KIHEI – There was usually a caveat Tuesday night before some expressed anything negative at a hearing about the proposed $140 million Auwahi wind farm on Ulupalakua Ranch land east of Makena.
The consensus among the 30 people in attendance at Lokelani Intermediate School was in favor of clean, renewable energy provided by the subsidiary, Auwahi Wind Energy LLC. The plan has taken five years to get to the final environmental impact statement phase.
Representatives of the developers, San Diego-based international energy company Sempra Generation and Ulupalakua Ranch, said the turbines, which are up to 430 feet high, would not be visible from any existing homes.
The plan is to construct 15 wind turbines to generate up to 22 megawatts daily, which Sempra Commercial Development Director Mitch Dmohowski said could supply the island with 10 percent of its energy needs on a good wind day and 6 percent on a bad day. Plans include a battery energy storage system.
However, the “but” stated by a few residents, such as Kihei resident Judith Michaels, was that trucks laden with materials, such as the 165-foot blades, would be driven at night creating a noisy disturbance during the roughly 10-month construction period.
Even a motorcycle can be heard from more than a mile away at night, Tom Croly said on behalf of a neighbor.
“If you want this, we all need to make some sacrifices,” said Jimmy Gomes, of Kula, to applause. “This is nothing. Once it’s completed, you won’t even know it’s there.”
Besides, for decades, the U.S. Navy bombed Kahoolawe island day and night, without warning, rattling windows and shaking homes, Gomes reminded his neighbors.
He said people say they want independence from oil, for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. to stop cane burning (HC&S is studying the feasibility of a clean energy farm) and ending the need for diesel-powered Maui Electric Co. generators.
“It’s not about whether or not we should do it,” Michaels said. “We should just make sure we do it the right way.”
Gomes then said he agreed with her. There is room for improvement to the project’s environmental impact statement, he said, and the developers said they are open to some wiggle room and would address every question.
The current wind farm proposal calls for reaching the project site from the end of Makena Alanui Drive by upgrading and temporarily extending Papaka Road, an old ranch supply road that’s gated and closed to public access. The road would be closed after the wind farm construction is completed.
Some in the audience advocated for the company to access its 120-acre wind farm site, makai of Piilani Highway, from Kula Highway. Kula has a smaller population than Kihei-Makena and only one hotel, critics said. Or they said they wanted the wind farm developers to wait until the indefinitely stalled Makena Resort project is restarted and then use roads planned for that project.
Ulupalakua Ranch President Sumner Erdman said the road through Kula has been determined to be too steep and narrow for use by the roughly 200 vehicles per night that would need to travel to the project site.
The project’s next step is to seek approval from the Maui Planning Commission and then building permits from the county, he said.
The developers released their wind farm draft environmental impact statement last month and intend to have the final environmental study completed by September or October, said Leilani Pulmano of project consultants Munekiyo & Hiraga Inc.
Auwahi Wind Energy has a 20-year agreement to sell electricity to MECO, which already receives wind power from Kaheawa Wind Power. Its turbines above Maalaea have the capacity to provide as much as 30 megawatts to Maui Electric, and there are plans to add 14 more turbines and another 21 megawatts of wind energy per day.
MECO’s parent company, Hawaiian Electric Co., also has plans to partner with two companies to build turbines on Molokai and Lanai and send the energy to Oahu via an undersea cable.
Dmohowski said he expects the Auwahi wind farm to be online by December 2012, with construction starting in March of 2012. The project includes a transformer, substation and batteries.
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