Soaring fuel prices and steady tradewinds are making wind the new oil in Hawaii. As wind companies scramble to gain a foothold across the state, Molokai Ranch land is emerging as a sought after resource.
During a Hawaii State Office of Planning meeting on Molokai in late May, it was revealed that there are two wind companies competing for the build-out of wind farms on Molokai Ranch land.
One of the companies, UPC Wind, is an industry leader in alternative clean energy, and currently operates the largest wind farm in Hawaii located in Kaheawa, Maui.
UPC spokesperson, Noe Kalipi, says the company’s Molokai plan includes the complete buyout of Molokai Ranch properties and would include a transfer of those lands to the community. In return, UPC would lease back acreage from the community for their wind farm.
“We didn’t think we could get the project done without including the community,” Kalipi said, adding that UPC usually does not purchase land, but prefers to lease it. “We want to be long term partners with the community,” she said.
Kalipi said the UPC business model focuses on developing, financing, constructing, operating and maintaining the wind turbines and other necessary equipment. This allows the community to own and care for the land themselves.
But UPC’s negotiations with Molokai Ranch are currently at a standstill, according to Kalipi. Despite that, UPC is still investigating the feasibility of wind farming on Molokai.
According to Kalipi, if UPC is able to resume talks with the Ranch, the next step will be to find out if a wind farm would have the community’s approval.
A SENSE OF URGENCY
As part of Gov. Linda Lingle’s “Energy for Tomorrow” vision, Hawaii is required to obtain 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2010, and 20 percent by 2020. According to its Web site, the Hawaiian Energy Company (HECO) already receives seven percent of its energy from renewable sources.
In 2005, HECO subsidiary Renewable Hawaii put a call out for energy proposals that would reduce Hawaii’s dependency on oil. The project request set the arena for energy companies to compete for HECO contracts.
Earlier this month, Castle & Cooke, a real estate development company, announced that it is in the exploratory stages of building a 10,000 acre wind farm on Lanai, according to the company newsletter. The company has started conducting feasibility studies and will be erecting temporary testing towers in the near future.
According to Kalipi, UPC will be in direct competition with Castle & Cooke’s project on Lanai, as both companies desire to become an energy supplier for Oahu through contracts with HECO.
UPC is not the only company eyeing Molokai to provide wind energy for Oahu’s electricity needs. According to environmental activist Steve Morgan, there is another company interested in developing a wind farm on the island. Although the company is not ready to identify itself, representatives have approached Morgan and other island residents to determine how a wind farm might be received by the community.
WHY WIND ENERGY?
“One thing we know is that wind energy is very profitable,” Morgan said. “It’s like wind is the new oil.”
Local resident Matt Yamashita has also met with UPC and the unnamed company. According to Yamashita, both companies have the finances, strategy and interest to develop wind energy on Molokai’s west end.
In Hawaii, there are currently six wind farms either in existence or in planning phases, according to the Hawaiian Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
UPC owns Kaheawa Wind Power on Maui, which is currently supplying nearly 10 percent of the island’s electricity needs. Shell, the international gas and oil company, is also planning on building a large wind farm at Ulupalakua Ranch on Maui.
UPC recently signed a contract with the Kauai Electric Utility Cooperative with plans to develop another small wind energy project there.
The Big Island is currently home to three wind energy farms: the Pakini Nui Farm owned by Tawhiri Power, the Lalamilo Wind Farm owned by HECO, and another small farm on Upolu Point owned by Hawaii Renewable Development.
ARE WIND FARMS FEASIBLE ON MOLOKAI?
According to the Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the USA, coastal locations with exposure to tradewinds are ideal for generating clean wind energy. The highest classification of wind power is seven. Molokai’s northeasterly tradewinds and open mountain ranges make it a prime location for wind farming. North, west and central regions of the island have a wind power classification of six. `Ilio point on the northwest corner of the island scores seven.
University of Colorado’s Keith Stockton conducted a feasibility study on Molokai’s west end in 2003. According to the study, a 180 megawatt wind farm could supply 10 percent of Oahu’s energy needs via an undersea cable. A wind farm of this scale could produce energy at the cost of 3.22 cents per kilowatt, a tenth of what HECO currently charges Molokai residents.
THE FUTURE OF WIND ENERGY ON MOLOKAI
Wind is quickly becoming a desired form of alternative energy within the Hawaiian Islands. Competing companies illustrate that Molokai Ranch lands would be a valuable source of wind energy.
But whether wind companies will get a chance to tap Molokai’s offerings largely depend on Molokai Ranch’s willingness and ability to negotiate a deal.
Molokai Ranch, also known as Molokai Properties Limited, currently has its hands full with plans to develop a 200 lot subdivision along in the southwest corner of Molokai. The plan includes redeveloping the Kaluakoi Hotel and gifting over 25,000 acres of Ranch land to a private land trust. The state is expected to hold hearings in the fall deciding if it will grant the Ranch a land designation change from agricultural to rural in the La`au area.
John Sabas, general manager of community affairs for Molokai Ranch, declined to comment on activities between the wind companies and the Ranch.
21 June 2007
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