New & Noteworthy: A Tighter FIT; Kona Kampachi Cage Test

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A Tighter FIT: Two years after launching a feed-in-tariff program, which guarantees renewable energy producers grid interconnection and fixed rates and terms for their power, the Hawaiian Electric Companies want to tweak a few things. In its March 4 reexamination report of Tiers 1 and 2 of the program, which cover small to medium-sized projects, HECO and its affiliated companies asked the state Public Utilities Commission to approve changes to the program. In addition to allowing the utilities to buy electricity at different rates depending on the island, and to offer contracts for varying terms (10, 15, or 20 years, as opposed to the current term of 20 years), the electric companies proposed to do the following:

  • Limit the program to photovoltaic (PV) projects only. Currently, the program accepts applications for in-line hydro, onshore wind, concentrated solar power (CSP), and PV. But since its launch, all but three of the applications for the FIT program have been for PV. Only one non-PV project – for CSP – has been installed. As of January, some 63 PV projects had been connected under the FIT program and 267 more were in line.
  • Open the project up to competitive bidding so ratepayers don’t overpay for FIT capacity. Under HECO’s modified program, eligible developers would be able to bid into a program increment and the lowest offers would be accepted up to the capacity for that increment. This bidding process would “allow the company to purchase PV energy at the most competitive market rate available, regardless of whether it is utility or commercial scale,” the review states. Each program increment would have a ceiling price based on either an average price for all contracts awarded through any small renewable generation bidding process or the last power purchase agreement for a solar PV project approved by the PUC.
  • Limit Tier 1 projects to 10 kilowatts or less. Currently, projects up to 20 kW may apply under Tier 1. HECO notes that most of its small PV projects — in both the FIT program and its net metering program — generate 10 kW or less. The companies added that they would consider increasing the project sizes for Tier 2 (currently limited to 500 kW) to 1 megawatt for O`ahu projects, on the condition that Tier 3 (which allows projects as large as 5 MW) be modified and/or possibly phased out.

These proposed changes and more are expected to be included in a formal request from the HECO companies for modification.

Kona Kampachi: A plan to grow kampachi (Seriola rivoliana, or kahala) in cages off the Kona coast continues to inch closer to realization. In November, Kampachi Farms, LLC, submitted an application to the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct what NMFS regional administrator Mike Tosatto called its “gamma test” of a redesigned grow-out pod.

The service “will likely publish a draft environmental assessment for public comment before making a final finding on the environmental impacts and whether to issue the permit or not,” Tosatto said at last month’s meeting of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, meeting in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

If the permit is issued, Kampachi Farms will tether its submersible net pen, called a CuPod, to a vessel “adapted to serve as a feed barge and communications station, which would in turn be affixed to a single-point mooring,” the company states in a project summary given to NMFS.

Council member McGrew Rice, who fishes in the area, said “where they want to put it is fine to me as a fishermen…. I don’t see this bothering anybody. It’s far offshore, in a good current area and will enhance fishing for a lot of people.”

The company proposes to moor the array about six miles directly west of Keauhou Bay, some seven nautical miles south-southwest of Kailua-Kona. The pod will contain about 2,000 hatcher-reared fish, the application states.

NMFS’ approval of an earlier, “beta” test conducted by Kampachi Farms’ predecessor, Kona Blue Water Farms, was challenged in federal court by Food & Water Watch, Inc., and KAHEA. The court granted NMFS’ request for summary judgment last April. Even though that permit has expired, the plaintiffs have pursued their case with an appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. No date has been set for oral argument.

Volume 23, Number 10 — April 2013

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