Do we would like extra native meals or cheaper electrical energy? Battle with two Hawaii priorities

Honolulu’s quest to implement a groundbreaking state farmland policy is met with opposition from major players in the state’s renewable energy industry, highlighting a major challenge Hawaii faces in trying to generate more of its own food and electricity in a chain of islands with limited land to produce.

Governor David Ige had set himself the goal of doubling Hawaii’s food production. In the meantime, the legislature has mandated to generate 100% of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2045.

But energy companies and farmers need the same thing – lots of flat land.

The Hawaii Clean Power Alliance has asked the Hawaii Land Use Commission to postpone any action against the Honolulu City and County proposal to designate approximately 41,000 acres as “Important Agricultural Land,” a designation intended to be prime agricultural land for agricultural use.

Three existing projects also speak against the IAL award – EE Waianae Solar LLC, the Waihonu solar parks from Hawaii Gas near Mililani and the Kahuku Wind Power project from TerraForm Power – as well as 174 Power Global, which is a large solar park with battery storage suggested in Kunia.

Honolulu’s Land Use Ordinance now allows renewable energy projects on agricultural land. How much the IAL designation would change is unclear. Honolulu officials said the deportation will have little impact on landowners’ ability to use their property.

Friendly horse with Kahuku wind turbines in the background.  11/20/13 © PF Bentley / Civil BeatThe proposal by the City and County of Honolulu to designate approximately 12% of Oahu’s land as “major agricultural land” has drawn opposition from renewable energy developers such as the operator of the Kahuku wind farm. PF Bentley / Civil Beat

But renewable energy companies are concerned as the IAL statute states that the overarching policy is to do things like direct “non-agricultural uses and activities from important agricultural land to other areas, and to ensure that uses are on important agricultural land are actually agricultural uses ”.

None of the companies responded to requests for comment on this article, and neither did Governor David Ige respond to a request made to his spokeswoman Jodi Leong.

However, the renewable energy companies have submitted a statement to the state commission for land use.

“Renewable energy projects are located in land that often overlaps with land that is agriculturally zoned and is now to be designated as an IAL,” Frederick Redell, Executive Director of the Power Alliance, wrote to the LUC. “The proposed designation of the county would classify a significant portion of the land on Oahu as IAL and impose additional restrictions on the land for uses that are not primarily agricultural.”

Laurent Nassif, Senior Director of Waihonu Solar Parks, made a similar point: Renewable energy companies often set up renewable energy projects on land because the projects take up a huge amount of space that cannot be found in residential or urban areas. Honolulu’s proposal, which would designate 12% of Oahu’s farmland as IAL, could hamper the state’s ability to meet its renewable energy goals, he said.

“Solar projects in particular require large and relatively level lots on which to place solar panels, and they also require unobstructed access to intense sunlight,” he wrote to the Land Use Commission. “Given these and other practical limitations, Ag Land is often the best and only option for locating these important projects.”

The dispute comes amid Ige’s call for Hawaii to be less dependent on imported food and energy resources. When he took office in 2014, Ige announced a vision to double the state’s food production by 2020, but it didn’t. Meanwhile, he signed a breakthrough law in 2015 that mandates a bigger goal for energy: that Hawaii should produce virtually all of the electricity sold in the state from renewable resources by 2045.

With this in mind, Honolulu City and County are trying to implement a plan to ensure that vital arable land is used primarily for agriculture. Although the concept of protecting vital agricultural land was spelled out in the Hawaii Constitution of 1978, it wasn’t until 2005 that the legislature passed laws that allow landowners to voluntarily designate their land as an IAL.

The IAL Act also requires that the counties also impose expulsion on other countries that meet the criteria set out in the law. The problem is that Honolulu’s efforts to identify and map the land have encountered a storm of opposition from dozens of the 1,800 or so landowners who are finding their property may be facing new restrictions, as well as from the Hawaii Farm Bureau.

State Board of Agriculture chairman Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser testified in February in favor of the Honolulu IAL plan. And that position has not changed, said Janelle Saneishi, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture.

State officials hope that “agro-voltaic” projects, where agriculture and ranching take place in the midst of solar parks, will bring Hawaii some progress. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative uses sheep to keep invasive seagrass at bay on their nearly 200 acre solar farm, which includes Tesla battery storage. Nathan Eagle / Cvil Beat

Meanwhile, state energy officials are trying to point a way forward by focusing on ways to enable energy projects and agriculture on the same land – a practice known as “agrivoltaics”.

Scott Glenn, Hawaii’s chief energy officer overseeing the State Energy Office, said the office has no position on the Honolulu IAL plan, but said the office believes the floors are of the best quality known as “A. – Soil “should be preserved for agriculture, as stipulated by the land use law.

“We’re not interested in changing the law,” he said.

The effect of the IAL designation is not clear

For renewable companies opposed to IAL labeling, it is partly a matter of understanding what the law will mean for them.

“It is unclear what the IAL designation means for landowners and renewable energy developers,” Laurence Green, project manager at 174 Power Global parent company Hanwha Energy USA Holdings Corp., wrote in a testimony to the Land Use Commission.

While Honolulu officials said the IAL designation does not change existing classifications or significantly affect allowable land use, Greene noted, “It appears that the purpose of the IAL designation is to do just that – the use of IAL-marked ones Restrict land to prevent agricultural use. “

Jodi Yamamoto, a lawyer representing the Kahuku Wind Project, agrees. She said it was far from clear what the renewable project label would mean to get approvals like permits from Honolulu officials.

“These uncertain impacts particularly affect Kahuku Wind and other similarly positioned renewable energy projects – both current and future projects,” she said. “The confusion is only exacerbated by the significant delay between the legislature’s creation of the IAL system in 2005 and the district’s recommendation, which is now under scrutiny by the Commission over fifteen years later.”

The Land Use Commission has suspended Honolulu’s IAL proceedings while seeking an opinion from the Attorney General as to whether the city and county followed the law in developing their plan. LUC chairman Jonathan Likelike Scheuer has described this as the threshold problem that determines whether the commission is pushed forward.

Wren Wescoatt, Director, Longroad Energy Development.Wren Wescoatt, Development Manager for Longroad Energy’s proposed Mahi solar project for Kunia, is looking for ways to run farms and ranches on the land used by the solar park. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Regardless of what happens, the dispute has highlighted the need to find a way for agricultural and energy projects to coexist. Not only Glenn’s team in the State Energy Office deals with agrovoltaics.

Longroad Energy’s Mahi Solar project planned for Kunia is also exploring the conduct of farming and ranching amid the project’s solar panels, said Wren Westcoatt, the project’s development director. With enough electricity to power around 37,000 households, Mahi Solar is hugely important to Oahu.

Westcoatt also understands the tension.

“Agriculture, ranching, solar energy: they all like the same type of land,” he said. “They like flat land with lots of sun and preferably dirt.”

Mahi Solar is looking for crops that can potentially be grown: things that can tolerate shade, flowering plants that could help beekeeping, sweet potatoes. The Hawaii Agricultural Research Center in Kunia set up the Agrivoltaic Research and Development Center to find out which crops can grow best in renewable energies.

The center’s director, Stevie Whalen, was unavailable for comment but said in an email that she believes Hawaii can meet both its energy and Ag goals.

“The important point here is that the barriers identified can be overcome as long as both parties work together for mutual benefit,” she said.

Westcoatt agreed.

“I hope we can find a way to use the land for both,” he said.

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