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Pattern Energy stays committed to wind farm

Despite a series of contentious meetings on Molokai this week, San Francisco-based Pattern Energy won’t be fleeing Hawaii, according to David Parquet, the wind-energy developer’s director of development for special projects.

Representatives from the company met with the community about their plans to build roughly 90 wind turbines that would span about 200 acres, or 2 percent of the land on Molokai.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Parquet told PBN. “Residents still want to know what the impacts are. As we go through this we are seeing people getting engaged on questions. They aren’t saying ‘yes,’ but they are engaged with us.”

Parquet said the three meetings were attended mostly by the same people, estimating that the turnout was about 25 people each night. While he acknowledged there was opposition to the wind farm, he said the project would hinge on ensuring that the residents of Molokai had a strong benefits package that would balance the benefits of the project for the rest of the state.

Pattern Energy’s recent foray into the increasing drama surrounding the 400-megawatt wind project, which aims to bring energy from Lanai and Molokai to Oahu via undersea cables, follows a missed mid-March deadline by Boston-based First Wind, the original wind farm developer for Molokai, to secure land for the site.

In interviews leading up to the meetings, local residents and community leaders indicated to PBN that resistance to the Big Wind project had grown increasingly widespread and organized since First Wind’s departure.

Several people noted that opposition to the project was intensified becasue Molokai Ranch, which has a history of tension with the community, was supporting Pattern Energy. The developer has signed a lease option with the ranch for 11,000 acres.

“Personally, I don’t think this project will go forward if Molokai Ranch has any part of it,” Karen Holt, executive director of the Molokai Community Service Council, told PBN.

While officials from Maui County have reported that sentiment toward the wind farms was overwhelmingly negative during First Wind’s attempts, the company did make some inroads with important community leaders and associations.

In 2006, First Wind pledged $50 million to a campaign spearheaded by the Molokai Community Service Council, a 30-year-old local nonprofit that was trying to purchase Molokai Ranch. If the plan had been successful, First Wind would have leased the land needed for the wind farm.

It never happened. But First Wind early on had aligned itself with portions of the community openly hostile toward Molokai Ranch, which has a long history of conflicts with the community concerning development issues.

Whether the newfound “alliance” between Molokai Ranch and Pattern Energy will ultimately prove to be a liability to the “Big Wind” project moving forward remains to be seen. But Parquet said that he hopes that “Molokai residents that have tensions with Molokai Ranch would view this project differently.”

If not, Lanai could become host to the entire 400-megawatt wind farm.