A study has been initiated to assess the potential environmental impacts of a large wind project in Maui County that would help power Oahu through an undersea cable.
The project could bring up to 400 megawatts of energy from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu, accounting for approximately 20 percent of Oahu’s energy needs and 14 percent of the state’s 2030 renewable energy target. An undersea cable that would bring the energy to the island of Maui, or transfer energy produced by wind farms on Maui to Oahu, is also being explored.
The study will evaluate the three main components of the plan: the undersea cable, the wind farms and utility infrastructure upgrades that would be needed on Oahu to integrate the energy into its grid.
AECOM Technical Services, a global firm with headquarters in Los Angeles, will be conducting the study for the state after being chosen during a competitive bidding process. Because the study is being funded through stimulus funds, it must be completed by the end of April 2012.
The state energy office has extended the normal public comment period from 30 to 90 days. The focus on community input is on the parameters of the study itself.
“What we are seeking from the public is input as to whether they think we missed something, is our focus to broad, or should we be looking at different areas,” said Allen Kam, who is managing the project for the state energy office.
The project has generated controversy since the islands of Lanai and Molokai would host roughly 100 to 175 wind turbines while not benefiting from the energy being produced. The wind farms could cover up to a fourth of the islands. Residents have expressed concern that the project could disrupt hunting and fishing practices, disturb cultural and archeological sites and significantly impact their landscape.
Representatives of Hawaiian Electric Co. have been visiting the islands regularly to discuss the project with residents and formulate a benefits package for the residents in exchange for hosting the wind farms.
Estimated costs of the cable are $800 million to $1 billion, which will be financed by ratepayers, state tax revenues and federal grants. Utility infrastructure upgrades would be financed by HECO. Castle Cooke and Boston-based First Wind, the wind farm developers, will be responsible for financing the wind farms. The state estimates that the project will save the state about $5.7 billion over 20 years based on reduced needs for imported oil.
First Wind also has plans to build up to 100 megawatts of wind power on Oahu, and a 30 mw wind farm in Kahuku is currently under way.
Oahu lacks the significant wind resources of Maui County, which is why the state and utility have sited the need to tap the outer-island resources.
“The project is important because in order to reach the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative goals, this is a really good chunk of that 40 percent,” said Kam. “We do need this program to be constructed in order to reach our goal. But this does not curtail other renewable sources of energy.”
Information about commenting on the project can be found at www.hirep-wind.com.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding