The county is seeking to intervene as the Public Utilities Commission considers a huge wind power project, called Big Wind, that will be either on Lanai, or Lanai and Molokai both.
The project docket opened as far back as 2008 as an Oahu-only proposal, but it has since grown in size and reach, and collected a string of critics along the way.
Earlier this summer, Hawaiian Electric asked for a new docket, 2011-0112, to allow it to be reimbursed for $3.9 million spent on planning. County Energy Coordinator Doug McLeod says the total is closer to $7 million, much of that from federal stimulus funds, and the project seems to be much further along than the public has been told.
Last week, the county asked to intervene in the new docket. It wants the reimbursement, if any, to be delayed until the project is better understood, or at least not to put the reimbursement onto the rate payers of the Maui Electric Co. grid “until HECO demonstrates that there is significant community acceptance from the island communities of Lanai, Molokai and Maui, represented in part, through the identification and support of one or more community benefits packages.”
In a letter to PUC Chairwoman Hermina Morita last month, McLeod wrote, “we have many residents looking for the proper forum to directly comment on the reasonableness of the Big Wind project, including these particular expenses.”
He suggested reopening the Integrated Resource Planning docket as a way to do that, and said, if not, the county would seek intervention.
Others have also sought, unsuccessfully, to intervene, concerned that the project is building up a head of steam that will leave the public in the dark until it is too late for input to change anything.
The PUC already has denied Life of the Land and Lanaians for Sensible Growth requests to intervene.
McLeod wrote Morita, saying that Mayor Alan Arakawa has already expressed his opinion that the community benefits from the huge outlay are inadequate.
Except in the most general terms (temporary and permanent jobs, possibly lower consumer electricity rates), community benefits have not been proposed.
And even First Wind – developer of the Kaheawa Wind Farm above Maalaea – which thought it was a part of the proposal, was frozen out when the PUC ruled that it had missed a deadline. When First Wind tried to take part, it was informed by HECO that the discussions were between HECO and the Division of Consumer Advocacy only, because they had agreed in 2008 to circumvent the usual competitive bidding process.
Because it was not part of that move, the PUC said that First Wind lacked standing to intervene.
That left, says McLeod, a strange situation in which the other proposed wind developer, Castle & Cooke, which didn’t miss its deadlines, claiming a say in wind development on Molokai, where it owns no land.
Meanwhile, outsiders are looking for a way to participate, and before the development gels beyond change.
“Too often,” McLeod wrote, “the county now sees PPAs (purchase power agreements between utilities and power developers) being used by developers to say that although they would like to do more for the affected communities, there is no money to do so because the PPA did not ‘price in’ community benefits.
“It is all the more frustrating when the PPA terms are being kept secret from the community itself. Community benefits should be discussed before pricing is locked in.”
In its response, HECO told the PUC that the reimbursement docket is not about proceeding with the project, only covering costs of what has already been done.
“Nor is the company seeking approval in this docket of any power purchase agreements.”
The consumer advocate told the PUC it is not ready to take a position on docket 2011-0112 at this time.
McLeod told Morita that the county considered that the best way for community and municipal input would be the regularly reviewed Integrated Resource Planning process, with built-in transparency.
“We are now concerned that these issues will be effectively decided in this proceeding outside of the IRP,” McLeod said.
McLeod wrote Morita, “The people of Maui County continue to hear two opposite views of the status of the Big Wind plan. At the EIS public hearings earlier this year, the public was told the following: ” ‘We don’t have any sites in mind. We don’t have particular routes for cables in mind.’ ”
On the other side, in the earlier (2008) docket, he said, HECO reported its activities to date included identification of detailed line routes, land acquisition and project boundaries; determination of cable/conductor; and development of cost estimates.
Since Big Wind is a utility-generated project, not one requested or required by the government, its scope is up to the developers.
Once it escaped the boundaries of Oahu, it was presented as 200 megawatts of wind on Molokai and 200 megawatts on Lanai, with delivery by cable to Oahu.
It has changed over the years, with some talk of intracounty power delivery and, since early this year, a shift of most of the generation to Lanai.
However, although First Wind is out of the no-bid portion of the project on Molokai, Molokai Ranch has brought in its own developer, Pattern Energy.
C&C has said the way the 2008 agreement with the consumer advocate works, is it can do 350 megawatts without bids if First Wind is out. The other 50 megawatts would still be on Molokai, and would be put out to bid.
Although Molokai Ranch has not answered questions, apparently Pattern would bid for the 50-megawatt permits, with the ranch providing the land.
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