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.
First Wind Hawaii, the principal partner of Maui’s Kaheawa Wind Farm, has apparently been frozen out of the no-bid project called “Big Wind” that is a centerpiece of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative.
First Wind officials said they were not able to find a site to locate a proposed 200-megawatt wind farm on Molokai, because the island’s major landowner, Molokai Ranch, refused to negotiate with them. Last month, the Public Utilities Commission rejected First Wind’s request for more time to identify a location for the project, ruling that First Wind was not a party to the 2008 agreement that evaded the usual competitive bidding process.
“We’re disappointed, but it was not unexpected,” said John Lamontagne, director of corporate com-munications for First Wind. “We appreciate the PUC’s consideration.”
First Wind Chief Executive Officer Paul Gaynor warned the PUC in a letter in March that if plans for a Molokai wind farm falter, “the state would have put itself in a situation where there is a single point of failure – the Lanai wind farm.”
The no-bid project stems from an earlier request by Hawaiian Electric Co. for companies to submit proposals for the development of 100 megawatts of renewable energy on Oahu.
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