Here in a lush valley at sea level, nestled between Haleakala, the volcano to the east and the blandly named West Maui Mountain on the west, the first image that comes to mind is not the dusty, dry and windy expanse of southern Alberta between Lethbridge and Pincher Creek.
But the swath of sparsely populated ranchland south of Calgary bears more than a passing spiritual and natural relationship to this tropical island, notwithstanding their dramatically different climates. Both are ideal locations for vast “farms” of the greenest and most natural of energy sources – wind.
A natural wind tunnel
The trade winds, which blow regularly from the northeast on Maui, wrap themselves around the island, making this valley a natural wind tunnel. The trades, convection winds and kona winds are as predictable as snow in Alberta. And the islands that comprise Maui County – Maui, Lanai, Kahoolawe and Molokai – seem to present the ideal site for alternative energy.
Southern Alberta faces the same proposals as Maui County -plant a forest of giant wind farms with their huge turbines to capture nature’s most renewable resource. For southern Alberta, the Alberta Utilities Commission has announced the development of a 240-kilovolt transmission line from Pincher Creek to Lehtbridge to support the expansion of alternate energy generation.
The purported windiest site in Hawaii is Ma’alea Harbour, at the foot of the western mountain. Just above that, a collection of giant wind turbines appeared on the Maui mountaintop about five years ago, blinking red in the nighttime hours to alert planes heading for at Kahului airport.
From the vantage point of the sandy beach stretching in a long gentle arc from Ma’alea Harbour to Wailea, they look like Dinky toys, their rotors moving slowly, almost stately in the distance.
But anyone who has been close enough to such behemoths, either along the highways in southern Spain, on the coast of Nova Scotia, near the sand dunes on Prince Edward Island and in southern Alberta, knows that they are noisy and intrusive, regardless of their green credentials. Nobody in his right mind would want to live within earshot of these things. At least here they’re on top of the mountain (a somewhat puny one, but everything’s relative) and even if the sound traveled down to the beach, the constant susurration of the surf would drown them out.
Few of the ardent supporters of alternate energy mention the irritation of the constant noise, albeit one might be able to get used to it much in the same way that living near a highway renders one somewhat immune to the constant traffic noise.
That’s a big “might.”
The world isn’t going to revert to the pre-oil and gas stone age. As a result, alternate energy resources are seen as part of the solution to dwindling natural resources, to satisfy an ever-growing demand for energy. (Even as Alberta’s oil sands are condemned by environmentalists, they become more important to satisfy an energy-hungry planet.)
The Hawaiian Islands have no conventional energy resources. The only logical sources are those most obviously supplied by nature – wind and water. The current wind farm on the mountaintop supplies only nine per cent of Maui’s energy needs. The state wants 70 per cent of the island chain’s energy needs supplied by renewable energy by 2030. Enter the Hawaii Interisland Renewable Energy Program and the bane of any development – NIMBY.
The not-in-my-backyard syndrome is working overtime in paradise. A proposal for 170 wind towers on the thinly populated (less than 3,000 people) island of Lanai has brought out the opposition who have added a new dimension to NIMBY – not on our island and not for the benefit of people living on Oahu, where 70 per cent of the residents of Hawaii live, most of them in Honolulu. The energy created from a wind farm would be channelled to Oahu through undersea cables,
Natural beauty always trumped by development
On the surface, after four meetings on three different islands in the county to listen to residents’ concerns, few of the testifiers wants anything to do with the proposal. One resident, quoted in The Maui News was blunt: “It is not Lanai’s and Molokai’s responsibility to keep the air conditioning running on Oahu.”
That may be an unusual take on xenophobia, a sort of inter-island suspicion and dislike, harking back to the old Hawaii, when each island had at least one independent kingdom – Maui had three – but it’s a chorus repeated over and over: let Oahu work out its own difficulties without destroying the natural beauty of another Hawaiian island.
If the rampant development of these islands to satisfy the burgeoning tourist demand for creature comforts is any indication, “natural beauty” has been trumped by development time and time again.
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