Fire and Flooding Risks Surrounding of 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) March 20, 2023- 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 the Paeahu Solar Project, announced by LLC/ Innergex Renewables in 2018 and planned to break ground sometime this year, will endanger the lives and health of the surrounding community and environment through increased fire and flooding risks. Due to this and other social, cultural, economic concerns, the Pono Power coalition along with the Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association, petitioned for intervention in the permit proceedings in May 2021. The evidentiary case hearing began Dec. 9, 2022, and concluded on January 9, 2023. The Hearing Officer’s Findings of Fact/ Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation have yet to be issued. After they are issued, the matter must be heard and voted upon by the Maui Planning Commission.
The Paeahu Solar Project will be a utility-scale generator, which could create serious fire risk as large amounts of electricity are being generated, stored in lithium-ion batteries, and transmitted to the grid. Electrical shorts, flying sparks, and extreme heat buildup could easily lead to an electrical fire. In addition, 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. Portions of the Paeahu Solar Project will be located a mere 250ft from residential areas.
On top of the fire hazards from the Paeahu Solar Project, the area is more prone to fires due to it being dryland forest habitat. The trees, shrubs, and vegetation in these areas are often highly flammable and, when ignited, become fuel for fires. This type of land also 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.
Along with the increased fire risks, the Paeahu Solar Project may increase flooding in the Maui meadows area. Construction of the power plant will create impermeable surfaces and change the amount of water that can be absorbed on-site. The Project’s drainage plan does not consider the drainage infrastructure capabilities of Maui Meadows. It uses numbers for its drainage basins that leave little room for error and require immediate maintenance after storms to maintain their capacity.
Unfortunately, South Maui already has a severe flooding problem and retains lots of structural and environmental damage as a result of their floods and storms. This is why we have a crucial concern with the Paeahu solar project. Construction of this power plant will make this issue among others, such as the discussed fire risks, worse and may affect the adjacent communities.
Most dishearteningly, Innergex, the developer for the Paeahu solar plant, seems to understand these risks and yet has ignored them. During the hearing, they lacked basic information regarding a fire safety plan, did not have any specific plan for decommissioning the facility, and Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association/ Pono Power Coalition's hydrologist, Matt Rosener, testified that the drainage plan was not sufficient to protect Maui Meadows. Furthermore, Innergex has not answered questions regarding the flooding risks that the Paeahu solar plant will inevitably bring. In fact, Innergex seems to have responded to these concerns with a level of animosity, testifying that it would have to seek a price adjustment from the Public Utilities Commission, and will be looking to negotiate a new price for its power which will likely go up.
With everything in mind, it is also important to note that there are safer locations just south of the necessary transmission line and farther from residential communities. This leaves us to question why Innergex is adamant about building so close to families and the nearby community, especially knowing that this development poses a fire and flooding risk. Is this due to the location being close to the local transmission line, making it convenient and more profitable for developers? We hope that this case may serve as a reminder to our community that we must prioritize safety and ethical planning above all else.
To learn more visit: https://safesolarprojects.org/
CB: Maui Solar Project Stokes Concerns About Climate-Fueled Fire And Flooding Risks