Solar farm workers upset over Hawaiian Electric’s decision to shut down Sun Edison projects
Instead of ramping up at a 47-megwatt solar farm in Wapio, work crews are ramping down. Employees got the bad news Tuesday morning, including a dozen who reported for what was to be their first day on the job. Another 44 people recently hired at a job fair can’t begin work. A construction foreman who recently relocated his whole family from Kauai, now faces an uncertain future.
HONOLULU - Instead of ramping up at a 47-megwatt solar farm in Wapio, work crews are ramping down.
Employees got the bad news Tuesday morning, including a dozen who reported for what was to be their first day on the job. Another 44 people recently hired at a job fair
can’t begin work.
A construction foreman who recently relocated his whole family from Kauai, now faces an uncertain future.
“I am not sure how long we are going to be here. To tell the truth I don’t know how I am going to tell my wife. It's a stressful day," said William Carlos Jr.
Many workers are from the neighbor islands and now are struggling to make sense of the news that the three Oahu solar farms are on hold.
"It's is quite baffling, not knowing why. I can't understand how, or what reason they would have to pull the plug on this," said Helix Electric Safety Officer Alain Deppen.
Deppen and others are on a roller coaster, caught up in a corporate struggle.
"HECO, shame on you. Let’s get this project going. Finish it and help the people of Hawaii reduce the cost of energy," said Deppen.
Hawaiian Electric terminated the contracts with Sun Edison after the financially troubled renewable energy company failed to meet an earlier financing deadline.
In a statement it said:
"Despite many steps we took to try to avoid this action, in the end we had to make a decision that we believe is in the best interest of our customers, and that allows us the best opportunity to use this renewable energy capacity for viable projects.
SunEdison whose stock closed at $1.46 on Wall Street Tuesday had asked for time to restructure its debt.
"We have secured a buyer for these projects who has been ready since December to finance and complete the projects on schedule. This would increase solar capacity on Oahu by nearly 30% this year. We continue to believe this is the best outcome for ratepayers and for Hawaii's renewable energy goals." said Sun Edison spokeswoman Crystal Kua,
Instead, company managers out in the field are left staring at the prospect of mothballing a half-built project full of cable, electrical parts and photovoltaic panels.
"We have 2,000 panels and ten times that many in transit, in storage, or on a boat that were on the way to be installed on the site, as well as a huge amount of steel," said SunEdison Project Manager Brendon Kennedy.
Workers said the company had been planning a blessing for the Mililani project for Wednesday and for the Kawailoa 50-megawatt farm on Thursday. Both have been cancelled.
It is unclear if the Public Utilities Commission has any say in the termination of the deal.
The PUC had been asking HECO and Sun Edison for a status of the projects.
Last week, NextEra told KITV that as part of the proposed merger with HECO that it had consent rights on the projects, but declined further comment Tuesday.
Blue Planet Foundation’s Richard Wallsgrove lamented the news of the termination.
“It's disconcerting. If we look at the trend of what's happening, we are asking for coal power and to import fossil fuels like liqufied natural gas, at the same time we are terminating solar farms. I think as a community we ought to see a solutions focus. Let's get these farms built," said Wallsgrove.
SunEdison was scheduled to give the Mililani Neighborhood Board an update on the projects at its Tuesday night meeting.