How REC Solar Is Expanding Solar in Hawaii

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If you have ever bought two liters of ketchup and mustard, a vacuum cleaner, sweat pants, and a monster bag of peanut butter pretzels — all in the same warehouse in Hawaii — then chances are that you have been under an REC Solar PV installation. Since REC Solar’s first Hawaiian installation on the roof of Costco in 2008, the company has installed 2.4 MW total across the roofs of four Costco locations.

We recently had a chance to talk with REC Solar’s Director of Business Development in Hawaii, Drew Bradley, about developments there. This year was a good one for REC Solar in the Aloha State. With 19 MW of completed and new construction in 2014, REC Solar will add to a total of 27 MW installed among the islands.

Newly completed commercial projects include a 186 kW ground-mounted system at the Dole Pineapple plantation on Oahu, and a 174 kW roof-mounted system on two roofs of the Keck Observatory.

The Dole Pineapple plantation is host to over one million visitors a year. MIchael Moon, Director of Operations, said, “We needed a contractor that would minimize the impact on daily operations at Dole Plantation during construction. REC Solar made the installation process easy and efficient by working openly with our team. Now, we use the Hawaii sun to not only support agricultural activities, but also to help us reduce our impact on the planet. It also provides us a historical connection by harnessing the sun to harvest a new crop: renewable energy!”

The Keck Observatory is located in Kamuela on the Big Island. The solar electric systems are lowering the facility’s operational costs to support the world’s two largest optical and infrared telescopes. “Keck Observatory built and operates the world’s largest and most scientifically-productive telescopes, and we have a proven track record of implementing world-class systems,” said Steve Jefferson, Communications Officer for W. M. Keck Observatory. “We looked at our solar energy system in the same way. REC Solar met our high quality standards in both the design and the installation of our system. We are proud of our efforts to reduce our impact on the petroleum-based energy grid and get a real kick knowing we are harnessing the power of a star to view other stars and the cosmos that spawned them.”

REC Solar is also currently planning a 14.53 MW plant for the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative as a large addition to their existing 1.2 MW plant.

Excellent irradiance and an outstanding state incentive for both PV and solar thermal systems is driving the renewable energy development on Hawaii. One can receive 35% of the project cost in state tax credits, or opt to receive cash for 70% of the tax credit value. For example, a $1 million project is eligible for $350,000 of tax credits, or a $245,000 check in the mail. In a way, this is similar to everyone’s favorite — but expired — federal 1603 cash exchange for the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

Speaking of the ITC, it is also still available in Hawaii.

While the Hawaiian Feed-In Tariff is not being renewed, energy prices on the islands are still so high that they are conducive to widespread solar installations. On Oahu, electricity prices can average around 30 cents/kwh, and as we move to islands farther from the capital, energy prices will average closer to 40 cents/kwh. Energy prices are high because most of the electricity in Hawaii is generated by imported petroleum that must be stored in large tanks.

Your solar project in Hawaii will offset some of the highest-priced energy in the country, and be eligible for 24.5 – 35% of the value of your system in state credits and for 30% of the value of your system in ITC. With incentives like these, Bradley told us, REC Solar’s projects see an average of about a four-year payback period.

Keck Observatory HI