Wind farm representatives clarify issues and misconceptions about Kaheawa Wind Power project, and announce plans for another 14 turbines to be built adjacent to the current site. “The whole world is watching to see how far we can go.”
Ever since construction began on 20 massive wind turbines in the Kaheawa Wind Power farm in the pastures above Ma‘alaea Point in the fall of 2005, they have been a source of adulation, curiosity and controversy. Environmentalists fear for the safety of wildlife and the impact on the habitat while applauding the generation of clean energy. Tourists write letters to the editors of local publications, often complaining of the desecration of their view. And residents open their monthly MECO bill, wondering if the turbines have had an impact.
At the Tuesday, Nov. 20, meeting of the Kihei Community Association (KCA), Mike Goodwin, director of development for the company that developed the project, UPC Hawai‘i Wind, attempted to clarify issues and misconceptions about the project. “On average, 9 percent of Maui’s total energy needs are met by the turbines,” he said, adding that wind conditions are a major factor.
According to a handout distributed by the company, that translates to enough energy to power 11,000 homes, replacing 600 to 700 barrels of fossil fuel every day and eliminating tons of carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants annually into our atmosphere. The annual cost savings estimated by the company is $76.6 million per year. This is based on oil at $30 a barrel, which, as anyone knows, who has visited a gas pump lately, is an extremely conservative figure.
Greg Spencer, senior wildlife biologist for UPC Hawai‘i Wind, addressed environmental concerns. Reports of mass casualties of birds on the Mainland, particularly red-tailed hawks at the Altamont Wind Farm east of San Francisco, had fueled concerns about birds and wildlife here. “Kaheawa is the first wind farm in the country to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan,” said Spencer. In addition, he said, native plants have been reintroduced at the site, and the company is partnering with the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the safety and survival of all plants and animals at the site.
Plans call for another 14 turbines to be built adjacent to the current site. “When those come on-line, the goal is to generate a total of 17 percent of Maui’s energy with wind power,” Goodwin explained. “To go from 0 to 9 percent of our energy coming from the wind overnight is pretty amazing,” he said. “The whole world is watching to see how far we can go.”
Goodwin and Spencer answered a number of questions from the attendees. The site was chosen because it met basic criteria—there is plenty of wind and in close proximity to the Ma‘alaea power plant and transmission lines. They explained the reason why at times, just a few windmills are turning while the wind seems to be blowing strong: conditions on the ground may be completely different—even the exact opposite of conditions at the site.
“Remember,” said Goodwin, “They are located at an elevation between 2,000 and 3,000 feet, and the conditions are totally different up there.” He also explained that wind frequently changes directions, and the turbines may be slowing or stopped as they turn to catch Kona or trade winds.
The proposed new units would utilize batteries to store energy. “If the wind is blowing in the middle of the night, it may not matter, because most of us are asleep and power usage is low,” said Goodwin. The batteries would help MECO with “soft landings” when wind suddenly ceases or shifts and during peak usage times when Maui residents are getting up in the morning or returning home from work. “And new technology is emerging,” he said, that will allow longer and more efficient storage of wind energy.
And why are they white? Simply so birds and airplane pilots can see them more clearly, Goodwin explained.
While he acknowledged there are always concerns about projects of this magnitude, Goodwin said the benefits are enormous. “With wind power there is no air pollution, we do not contribute to global warming and we become less dependent on imported, fossil fuels,” he said. Love them or hate them, it is difficult to deny these benefits.
The public is invited to attend the next KCA meeting to be held Tuesday, Jan. 15, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Kihei Community Center on Lipoa Street.
By Scott Broadbent
28 November 2007
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