WAILUKU – The Maui Planning Commission unanimously approved permits Tuesday for Auwahi Wind Energy to build and operate eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
Two dozen people testified on the proposed special use and special management area permits, and none were opposed to the project, according to planner Ann Cua. Some testifiers shared concerns about traffic, safety and visual impacts of the wind farm.
The project would have the capacity to generate 21 megawatts, which would be enough power to supply electricity to 10,000 homes. The $140 million project’s infrastructure includes an energy storage system; a 9-mile, 34.5-kilovolt power line; an interconnection substation; a microwave communication tower; and a construction access road. Each generator pad would require about 2.4 acres of cleared area, while the entire project would cover 1,466 acres, almost entirely on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
The project aims to provide power for Maui island only. It is not part of the “Big Wind” project, which calls for wind farms on Lanai and Molokai to provide power to Oahu via an underwater cable.
Commission members attached conditions to Auwahi’s permits, including one that requires Auwahi Wind, a division of Sempra, to work with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Ka Ohana O Kahikinui Inc. to develop a community benefits package. The groups would develop a plan and sign a memorandum of agreement addressing the roadway improvement and other needs of the Kahikinui homestead community.
The project area contains more than 1,100 archaeological features on 174 sites, and the developer has designed the turbines and power lines to avoid culturally sensitive burials and heiau.
The Public Utilities Commission has allowed Maui County and the organization Life of the Land to become intervenors in Hawaiian Electric Co.’s proposal to charge customers for a $4 million study on “Big Wind.”
Henry Curtis of Life of the Land said customers should not be forced to finance the studies, because past rulings by the PUC clearly ordered HECO to evaluate alternatives to the massive wind-power project. The commission’s decision and order, which was signed Wednesday, said HECO’s review of the project should have also evaluated alternatives such as expanding residential or large-scale photovoltaic systems, biomass, biofuel and concentrated solar energy.
But although they granted the interventions, the commission also cautioned Life of the Land and the county that their involvement would be limited to the issues currently on the table.
“The commission will preclude any effort by them to unreasonably broaden the issues,” the decision stated.
It then inserted a curious and unusual note that the commissioners said they expect the intervenors “will comply with the commission’s rules and orders.”
County Energy Coordinator Doug McLeod said the language was “interesting,” but he believes there will be some latitude “in what we can legitimately discuss.”
The county’s principal concern from the start, he said, has been “the lack of community benefits from Big Wind.”
Wind energy is cited among the green alternatives to fossil fuel, but environmental and community groups are irritated about the handling of a massive project to transmit energy to Oahu from windmills on Lanai and Molokai. They should be provided more access to preliminary work on the plan by state agencies and Hawaiian Electric Co., and hold project members to promises of full access and participation at future venues.
HECO is seeking a “power purchase agreement” from the Public Utilities Commission to recover $4 million from ratepayers in costs for studies associated with the Big Wind, or Interisland Wind, project. The PUC has endorsed the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which mandates that 40 percent of the state’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030, so the studies are consistent with the state’s goals. The path to getting there, though, has the potential to keep lay people in the dark until it emerges as a fait accompli.
Even Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa is complaining that “no one can tell us where the cable will run, its overall cost or how it would interconnect with the grids on the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.… We need a clear, complete, accurate, detailed analysis for the cable system before we agree to finance it on the backs of the ratepayers.”
First Wind LLC said it has temporarily idled the turbines at its Kahuku wind energy project while it works on the battery storage system.
The 12 wind turbines were shut down on May 22 and are expected to be brought back online in stages starting later this week, company spokesman John Lamontagne said in an email from the company’s headquarters in Massachusetts.
“We are conducting a diligent and thorough review of the operating issues for the battery facility at the Kahuku project. During that time, the project is offline,” he said.
The 30-megawatt project — Oahu’s only commercial-scale wind farm — began feeding electricity into Hawaiian Electric Co.’s grid in March. The turbines produce enough energy to power about 7,700 homes, according to First Wind. First Wind sells the electricity to HECO at a fixed price of 19.9 cents per kilowatt-hour under a 20-year purchase power agreement.
The Public Utilities Commission has rejected a request by First Wind LLC for more time to submit a document outlining its plans for a proposed wind energy project on Molokai.
First Wind had sought an eight-month extension past a March 18 deadline to file a “term sheet” that would have served as a precursor to an potential agreement with Hawaiian Electric Co., to buy power from the proposed 200-megawatt project. However, First Wind missed the deadline because it was not able to reach agreement with land owner Molokai Ranch on a potential site for the wind turbine project.
In a letter dated April 29 the PUC told First Wind that the wind energy company was not authorized to request an extension because it was not an official party in the proceedings. The PUC said such an extension request would have to be filed by HECO, which is a party in the case. However, HECO previously said it would not file for an extension on First Wind’s behalf.
After First Wind missed the March 18 deadline Molokai Ranch announced that it had begun talks with a new developer, Pattern Energy Group, on building the Molokai wind energy project.
A community group that opposes the development of large-scale wind farms on Lanai and Molokai is asking state regulators to reopen the bidding process for the projects, saying the original agreement is no longer valid because one of the developers dropped out.
An attorney for Friends of Lanai said a decision by First Wind LLC not to pursue the Molokai portion of the proposed project triggered a series of events that were not authorized under the original approval granted by the Public Utilities Commission last fall.
First Wind withdrew from the project after missing a key March 18 deadline set by the PUC to show that it was making progress on its planned 200-megawatt Molokai wind project. Castle & Cooke Resorts, which is pursuing a 200-megawatt wind project on Lanai, met the deadline. The two projects, dubbed “Big Wind,” would transmit electricity to Oahu via an undersea cable under a plan that is still in the preliminary stages.
Friends of Lanai attorney Isaac Hall noted that the PUC had to grant a waiver for the Big Wind project to proceed because its proposed size exceeded Hawaiian Electric Co.’s original request for proposals of up to 100 megawatts of renewable energy.
“Since only one party timely complied (with the PUC deadline), Friends of Lanai believes that the waiver is no longer valid