 2013, RevoluSun ceded its FIT rights to SPI, which became the sole player.
In 2015, HELCO and SPI held a meeting in Ocean View to announce the planned project. It was rowdy with residents expressing their disapproval and some vowing to sabotage the project. A month later, a
|Ranchos residents are concerned that native trees|
will be bulldozed for industrial solar farms.
Photo from phrc.us.
Residents described feeling threatened by the industrialization of their rural community. If allowed to be built, they said, each three-acre facility would be surrounded by an eight-foot tall security fence, adorned with signs reading "Danger", "High Voltage" and "Keep Out."
Non-Kaʻū residents were also quoted by West Hawaiʻi Today as expressing concern – Stephen Holmes of the Sierra Club said the cost of the power would be too expensive, while Marco Mangelsdof, a solar company owner in Hilo, called the FIT program a "fiasco" and a "boondoggle". Hermina Morita, a former head of the PUC, stated "The purpose of the FIT was to encourage smaller projects, not as a loophole for larger projects, which would have been negotiated under different terms."
On Feb. 15, 2016, then-head of the PUC, Randy Iwase, chaired a meeting in Ocean View. The meeting was required for the proposed construction of a new transmission line to connect the project to the grid. The meeting quickly turned to concerns about the overall project. Residents contended that it did not belong in the FIT program. Some called it a scam, boondoggle, and backdoor route to industrialization. State Rep. Richard Creagan told the PUC chair that he was planning to change the law. The PUC Chair told the Ocean View residents that their complaints "had not fallen on deaf ears
In August 2016 the Bosteds submitted a formal complaint about the project to the PUC. They alleged that HECO and HELCO had mismanaged the FIT Program and should not have allowed the Ocean View project into the program. Iwase immediately ordered a hold on the project until the Bosted complaint could be investigated. Over six years later, that hold is still in place.
Since then, SPI has been fighting to keep the project alive through a plethora of filings, including discovery, position statements, and a failed attempt to have the issue decided by arbitration. In 2016 there were 13 filings contributed to the docket by the Bosteds, HELCO, SPI, and the Commission; in 2017, there were 28; In 2018 there was one; in 2019 there were six; In 2020 there were 24 and in 2021 there were 12.
|A ground-mounted solar array on one lot, similar to those planned for Ranchos on 26 separate lots,|
this one from enspisolar.com.
In December 2019, the Commission identified a prior decision, dubbed the Monet precedent, made by the PUC in 2011, that FIT projects could not be combined into one utility-scale project, even if the "one project, one TMK" rule was met if the project was centrally managed. The Commission asked the parties to argue whether the Ocean View project was centrally managed. Now the Commission must decide if the Ocean View projects should be considered individually or in the aggregate for purposes of determining whether they comply with the Commission's directives concerning the FIT Program and the Competitive Bidding Framework.
In 2022, SPI filed a motion asking the Commission to skip the oral hearing, which has been scheduled since 2016, and go straight to a decision.
|Ranchos and other Ocean View residents testified before the PUC's Randy Iwase |
about industrial solar proposed on lots in their neighborhood.
Photo from Big Island Video News
"SPI now has it set up so that each of the FIT projects in Ranchos and Kula Kai is owned by an LLC, or a shell company, which is the basis of their argument that the project is not centrally managed. However, when Solar Hub got the places, it was just Solar Hub. One company with 17 places, which they sold en-masse to SPI in a deal. Actually, it was three deals – firstly a sale, but when they got into trouble for that, they made it a loan, then when the dust settled made it a sale.
"Today, SPI refuses to acknowledge any of that. We filed copies of checks written by SPI to cover their Road Maintenance fees, proving that SPI is, in fact, running the show. We have evidence of their getting County building permits as a block. There is correspondence between HELCO and SPI showing that SPI staff speak for the entire 6.5 Megawatt project.
|Industrial solar farms would bring fenced in lots in residential|
neighborhoods in Ocean View. Photo by Annie Bosted
"In addition, the three commissioners have changed drastically. Mr. Iwase retired soon after the PUC got our complaint. The commission under James Griffin identified the Monet precedent, but his term expired in mid-2022. Now, only one member of that commission, Mr. Leo Asuncion remains. We have two new commissioners. Are they going to wade through six years of filings? How many PUC lawyers were on staff for the past six years? If the case is just judged by SPI's most recent filings, we could lose as that narrative ignores salient points. We need to present our case directly to the current commissioners.
"One of the commissioners is a former principal of RevoluSun, and a member of the hui that planned a five-megawatt FIT project for 20 contiguous lots in Ocean View. Another was an attorney with a large law firm and she repeatedly appeared for HECO and advocated for the company in numerous cases. If they both recuse due to conflicts of interest, then Mr. Asuncion will be the sole decider of this case. We need to
"We really are in a David and Goliath situation," Bosted added.
St. Jude's Hot Meals are free to those in need on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until food runs out, no later than noon. Volunteers from the community are welcome to help and can contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Location is 96-8606 Paradise Circle Drive in Ocean View. Those in need can also take hot showers from 9 a.m. to noon and use the computer lab from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Free Meals Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are served from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Nā'ālehu Hongwanji. Volunteers prepare the food provided by 'O Ka'ū Kākou with fresh produce from its gardens on the farm of Eva Liu, who supports the project. Other community members also make donations and approximately 150 meals are served each day, according to OKK President Wayne Kawachi.
Volcano Evening Market, Cooper Center, Volcano Village, Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with live music, artisan crafts, ono grinds, and fresh produce. See facebook.com.
Volcano Swap Meet, fourth Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to noon. Large variety of vendors with numerous products. Tools, clothes, books, toys, local made healing extract and creams, antiques, jewelry, gemstones, crystals, food, music, plants, fruits, and vegetables. Also offered are cakes, coffee, and shave ice. Live music.
Volcano Farmers Market, Cooper Center, Volcano Village on Sundays, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., with local produce, baked goods, food to go, island beef and Ka'ū Coffee. EBT is used for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps. Call 808-967-7800.
'O Ka'ū Kākou Market, Nā'ālehu, Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact Nadine Ebert at 808-938-5124 or June Domondon 808-938-4875. See facebook.com/OKauKakouMarket.
Ocean View Community Market, Saturdays and Wednesdays, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., corner of Kona Drive and Highway 11, where Thai Grindz is located. Masks mandatory. 100-person limit, social distancing required. Gate unlocked for vendors at 5:30 a.m., $15 dollars, no reservations needed. Parking in the upper lot only. Vendors must provide their own sanitizer. Food vendor permits required. Carpooling is encouraged.