SolarWorld solar blog

Small Community in Hawaii Puts the Sun to Work with SolarWorld Solar Panels

Posted 21 April 2011 12:00 AM by Ben Santarris, Head of Corporate Communications and Sustainability

Hawaii Homelands ProjectThis morning, I came down with a case of Kaupuni-itis.

As I learned from an event to dedicate a Department of Hawaiian Home Lands project in Oahu’s Wai‘anae Valley, the main symptom is an unexpected twinge of hope for human habitation of Earth. The emotion was in full bloom among many impassioned speakers in the sun-washed ceremony. Tears flowed, smiles beamed, hugs spread, prayers rose. I had the sense that I had stumbled into an auspicious vortex of historical consequence.

Kaupuni Village is the name of one of the smallest housing projects of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the agency charged with shepherding Hawaiian land for the benefit of people of indigenous ancestry. It’s just 19 homes and a community center in a flat patch of the valley’s floor.

Nevertheless, the project and the ceremonial consummation of 19 families’ home ownership in Kaupuni (COW-poo-nee) comprise a big moment for Hawaii -- maybe even the nation.

Credited as the country’s first LEED Platinum single-family subdivision, Kaupuni fulfills a vision of returning Hawaiians to net-zero energy consumption without electricity costs; methods of harnessing power and shading from the sun, including SolarWorld panel arrays; economic sustainability, with virtually free land leases and cut-rate home prices; and plans for sustainable fish and produce farming. In short, the project represents the first robustly sustainable Hawaiian Home Lands project.Kaupuni Village, Hawaii - solar power for the whole community

In the ceremony, speakers gave voice to a crazy-quilt of historical cross-currents. One recounted Hawaiian creation myths to suggest that the connection between humans and nature should be like that of nurturing siblings. Another invoked traditional Christian appeals for divine blessings. Several speakers implicitly referred to dislocations of indigenous Hawaiians since first contacts with westerners but also explicitly highlighted latter-day attempts at redemption, reconciliation and repatriation.

Sitll others outlined hardships of homelessness from which Kaupuni had delivered some homesteaders – and noted how well the project’s offer of renewal suited the week of both Easter and Earth Day.

In effect, the project is about using new methods to achieve old ends of uniting Hawaiians with island lands and self-sufficiencies. “The 21st century cutting edge is going to meet the 10th century cutting edge,” said Dalani Tanahy, owner of KapaHawaii, which promotes native Hawaiian arts and know-how.

Solar home in Hawaii of Kanani and KiaainaVelascoMany speakers credited the foresight of Prince Kuhio, the first member of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, as well as the first three state governors to chair that panel. In a rousing speech, current Gov. Neil Abercrombie declared Kaupuni to be at “the end of this new beginning for Hawaiian home lands and homesteaders.”

These deep chords overcame the only homesteader to speak: Kanani Velasco (pictured at left with her family). She, her husband, Kiaaina, who works in the Pearl Harbor shipyard, and their two sunny little boys move into their 1,900-square-foot home next week. They will still carry a $260,000 cost burden for the home, but they estimate that’s half what it otherwise would cost – a difference that separates owning and renting a home.

Speaking haltingly through tears, Kanani said her family’s discovery of their place in Kaupuni came as an overwhelming sense of “feeling that we were in the right place at the right time for the right reasons.”

Maybe Kanani and her family are just enjoying an acute case of Kapuni-itis.

Read the press release

See all photos from ceremony on Flickr