Increased Fire Risks Surrounding The Paeahu Solar Project in Kihei, Maui
HE ALIʻI KA ʻĀINA; HE KAUWĀ KE KANAKA; “The land is a chief; man is its servant”
News Release from Safe Solar Projects
(Kihei, Maui) October 19, 2022- Safe Solar Projects, a project of Pono Power Coalition, is an initiative led by a group of concerned citizens in the South Maui area. The Pono Power Coalition understands the urgency and the need for clean energy, including solar, to combat climate change. However, we believe that developing any large utility-scale power plant, such as the Paeahu Solar Project planned to break ground in 2023, should not endanger the lives and health of the surrounding community and environment. As much as we are advocates for solar and other renewable energy, this project appears to have many potential and unforeseen consequences specific to its chosen location and design that raises many unanswered questions that require further investigation and evaluation before going forward. These include potential fire risks that could endanger the nearby community just 250 feet away.
As with almost all utility-scale electrical generators, utility-scale solar projects do carry a potential for fire risk. With large amounts of electricity being generated, stored in lithium-ion batteries, and transmitted to the grid, there is the possibility of electrical shorts, flying sparks, and extreme heat buildup that can easily lead to an electrical fire. Furthermore, in solar installations, there is the potential that panels will continue to generate a electrical current (due to sustained light) even during a fire. These live electrical currents, combined with the large lithium-ion batteries that are proposed for this project, could make gaining control of a fire more difficult and dangerous due to the increased risk of electrocution and thermal runaway of the batteries, which may leads to increased damage to the surrounding community and environment.
Along with the increased risks from the construction of utility-scale solar power plants, the area itself is more prone to fires due to it being dryland forest habitat. The trees, shrubs, and vegetation in these areas can often be highly flammable and, when ignited, can become fuel for fires. This type of land also typically has a lower soil and air moisture content than other ecosystems, making it easier for fires to spread quickly, especially when intensified by warmer temperatures. This calls into question the safety of building a power plant, even solar, in this location.
Increased risk of fires also brings into question the ability to adequately mitigate and put out these fires. The Maui Meadows region, unfortunately, may not have the infrastructure to handle larger-scale fires. With few hydrants and mostly just standpipes, this could pose a problem. Fires in areas with little or no publicly maintained fire hydrants require firefighters to use other strategies in the event of a fire, such as the water shuttle system. This takes longer to set up and means less water flow and pressure to fight fires. Without adequate infrastructure in the area to protect it, fires could spread farther and faster, making it extremely dangerous when close to homes. With this in mind, it begs the question; Does the Maui Meadows neighborhood have the adequate ability and infrastructure to fight a large-scale fire?
With this probable increased risk of fires, it is important to note that the Maui Meadows area has previously been subjected to them in the past. There have been many small brush fires over the years, and a large-scale fire in 2019 burned 80 acres of land. Can the community handle more fires? Also, this new project proposed just 250 ft. away from a residential community raises the question; why so close to homes? This location may be close to the local transmission line, making it convenient and more profitable for developers, but with vast acres of land just south of the necessary transmission line and farther from residential communities, there are safer options.
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Paeahu Solar Farm Hearing continues LIVE tomorrow
Safe Solar Projects, Pono Power Coalition continues hearing/questioning of 200 acre project, plans, safety, impacts to community
Who: Safe Solar Projects/Pono Power Coalition Kihei, Maui
What: Hearing continues in Maui, Maui Planning Commission
When: Thursday December 15 (8:30 - 4:30) WATCH LIVE: To join the meeting on a computer or mobile phone:
MEETING ID: 515 087 372
FOR MORE INFORMATION: WEBSITE: www.safesolarprojects.org
(KIHEI, MAUI), December 14, 2022, The Maui Planning Commission, through a hearing’s officer, will continue receiving evidence regarding a special use permit application and Phase II development approval request from Innergex Renewables, LLC for development of the Paeahu Solar Farm, proposed for above Maui Meadows in Kihei, Maui. The proposed 200 acre solar farm has been a point of controversy in the community. The Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association and Pono Power Coalition have been granted intervenor status in the application, affording them an opportunity to question Innergex’s plans, the safety of the location, and impacts to the surrounding community, as well as to present their own testimony and witnesses.
Innergex must clear the steep hurdle of proving that the project will not adversely impact the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and ecological character and quality of the area, that the public will be protected from the deleterious effects of the project, and that the project will not adversely interfere with drainage and roads – including those through Maui Meadows. Moreover, Innergex must explain how and why the Commission should grant its request for a Phase II Development Approval, when the Commission just recently approved a Phase II approval for the Honua’ula Partners residential development (formerly known as Wailea 670) for the same site. Staff of the Maui Planning Department are also expected to testify regarding Innergex’s role in drafting Department’s staff report and recommendation for permit approval.
Pono Power Coalition spokesperson Genesis Young says, “We are looking forward to the opportunity to question the developer about how they will protect Maui Meadows Neighborhood from fires and flooding, how they will remove the dozens of acres of panels, batteries and inverter skids from the site without relying on Maui Meadows’ narrow and winding residential roads, and how clearing some of the few remnants of native dry land forest left in this area will not harm the environment. We don’t believe this project meets the strict criteria in place for special uses in the agricultural district. We agree Maui needs more solar – but it must be done right. If must be done with community safety as the number one priority.”
The evidentiary contested case is being held at the Maui Planning Department on specific days between December 12-20, 2022 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.. The hearing will be livestreamed via BlueJeans. Visit SafeSolarProjects.org for more information. It is expected that the Maui Planning Commission will make a final determination on Innergex’s permit applications in early 2023.
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SSP: Maui group launches Safe Solar Projects effort leading up to Paeahu Solar case