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Power companies respond to solar farm complaint

KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaiian Electric Co. and Hawaii Electric Light Co. are disputing allegations that they didn’t follow proper procedures in relation to a proposed plan for solar power projects that would generate a combined 6.75 megawatts at Ocean View.

The Public Utilities Commission in September agreed to temporarily halt movement on the project while it reviews a complaint filed by area residents. In documents filed with the PUC, an attorney for the companies said HECO and HELCO followed “all applicable rules, orders and laws” and that the complaints against them “are based upon misinterpretation of the rules.”

In August, Ocean View residents Peter and Ann Bosted filed a complaint against HECO, the administrator of the Feed-In Tariff program, as well as HELCO.

The proposed project in question would install tens of thousands of solar panels throughout 27 farms in and around Hawaiian Ocean View Ranchos. Each lot would be about 2 acres and produce 250 kilowatts. Altogether, they would produce 6.75 megawatts of power.

Of the 27 applications for projects, 26 were submitted by Oahu-based Solar Hub Facilities in 2011-12, according to news files. SPI Solar, based in California and China, later purchased the project, files state.

Under the Tier 2 Feed-In Tariff program, developer SPI Solar could then sell the power to HELCO at 23.8 cents per kilowatt-hour.

However, opponents to the plan argue the FIT program is intended to promote small projects instead of large-scale operations.

A former consumer advocate alleged developers took advantage of the law by breaking up the project into smaller farms to avoid standard bidding procedures.

In their response to the Bosteds’ complaint however, HECO and HELCO said that isn’t true.

According to documents filed with the Public Utilities Commission, the companies dispute the idea that they didn’t follow the rules required for the program, including the idea that they avoided following bidding procedures.

That isn’t the case, they said, because “competitive bidding was not required for the FIT projects.”

At the time the applications for the projects were filed, competitive bidding wasn’t needed for projects generating 2.87 megawatts or less. Individually, the properties in question would only generate 250 kilowatts or less.

Furthermore, they argued, there’s nothing that says projects can’t be clustered.

“The FIT Program does not contain a prohibition against different developers clustering separate projects in proximity to each other,” they wrote.

Overall, they argued that the rules were followed throughout the process and asked the PUC to dismiss the complaint.

In an email, Ann Bosted wrote that she’s not surprised the power companies disagree with her complaint.

“Their defense is that they just followed the rules,” she said. “We are saying that is not good enough.”

She noted that the permits were issued in 2011 with an eye to completing the projects by September 2012.

The program requires a “demonstration of project viability,” which was met at the time the applications were filed, according to the filed response. The delays, they said, were due “in large part” to steps that required outside consultants to come in and provide recommendations about the “safe, efficient and reliable interconnection” of the projects.

Bosted, however, said HELCO should have paid more attention to the project given its large output.

 

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