Kauai Just Might Have The Best Electric Utility In The U.S.

Hawaii_solar_photovoltaic_panels_on_a_roof_Image_Hawaii_State_Separtment_of_EducationKauai island’s electricity co-op (KIUC) is running circles around pretty much every other utility in the U.S. when it comes to renewables and energy storage.  The utility just brought online Hawaii’s largest solar installation to date, with a 12 megawatt facility.

But the bigger news is that the solar PV is paired with a 6 megawatt lithium ion battery system, as UtilityDive reports. The 60-acre facility will supply 20 percent of the island’s annual power needs.

What about the cost? Well, given that Hawaii imports diesel fuel to burn for electricity, this plant will be an economic winner. KIUC announced that the project will save the utility $250,000 each month on operating costs alone, with the storage helping to smooth the intermittent solar power.

Overall, Kauai is lapping everyone else when it comes to renewables.  California just patted itself on the back for setting a goal of 50% renewables by 2030, which is great.  But Kauai is on the way to meeting its goal of 38% renewables just by the end of 2015, with 50% by 2023 and 100% renewables by 2045, as a new Hawaii state law will require.

This progress shows what can happen when you have a cooperative ownership model for electricity, as opposed to an investor-owned utility or even municipally owned utility.  It also helps of course that Hawaii has high electricity prices and abundant renewable resources.  But the leadership at KIUC deserves kudos for pioneering a range of important policies and projects:

KIUC, for its part, has been making waves in the power sector lately with it aggressive adoption of solar, storage, and rate structures to optimize their use.

In September, the cooperative unveiled a deal with SolarCity to construct what it calls the first fully-disptachable solar-plus-storage system, a combination of a 13 MW solar array with a 52 MWh battery system.

That month, KIUC also announced it would conduct a pilot program offering discounted electric rates to encourage customers to shift their energy use to the daylight hours to take advantage of the utility’s solar resources. The program will offer a 25% discount on standard electric rates from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Let’s hope that state regulators and the retrograde investor-owned utility on the other islands take note of KIUC’s success, as well as utilities all across the country. KIUC is showing how you get it done, cleaning the environment and saving ratepayers money in the process.


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