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Homesteaders to weight wind farm benefits

Anyone who has been to Hoolehua knows how windy it can get up there; how bearable the breeze can make a summer evening. But one company wants to examine another use for the cool gusts that stream through the high area, most of which is Hawaiian homestead land.

Representatives from UPC Wind Partners Hawaii met with a few dozen of the area’s homesteaders last Wednesday to discuss its plan to put up nineteen 180-foot tall wind towers in the area. The towers would generate an average total of 50 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 17 to 18 thousand homes, which would go to Oahu by way of an undersea cable.

But first, said UPC Hawaii spokeswoman Noe Kalipi, the company wants to be sure it has community support.

“We’re going to be here for the long haul,” she said. “From the beginning we’re going to work with the community to do things right.”

UPC may have permission from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to move forward with the project, but without clear support from homesteaders, she said, the project will not move forward.

UPC Hawaii Wind Partners Vice Presidents Mike Gresham said that he sees many potential benefits for homesteaders, but that the community that will ultimately decide.

“We don’t go into communities that don’t want us,” Gresham said. “There are tremendous benefits. People think it is Oahu that’s benefiting, but it’s like Molokai is selling a crop,” he added.

Gresham and Kalipi said benefits would likely include reduced electric bills, a separate, smaller wind farm that would generate power for homesteaders, and wind-powered water pumps.

But there is still research to be done.

With community approval, Kalipi said, UPC will put up two meteorological (met) towers in Hoolehua for 12-18 months to gather wind data. The data will help determine whether the project is feasible.

UPC hopes that the nineteen towers would eventually be part of an overarching plan that includes a total of 140 wind turbines on Molokai, most of which would be on the island’s west end.

Homesteaders at Wednesday’s meeting had many questions for UPC staff members during the presentation and over the dinner that was served at the meeting. They left with a variety of opinions regarding the plan.

“We don’t want to be the ones on the back burner,” one attendee said during a question and answer session. “Our electricity is high…We have the right to take care of our community.”

“Let Oahu build their own propellers,” homesteader Hana Yasso said later.

But others viewed the project in a positive light.

“In general it’s great,” said Tuddie Purdy, who cited potential economic benefits such as the creation of jobs and the UPC’s promise to have minimal impact on the land as among the project’s advantages. “It seems like they’ve got their bases covered.”

“If it makes our bill less, then it’s okay,” said Larry Helm of Hoolehua, emphasizing how important it is for homesteaders to get something out of the deal. Noting how much he and his neighbors pay for electricity, Helm added, “(the plan) sounds good, but what is going to be the savings?”

Ahu Puaa O Molokai president Kammy Purdy said that she hopes the homestead community will support UPC’s effort. Although she said she believes the project would benefit the community, the state, and the planet, Purdy said that the biggest challenge is “getting everyone to understand what this project is actually going to do for Molokai and the state of Hawaii.”

Kalipi’s presentation stressed the type of effort UPC would make in preserving cultural and environmental resources on the site. Before construction, she said, the company would conduct several studies of the land, including an archaeological inventory, a botanical survey, and a study of endangered species populations in the area.

She added that the wind farm “would help keep Molokai Molokai” due to what she said would be a minimal impact on the land as well as UPC’s support of the “Buy the Ranch” campaign.

Some potential wind turbine sites, Gresham said, sit on Molokai Ranch land. UPC would rather lease the land from the community, he said, than the Ranch.

A major component of UPC’s discussion was the dent wind power could make in fossil fuel consumption and the resultant environmental, economic and political impacts.

Currently, according to Kalipi’s presentation, Molokai residents still on the grid are 100 percent reliant on oil.

Given oil’s finitude, its role on the international stage, and the apparent consequences of burning it (including climate change and ocean acidification), alternatives have been in increasing demand.

But this is merely one facet in the weighing of UPC Hawaii’s plan.

“There’s so much more we don’t know,” Gresham said. Unanswered questions include whether Hawaii Electric Company would be willing to work with UPC Hawaii, who would foot the bill for the undersea cable, and, of course, how the people of Hoolehua feel.

Whatever the outcome may be, the Hoolehua wind is not likely to blow unappreciated.

By Kate Bradshaw

The Molokai Times

28 September 2007