Community Based Renewable Energy for East Hawaii

Sierra Club members recently participated in an informal discussion with commissioners of the
Public Utilities Commission regarding new solar facility development in East Hawaii. ExCom
member Shannon Matson provided the club’s response.

We strongly support a reduction in the use of fossil fuels to reduce our impact on climate
chaos. Biomass burning also generates greenhouse gases, and the Hu Honua proposal has
generated community opposition, and has yet to earn the required permits. We know that
communities in close proximity to some facilities have had to contend with decisions made by
the developers, HELCO and the PUC that affect their health, quality of life, safety, and cost of

The island of Hawaii is unique in that the land area and distances are an order of magnitude
greater than the other neighboring islands. Solar installations are going on all the new
homes—the subdivisions are filling in, because East Hawaii is less expensive than other parts of
Hawaii. Many people are going off-grid and no longer paying the electric company. Others
install solar systems that feed into the grid, receive discounts, and pay the company less. A
diminishing number of people are left paying traditional electric bills, so the company raises the
rates to cover its costs. The visitor industry wants electric infrastructure with enough capacity
to handle sudden large influxes of visitors. But when visitor numbers drop, the industry pays
lower rates, while the company must still pay to maintain the infrastructure. This creates an
inherent inequality if resident ratepayers are bearing the burden of static infrastructure costs.

We recommended early consultation with neighbors and surrounding community with active
notification and outreach efforts are critical in avoiding challenges and/or litigation. Energy
development should be adapted to each community situation, and community benefits should
be considered in in addition to the shareholder rate reduction. We asked for the ethical
manufacture and sourcing of materials to be utilized, and that decommissioning plan and
funding be part of the proposal.

Finally, we asked how the PUC is planning to coordinate projects, energy demand, distribution,
conservation regimes, and social justice for communities with a range of socio-economic

Leave a Comment