Gov. Neil Abercrombie would – if necessary – have the state exercise its right to eminent domain to condemn Molokai lands for a wind-energy project, “if residents agree that a project can be done in a pono way.”
The governor’s comment is contained in a March 3 position statement on a potential Molokai wind farm when it looked like First Wind and Molokai Properties were going to be unable to reach a deal on a wind-energy project for the island. After that happened, the landowner announced that it was teaming up with a new company, San Francisco-based Pattern Energy Group, to proceed with the project.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Donalyn Dela Cruz, said Friday that the use of the state’s power to condemn property on Molokai looks moot because there now appears to be a wind-energy project moving forward.
However, “we are watching closely to see what happens,” she said.
The governor’s position statement on the Molokai wind farm project seeks a middle ground between Abercrombie’s support for alternative-energy projects and his desire to be sensitive to the community and its needs.
“Producing our own energy in Hawaii is crucial for our survival,” Abercrombie said in his position statement. “The proposed ‘Big Wind’ project that would produce electricity on Lanai and Molokai can be a crucial part of the equation.
Sempra Generation has signed a 20-year contract to sell wind energy to Maui Electric Co. from Sempra’s 21-megawatt Auwahi Wind project on the Ulupalakua Ranch in the southeastern region of Maui.
Sempra said it expects to begin construction on Auwahi Wind in early 2012, creating about 150 local construction jobs at peak and about five positions to operate the facility. The project is currently undergoing an environmental review by Maui County, and state and federal agencies.
When fully operational in late 2012, Auwahi Wind will be capable of generating enough energy to power 10,000 typical Maui homes, the company said.
The project will have a battery storage unit could store as much as 12 megawatt-hours of wind energy generated by the project’s wind turbines. The stored power will help to smooth the fluctuations normally associated with wind power.
The contract between Maui Electric Company and Sempra Generation is subject to approval by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.
Maui already has 51 megawatts of generating capacity from the Kaheawa I and Kaheawa II wind projects developed by First Wind LLC on a ridge above Maalaea.
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