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Wind farm developers seek Molokai community’s support

Pattern Energy faces a tough sell as it meets organized opposition

Representatives from San Francisco-based Pattern Energy were back on Molokai this week trying to gain community support for a planned 200-megawatt wind farm on the Friendly Isle. But it could be a tough sell, with community representatives describing opposition to the project as widespread and increasingly organized.

“Molokai is old Hawaii,” said Kanoho-wailuku Helm, a founder of I Aloha Molokai, a new community group organized to oppose the wind farm on Molokai. “What is going to happen if you start to overdevelop Molokai and Lanai? The heartbeat of Hawaii still exists here. We love everything that is precious about our home and we are going to fight for that until the end.”

Helm estimated that the group has attracted between 200 and 300 members.

The wind farm is part of the proposed 400-megawatt Big Wind project, designed to transport wind energy from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu via undersea cables. The energy would account for about 20 percent of the most populous island’s energy needs. Representatives from Hawaiian Electric Co. and the state energy office have stressed the importance of the project in achieving the state’s renewable-energy goals and that the energy would be bought at a stable price below the cost of oil.

A number of Molokai community leaders have characterized the sentiment toward the project among residents as overwhelmingly negative, citing a recent survey conducted by Aha Kiole that found that 93 percent of residents opposed the wind farm. Funded by the state, Aha Kiole provides government agencies with input on managing the state’s natural resources based on Native Hawaiian traditions.

Concerns about the project have included its impact on the environment and cultural sites and effect on property values – the wind farm’s footprint would cover about 6.5 percent of the island. But there also is resentment among residents about having to sacrifice land for what is viewed as the overgrowth and overconsumption of Oahu.

“Oahu is so greedy with its electricity and power needs,” said Walter Ritte, a Molokai activist.

David Parquet, director of development and special projects for Pattern Energy, said initial concerns are not unusual.

“As with any new development, the community is concerned,” Parquet told PBN by email. “Many in the community have shared with us that they would like more information about the project.”

Pattern Energy’s entrance follows Boston-based First Wind’s unsuccessful attempts to negotiate land agreements for a wind farm. First Wind executives missed a mid-March deadline set by the state Public Utilities Commission to secure land for the project after Molokai Ranch executives would not make a deal with them. The missed deadline was followed by news that Peter Nicholas, CEO of Molokai Ranch, had chosen Pattern Energy as the preferred wind developer. The arrangement still needs PUC approval.

While Molokai residents potentially could gain from a community benefits package provided by HECO and Pattern Energy in exchange for hosting the wind farm, Doug McLeod, Maui County’s energy commissioner, said that level of negotiation seemed far off.

“At this point in time, the level of community opposition that we are sensing and seeing on Molokai is so much higher than on Lanai,” McLeod said. “We don’t even see a starting point for that discussion.”