With the launch of Oahu’s first commercially viable wind farm behind them, proponents of wind power will now try to replicate the feat on Lanai and Molokai, where larger-scale wind projects face far greater community opposition.
The first trickle of wind-generated electricity began flowing to the Hawaiian Electric Co. grid last week from 12 wind turbines at a 30-megawatt facility in Kahuku developed by Boston-based First Wind LLC. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the First Wind CEO, the head of the Public Utilities Commission, Kahuku community leaders and even musician Jack Johnson gathered under a tent in the wind-swept foothills of the Koolau Mountains to celebrate the occasion.
Although the wind farm will provide just a small fraction of Oahu’s peak electricity demand, Abercrombie and others heralded the Kahuku project as an important step in Hawaii’s pursuit of energy independence.
To make wind a much bigger part of the electric grid in Hawaii, state officials and HECO are leading an effort to develop larger wind farms on Lanai and Molokai that would send electricity to Oahu via undersea cables. The proposal for 400 megawatts of generating capacity split between Lanai and Molokai, combined with wind and solar energy generated on Oahu could provide 25 percent of the island’s power needs
WAILUKU – Maui planning commissioners Tuesday praised a proposed wind farm as a “wonderful, wonderful project” but raised doubts about getting the massive equipment to the remote location on the southwest flank of Haleakala between two sections of the Auwahi native plant restoration area.
The commission was commenting on a draft environmental impact statement for Sempra Energy’s proposed wind project at Ulupalakua.
Worries about losing the last highway ocean views to what Chairman Jonathan Starr called “pole land” also came up Tuesday. But the wind farm itself was warmly received, with Starr wishing only that it could be bigger than the 21 megawatts proposed.
Pardee Erdman, of Ulupalakua Ranch, which will lease nearly 1,500 acres to Sempra, called the project “a win-win for the ranch.” He said the infrastructure needed to transport heavy turbines and lengthy vanes will “make that land more productive than it is today,” although he added, “We are going to continue raising cattle.”
Maui Electric Co. has contracted to begin purchasing wind electricity from the project a year from now.
But developers still have to obtain many permits before they can proceed, including a special management area permit for parts of the project makai of the road to Kahikinui.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service Hawaii Field Office (NASS), Hawaii ranked third highest in the nation in terms of the number of farms and ranches producing on-farm renewable energy. With a total of 8,569 farms nationally reporting solar panels, wind turbines, and/or methane digesters, Hawaii’s 522 reporting farms came in third behind Texas and California. Hawaii farms producing renewable energy saved an average of $2,125 on their 2009 utility bills, the 11th highest in the nation but slightly less than the national average of $2,406.
Hawaii ranked second in the nation in terms of number of solar panels located on farms and third in terms of number of farms with either photovoltaic and/or thermal solar panels. Of the reported 7,477 solar panels on farms throughout the State, 56 percent were installed between 2005 and 2009.
Hawaii ranked seventh in terms of number of small wind turbines producing energy on farms, turbines rated at a 1-100kw. Forty-three farms reported a total of 67 turbines, 42 percent which were installed over the last five years between 2005 and 2009.
LANAIHALE – For decades, researchers thought the last major colony of Hawaiian petrels in the islands nested on the slopes of Haleakala.
Then about a decade ago, wildlife biologist Fern Duvall was working on Lanai when he noticed a petrel burrow. He kept the discovery in the back of his mind for six years, until he was able to return to the island to follow up.
“We just went to see if we could detect any birds at all,” Duvall said. “It turned out that not only could we find birds – there were thousands of them. We think it’s the second-largest known concentration of Hawaiian petrels.”
Duvall suspects that the birds have thrived on the slopes of Lanaihale – Lanai’s only large mountain – because the island has so little development and few urban lights.
The night-flying birds depend on starlight to navigate and often become disoriented and crash in urbanized areas.
“Lanai disappears after dark,” Duvall said. “We think the birds cue in on this absolute darkness.”
The qualities that attracted the birds to Lanai also helped them go unnoticed for decades – and still makes it tough to get an accurate estimate of the population, said researcher Jay Penniman.
On January 26, a mixed segment of the community attended a meeting called Hawaiians Ku`e. The pitch was to honor our kuleana (responsibility). There was also an introduction of state sanctioned governance called Aha Moku/Aha Kiole. In essence, it’s about community districts, from east to west Molokai, maintaining the natural resources of their areas by using a mix of ancient Hawaiian and modern practices. It is a good start to have this practice in our community (more fish, ophi, limu, native plants, water resources, etc.) and if successful, may become a model for the rest of state.
Next was a dialog about windmills and getting off the dependency of oil from the Mid-East. Lanai is a done deal and the plan is to build windmills. Some people in this state have said Molokai is also going to be a done deal and the 410 ft. towers are going to be put on the west end. Absent from the meeting was dialog from the land owner (Molokai Ranch) and the residents of the west end. This issue must be pono with Molokai’s people and environment to succeed.
Questions: What will Molokai get if windmills are built here? Who will be the go-to people? What will be the short, medium, and long term effect to Molokai’s people and environment? Who owns the underwater cable? Whose responsibility and liability is the cable? Remember the oil rig in the gulf – catastrophic.
There are various opinions and with honest dialog at the table, I’m sure Molokai people can come up with the right solutions. Maybe start with a solar farm in Pala`au next to Maui Electric to lower Molokai’s oil dependency first? Is a solar farm at Pala`au and Kalamaula less intrusive?
If the state was really serious about alternative energy, how about partnering with the federal government, military and all John Does to put those wind monsters on Kaho`olawe where wind and land is plentiful and there is no infringement on homeowners. Since the cable is already intended for Lanai, Kahoolawe is a doorstep away. Revenue can benefit all of Hawaii. Some might argue that Kahoolawe is rich with historic and cultural significance – I agree. But are they saying that Molokai and Lanai are less historical and culturally significant?
LANAI CITY – Lanai residents turned out Saturday to express strong opposition to bringing “big wind” to their island for the benefit of Oahu consumers.
Testifiers expressed concern about how a proposed wind farm by Castle & Cooke could impact the environment, cultural sites, hunting access and scenic views if it were allowed to proceed on up to 12,800 acres on the northwestern end of the island. While state and federal officials said their purpose was to gather comments on a big-picture plan for an interisland wind system, without focusing on any one specific project, Lanai residents said it was impossible to comment on the impacts of the larger plan without scrutinizing Castle & Cooke’s proposal.
“I’m very troubled by this whole concept,” said Lanai City resident Robin Kaye. “How can you have this cumulative study without looking at the specific impacts?”
The U.S. Department of Energy and the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism hosted the scoping meeting Saturday in the Lanai High and Elementary School cafeteria.
It followed similar meetings on Maui and Molokai earlier in the week.
It seems lately, everyone has been hosting meetings on alternative energy options for Molokai – the state, the federal government, community members – and now, land owners.
Peter Nicholas, CEO of Molokai Properties Ltd (MPL) said he has set up three meetings around the Molokai community to discuss the potential benefits and pitfalls of a wind farm. He added MPL is not currently negotiating or having talks with any wind energy company.
“There are dozens of questions that we have,” he said recently. “We are arranging to have someone there who will be a real expert on wind farms.”
MPL will be holding a meeting on March 2 at the Mitchell Pauole Center; March 3 at the Maunaloa Rec Center; and March 4 at Kilohana School. All meetings will begin at 5:30 p.m.
“This is just one of a 10-step process to find out what people really want,” Nicholas added. “The issue of a wind farm for Molokai and MPL land is a vexing question…and has the potential to deeply divide the community.”