The Public Utilities Commission has denied First Wind’s request for an eight-month extension to secure land and finalize details of an agreement on Molokai for a proposed 200 megawatt wind farm.
The proposed wind farm is part of the so-called “Big Wind” project, which aims to develop a 200 mw wind farm on Molokai and a 200-mw wind farm on Lanai and transport the energy to Oahu through an undersea cable.
Boston-based First Wind was unable to secure the needed land for the project by a March 18 deadline. A day prior to the deadline, First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor filed a letter with the PUC requesting the extension.
The PUC rejected the extension because “only a party to the docket can file a motion to extend,” according to a letter from PUC Counsel Michael Colon, addressed to Gaynor. The letter said the proper procedure would have been for Hawaiian Electric officials to file the extension for First Wind. However, Hawaiian Electric officials denied First Wind’s request to file the extension for them, according to a letter from Gaynor.
While the PUC ruling brings some clarity to a process that has become shrouded with uncertainty, major questions as to how the wind project is to proceed remain.
In 2008, Hawaiian Electric officials released an RFP for 100 mw of renewable energy for the island of Oahu. First Wind and Castle & Cooke both responded to the RFP with wind projects on Molokai and Lanai, respectively, that entailed wind farms between 350 mw to 400 mw each. The size of the wind farms was subsequently reduced to up to 200 mw each, according to PUC documents.
The PUC ruled that the bids were in violation of the competitive bidding process. However, commissioners granted a waiver for the projects, allowing them to proceed with the stipulation that the developers submit agreements to the PUC by a March 18 deadline that included information such as the scope of the projects, their development timeframes and pricing. While Castle & Cooke, who is both landowner and developer for the Lanai project, met the deadline, First Wind did not after the CEO of Molokai Ranch, Peter Nicholas, refused to make a deal with First Wind.
Subsequently, Nicholas announced that he would work with a new developer, San Francisco-based Pattern Energy.
According to the original 2008 agreement, if one of the developers failed in its pursuit of the project the other party could develop up to 350 mw on its designated island, according to PUC documents. And another 50 mw could be put out to competitive bid, according to a letter from Gaynor to the PUC.
However, Castle & Cooke recently announced an agreement that would cede 200 mw of wind energy to Pattern Energy to develop a wind farm on Molokai. Gaynor recently wrote a letter to the PUC denouncing the agreement as in violation of the original 2008 agreement, noting that Castle & Cooke had no right to make such an agreement. Gaynor’s letter requested that the PUC put 200 mw of the project out to competitive bid.
First Wind officials also are hoping that the island of Maui be considered as a possible project site for the Big Wind project.
It remains to be seen how the PUC will rule on these issues, particularly whether Pattern Energy will be allowed to enter as a new developer for the project.
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