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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kauai solar project 'pretty well stalled'

BY Diana Leone AND Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

This rendering shows what Pacific Light & Power's solar thermal power collectors would look like from above.

Rendering from Pacific Light & Power

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A Kaua'i-based firm that wants to develop the state's largest solar power project says its plans are in limbo after it was unable to reach a purchase-power contract with the Kaua'i Island Utility Cooperative.

Pacific Light & Power yesterday said its proposed 10-megawatt project in West Kaua'i is "pretty well stalled" after talks with KIUC broke off because of a disagreement over what the utility would pay for the power.

Dick Roth, chief executive officer of the Anahola-based firm, said he still hopes something can be negotiated with the utility and that his firm also has other plans for projects on Kaua'i.

Roth said Pacific Light & Power signed a letter of intent with KIUC last August and that both sides had worked hard to come to an agreement. The renewable power firm is proposing to spend $70 million on a 102-acre array of solar heat collectors on former sugar cane land near Kekaha. Heated liquid from the collectors would drive steam turbines to produce electricity.

The startup company hoped to break ground on the project in December.

KIUC has two basic problems with the system: the cost of its power and that it would not be available all of the time, President Randy Hee said yesterday.

Hee would not say what wholesale cost Pacific Light & Power was offering KIUC, but said it was "on the high side ... and we have to look out for our ratepayers."

Hee called Pacific Light & Power "a great bunch of guys. I know Dick Roth really wants to get something done that would be good for Kaua'i."

"They're trying to come up with something to make that project a little more viable," Hee said.

But Pacific Light & Power spokesman Canen Ho'okano said he wasn't sure if the deal could happen now.

"We basically did everything that anyone could ever do to try a renewable energy project on this island," Ho'okano said. "We've gone further than anyone else has ever gone in every which way and gotten tremendous support from the community."

Pacific Light & Power intended to use technology developed by the Spanish company Albiasa Corp., which has a similar 50-megawatt solar plant under construction in Spain.

Pacific Light & Power said its plant would generate enough power for 8,000 homes during its hours of operation.

Operational hours would be during all but the most cloudy days and for up to three hours after sunset, thanks to insulated storage tanks that hold heated liquid to extend electricity production time, Ho'okano said.

Though the power wouldn't be available through the night, it would help KIUC meet its larger daytime loads, he said.

The project would have employed 1,488 solar troughs that use curved mirrors to focus the sun on tubes filled with heat transfer fluid.

The heat stored in that fluid would be passed to a heat exchanger that generates steam to power a Ram Power Inc. system of generators. The project could offset 1 million gallons of imported diesel fuel and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 15,000 tons per year.

Roth said he still hopes to see the project move ahead.

"It would be a real benefit to Kaua'i," he said.

He said Pacific Light and Power also would like to build hydroelectric and biomass projects on Kaua'i.