By Mike Gordon and Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writers
An Oregon company wants to build Hawai’i’s most powerful wind farm along the Kahuku coast, not far from the green hills where Hawaiian Electric Co. is re-evaluating the area for a wind farm after failing nearby with an earlier project.
West Wind Works LLC wants to build 20 turbines capable of producing 50 megawatts of power on 1,100 acres at the northernmost point of O’ahu, including in an area near the abandoned Kahuku Airfield, said company president Keith Avery.
At the same time, Hawaiian Electric is talking to the military about testing wind patterns near Kahuku and possibly using U.S. Army land for a project.
Wind farm developers are turning their focus to Kahuku, one of the most wind-swept areas on O’ahu, after Hawaiian Electric was rebuffed in an effort to build a 39-megawatt farm above its Kahe power plant last year. Wind energy is one of the more promising renewable energy sources as Hawai’i looks to cut dependence on imported oil that fires most electrical generators in the state.
O’ahu is playing catch up with the Neighbor Islands where proposed wind farm projects are expected to yield more than 100 megawatts of power.
“Wind energy is kind of the golden boy of renewables right now because it’s been able to expand rather rapidly and the costs have come down,” said Warren Bollmeier, president of the Hawai’i Renewable Energy Alliance. Kahuku is “arguably the best site that could be easily developed.”
Avery said plans call for spending about $100 million on his project, which could be online in 2009. The turbines, with their three-point blades, would be about 300 feet tall and take up an 18-foot-diameter circle of land on both sides of Kamehameha Highway, Avery said. That’s slightly smaller than the biggest of the wind turbines that were at Kahuku in the late 1980s.
“We use very little land and the concept is to keep the land in agriculture and allow farming to go on below the turbines,” Avery said. “And if we could encourage a biofuel type of crop, this could really be an energy farm.”
NOT A FIRST FOR KAHUKU
HECO began looking at Kahuku a year ago after Mayor Mufi Hannemann said the city would not grant two critical permits needed for a proposed $70 million project on the Palehua Ridge above Kahe. At the time Hannemann said he had proposed HECO explore the idea of building a wind farm at Kahuku.
HECO has experience in Kahuku, where it built the state’s first wind farm and then abandoned it in the early 1990s because of technical problems that plagued similar projects at the time. Wind turbine technology has since improved.
Both HECO and a U.S. Army spokesman confirmed they are in talks about a possible site within the Kahuku Training Area, and allowing HECO to set up wind test equipment.
HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg said a test would take at least a year, after which the company would decide whether to go forward. Until that time the company won’t know what can be built. If deemed feasible, the company would seek community input on plans, Rosegg said.
COMMUNITY HAS A SAY
Some Leeward O’ahu residents last year opposed the Palehua Ridge project. Currently North Shore groups are protesting a planned hotel expansion at Turtle Bay near Kahuku.
“When projects are really important to us, to the island, to our state, we want to make sure we proceed sensitively and carefully,” said Lynne Unemori, HECO vice president for corporate relations.
Avery stressed he would not finalize any land deal unless he had community approval for the wind farm. He has been talking to community groups during the past three weeks. Last night he briefed the Ko’olauloa Neighborhood Board. Next week, he’ll speak to the Kahuku Community Association and the Sunset Beach Community Association.
“If the community said we don’t want Kahuku to have wind turbines, we would stop,” Avery said. “The community is going to be affected, but in a good way.”
If the community doesn’t object, Avery said the company would begin working with HECO and the city for power agreements and building permits. It would also have to work with federal wildlife officials because the turbines on the old airfield side of Kamehameha Highway would be near the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge.
Avery is banking on the state’s desire to reduce energy costs by 2020 and what he views as the overall environmentally friendly philosophy in the community.
“This project would save about 200,000 barrels of oil, which is about $15 million a year that this state won’t have to put out at $70 a barrel,” he said. “We’re hoping the Kahuku area would be proud to help the island meet its goal. Right now Hawai’i is dependent on oil. When oil goes up, all we do is pay.”
Dee Dee Letts, chairwoman of the Ko’olauloa Neighborhood Board, isn’t sure how the community will react. Most people have yet to hear about the proposed wind farm.
But she thinks they will be concerned about how the turbines could affect their views. A community study done in the 1980s stressed the need to keep the makai side of the highway as free of development as possible, Letts said. Keeping the mauka views relatively uncluttered ranked next on the study.
“I think the other issues are going to be how will the community react with the visual of the towers, how dense are they going to be and how many will there be,” she said.
Doug Cole, president of the Sunset Beach Community Association, said he thinks residents will be concerned about the height of the turbines. But until he hears more, he is keeping an open mind.
“I think a lot of the community’s reaction will depend on the scope of the project and we have no idea yet where it is going to be and what these things are going to look like,” he said.
Reach Mike Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org and Greg Wiles at email@example.com.
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