HONOLULU — Republican state Sen. Kurt Fevella organized a protest along a highway in Hawaii against a proposed 9-acre solar farm on property owned by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.
About 30 people with signs and Hawaiian flags protested on Thursday alongside Farrington Highway near Nanakuli Valley, where the proposed solar farm is to be built.
The protesters argued that the proposed project was not the best use of the agency’s trust land. A land trust was created by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians, who are defined as having at least 50% Hawaiian ancestry.
Native Hawaiians are eligible to apply for 99-year leases at $1 per year for residential, ranching or farming leases on a land trust of 317 square miles overseen by the agency.
There are about 23,000 Native Hawaiian applicants on the waitlist.
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands said the planned 15-megawatt solar farm on up to 88 acres of the 448-acre Nanakuli Ranch is one of the best uses for the land. The department said the site cannot be used for beneficiary homesteads because it is in a flood plain.
The home lands department also said the planned solar farm is expected to provide about $165,000 in rent annually over a 55-year land lease that can help fulfill its homestead mission. It added that existing homesteaders can benefit from the project if they invest in it through a Hawaiian Electric program that provides investors a net savings through discounted monthly electricity bills, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
Some homestead beneficiaries believe agency officials should have consulted with them before concluding that the solar farm would be the best use of the land.
Other homestead beneficiaries questioned why they should help build a project that doesn’t provide direct value for Native Hawaiians. The beneficiaries said discounted electricity for investors and the reduction of the state’s use of fossil fuels were not large enough incentives.
“Why are Hawaiians having to give up more land to support the entire island?” read a beneficiary question from an October videoconference meeting to discuss the proposed project.
DHHL said it will schedule a second round of beneficiary consultation meetings in April or May. The agency also said it would host two public hearings that involve the project developers and the Hawaiian Homes Commission.
After the hearings, project developers still need to negotiate terms and the DHHL still needs to finalize the project. If all is approved, the solar farm could begin operations as soon as 2022.