Photovoltaic solar panels are hot, and not just because of their booming popularity in providing clean electricity.
The reflective glare from the panels can seriously heat up a home. Just ask Darryl and Jody Canady of Ke Nani Kai condominiums on Molokai’s West End.
Most afternoons, at around 3 p.m., a laser-like beam of sun glare hits the Canady’s lanai and living room from the reflection off the photovoltaic panels placed on the east-facing roof of the Ke Nani Kai office. The longtime Ke Nani Kai residents estimate that the panels heat up their home an additional 10 degrees on sunny days.
Since the 124 panels spread over three arrays were installed in January, the problem continues to get worse as the days grow longer and the sun rises higher in the sky.
“The owners were just not taken into consideration,” said Jody Canady.
The original plan from the solar contractor, Sunetric LLC, only showed panels on two sides of the building. A third array was planned to cover the flat roof that extends over the swimming pool lanai. Unfortunately, the timing of the project did not allow the owners to approve the extension of the lanai roof before the federal tax credits and grants expired at the end of 2010.
The Canadys are also bothered by the lack of benefit this project offers the condo owners. Since each condo unit has its own electric meter, the power generated does not reduce the electricity bill for individual owners.
The net metering agreement between Ke Nani Kai and Sunetric pays for 15 percent of the common electricity bill for the condo association. This 20-year lease agreement allows Sunetric to sell back excess power from the 40-kilowatts power plant to Maui Electric Company for a profit. The Canadys, along with Ke Nani Kai Board of Directors Vice President David Baccus, estimate this saves the association $300 to $400 per month on its electric bill.
“We will never see one penny from Sunetric or Ke Nani Kai,” said Darryl Canady.
Baccus disputes the Canadys view of this project.
“We need to do things to lower our costs,” said Baccus, “especially since the cost of water will continue to increase.” Baccus claims that this project, along with other cost-saving measures, have lowered maintenance fees 8 percent over the past couple of years.
Baccus acknowledges that the glare is a problem for the Canadys and for one other unit in the 120-apartment complex. To solve this, Baccus said that the panels will be removed from the east-facing roof and placed on the roof of the pool lanai. To do this, the owners must first vote on the roof extension.
“We agree that the panels will have to be relocated,” said Baccus. “This is a problem that can be solved.”
Another potential problem with the project is the lack of permits. When Sunetric filed for a Special Management Area assessment with Maui County, the company only mentioned the roofing work on the office building and did not describe the photovoltaic installation.
“They totally ignored every permitting requirement,” said Molokai Staff Planner Nancy McPherson. Apparently, Sunetric did pay a violation penalty for the project. Because the company underestimated the total value of the project, the 10 percent fine will also need to be reassessed.
“I couldn’t have been more disappointed with them [Sunetric],” said Baccus, concerning the company’s failure to seek an SMA permit in a timely manner.
Another potential problem is that this project failed to receive approval from the West Molokai Association, the umbrella homeowners’ group that represents all three condominium developments in the Kaluakoi area. The WMA board denied the project by a 7-0 vote. Baccus said he did not know the reasons for the WMA rejection.
If the project is valued at $125,000 or less, Ke Nani Kai will only need an SMA minor permit. If a finding of no significant impact is made by the Maui County Planning Department, and the Molokai Planning Commission concurs, the solar panels will see many years of sunlight.
A vote of condo owners to extend the lanai roof was taken Saturday at the association’s annual meeting. With only 51 percent voting in favor, the owners failed to approve the extension. The measure needed 66 percent to pass. The future of this project remains uncertain.