A San Jose, Calif.-based company is preparing to build a large solar panel farm in West Oahu.
"This approval is the first contract for a utility scale five-megawatt solar farm," said Hawaiian Electric Co. spokesman Peter Rosegg.
It is the largest project of its kind in the state, according to HECO officials.
SunPower Corp. officials say its solar panels will be installed to move and follow the sun to capture 25 percent more energy than fixed-tilt systems on land leased from the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
Energy advocacy groups such as Blue Planet Foundation believe this is just the beginning of something bigger.
"It means less money leaving state to buy oil, more local jobs and most importantly security for the price of electricity over time," said Blue Planet Foundation Director Jeff Mikulina.
The Hawaii Public Utilities Commission has approved for SunPower Corp. to initially sell energy to HECO at less than 20 cents per kilowatt hour. That's less than what HECO currently charges customers.
"In the very near term prices will not go down, but in the long term this is a fixed contract at set prices," said Rosegg.
HECO says it currently gets only 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources, including wind and sun.
By 2030, Hawaii law will require it to increase that number to 40 percent.
"We've got law to motivate us, but we want to go much further than that," said Rosegg.
Construction is scheduled to begin before the end of the year and be completed in five months.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the solar farm will produce enough renewable power equivalent to removing 37,600 cars from Hawaii's roads over the 20-year agreement.
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